Retracing Shackleton in Antarctica

'VERY TIPPY': Ernest Shackleton's lifeboat.
'VERY TIPPY': Ernest Shackleton's lifeboat.

Tim Jarvis has kayaked to the dry centre of Australia, trekked to the North Pole and solo across Antarctica on a diet of starvation rations, and lived on the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific.

But the British-Australian adventurer expects next month's Shackleton Epic, an attempt to be the first in history to successfully emulate Sir Ernest Shackleton's legendary adventure, will be his most challenging and dangerous journey yet.

On an ill-fated attempt to reach the South Pole in 1914, Shackleton's boat, the Endurance, became trapped in the Antarctic ice and was eventually crushed and sank. His attempt to raise the alarm is considered by many to be one of the greatest journeys ever made.

Shackleton took a small party from his crew and rowed 1,287 km on the lifeboat James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia, where they knew they could get help from a whaling station. Their journey took from 1914 to 1916.

The Shackleton Epic crew farewelled friends and family at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney on Sunday.

They've been planning the trip since 2008 when Alexandra Shackleton approached Jarvis with the idea to mark the centenary of her grandfather's remarkable tale of survival.

Their vessel will be an exact replica of Shackleton's small wooden lifeboat, they will use only 1916 equipment and they will don the traditional gear that Shackleton and his men wore.

If something on the boat breaks, Jarvis said, "we just nail a new bit on".

The seven-metre boat, which is named after the British explorer's granddaughter, was not designed to tackle the notoriously treacherous Southern Ocean and was an inadequate vessel even a hundred years ago. It has no keel and capsizes very easily.

Jarvis expects being on board to be "like a ping pong ball in a washing machine".

"You know, we ran the numbers and said what can we do with an exact replica of Shackleton's boat, without cheating, to try and make this ... less susceptible to capsize than what he had," Jarvis said.

The team have practiced capsizing the vessel and trying to right it again, and have attempted to use their supplies, equipment and rocks as ballast instead of just rocks as Shackleton did.

"We ran all the numbers, we fiddled around with rocks and our camera batteries because we are filming this ... and you know what? We came up with exactly the same configuration of how the ballast was loaded as what Shackleton did with rule of thumb," Jarvis said.

"It's amazing to think that (after) a hundred years, with all of our modern thinking, we've ended up with exactly what Shackleton had. But yeah, it's still a very tippy, very unsafe boat," he said.

Other risks facing the 46-year-old and his crew include crevasse fall, climbing injury and weather-related risks like frostbite.

"It is very dangerous and we'll be in the roughest part of the roughest ocean in the world," he said. "We're going to do our utmost to honour Shackleton but I'd say it's a 50/50 [chance].

"It's a very sobering thought to be doing this."

The men will also follow a similar rationed diet to their journey's namesake, including pemmican made from animal fat.

"Fat is the lightest weight stuff you can eat for the energy you require," Jarvis said.

But unpleasant food is likely to be the least of their worries. Powerful storms at sea are all but inevitable and Jarvis expects at least one a week over the three-week journey.

There will be a support vessel, Australis, but it will only be called upon in the event of serious trouble.

Jarvis, who is also an environmental scientist, hopes to use the trip to bring awareness to the impact of climate change. The team will collect data at various points to use for scientific research.

"The irony is Shackleton tried to save his men from Antarctica and we are now trying to save Antarctica from man," Jarvis said.

- Sydney Morning Herald and Reuters

ANTARCTIC ADVENTURER: Sir Ernest Shackleton.
ANTARCTIC ADVENTURER: Sir Ernest Shackleton.