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In the wake of Shackleton

ONE OF the most harrowing sea journeys ever undertaken will be recreated during an audiovisual presentation in the Shetland Museum and Archive on Friday (10 July).

Robert Egelstaff was one of four adventurers who followed in the footsteps of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Shackleton made history when he sailed 800 miles across the stormiest seas in the world to raise the alarm and eventually save 28 colleagues after his Antarctic expedition on the Endurance was trapped in the pack ice in 1914-1915.

Egelstaff and his crew used an open boat to trace his journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia in the Antarctic summer of 1993-1994.

Egestaff, who is working for SIC outdoor education officer Pete Richardson, said his talk would also focus on the island of South Georgia where many Shetland men spent parts of their lives during the whaling.

“During my outdoor education activities here I meet many children who tell me that their grandfathers had been to South Georgia during the whaling,” he said.

“Once we got to South Georgia we visited a number of the old whaling stations and I am intending to talk about that as well.”

The idea was hatched after Egelstaff and expedition leader Trevor Potts became captivated by Frank Worsely’s account Shackleton’s Boat Journey.

They commissioned a South Shield shipyard to build a replica of the explorer’s 23ft boat James Caird, raised funds and eventually set off to the Falkland Islands in December 1993 after their boat had been shipped to the area on board a Russian ice breaker.

Egelstaff said the moment they were left to their own devices off Elephant Island on the Antarctic peninsular it was like “an umbilical cord being cut”.

He said: ”It was the nearest you can get on earth to experiencing the same feeling as astronaut must have.

“That’s what it was like for Shackleton. When he was stranded in the Antarctic pack ice with the Endurance, it was the same sort of situation.

“We really wanted to re-create the journey in the spirit of the original. We were cast adrift off Elephant Island, we made a brief landing, and than were becalmed for almost 24 hours.

“Then the wind gathered and off we went – it took 14 days to get across to South Georgia. Shackleton had four storms and we had four storms, so the pattern of weather was very similar.”

He said they had to endure many hair-raising moments including surfing a 30ft wave in their tiny 23ft boat and being conscious that one wrong movement would inevitably have finished them off in the middle of a vast emptiness.

The team mostly relied on a sextant and a log (a spinning device in the water) to navigate the 800 miles to South Georgia, but reverted to using a GPS once a day as they “had obligations to family”, as Egelstaff put it.

But he added: We could have got there by old-fashioned methods.”

In his talk he intends to touch on a number of scientific aspects of the adventure including the seaworthiness of small boats, as well as a number of experiments currently being carried out in South Georgia.

Admission is free but those attending will be asked to give a small donation to help the Shetland Science Outreach Group who organised the event.

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