Explorers take on Antarctic in Shackleton's tracks

SIX British and Australian adventurers are about to recreate one of the greatest journeys of human survival.

In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton, a seasoned British explorer, set out to better Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen by attempting the first ever crossing of the Antarctic.

But months after setting out and with winter looming, his ship became jammed between sheets of ice.

Shackleton and his men spilled onto the ice that would become their home for months.

Their ship slowly sank and so did their ambitions. But as a path cleared through melting ice, they climbed into a lifeboat and turned to the more pressing mission of survival.

"We're going to do the same - hopefully," said the leader of the 2013 Shackleton Epic, Tim Jarvis, a Briton who emigrated to Sydney in 1997.

Mr Jarvis and his crew are attempting the first re-creation of Shackleton's journey, using the same equipment - down to the gabardine coats.

Once the ice around them melted, Shackleton and five crew sailed for 1500 kilometres on a seven-metre boat through the perilous Southern Ocean.

Mr Jarvis' crew will sail the same route in a replica lifeboat while navigating with sextants.


"This year has been the largest amount of sea ice for 20 years," Mr Jarvis said. "Our boat has planking only 1.5 centimetres thick. If we hit [ice] and are holed, that obviously is a very serious problem."

The expedition will travel with reserve emergency equipment - satellite phones and beacons in a sealed box - but otherwise will use tools from the turn of last century.

"We have no intention of not doing things the way Shackleton did until we really have to," Mr Jarvis said.

The crew has been practising capsizing and sea sailing, but Mr Jarvis said nothing could really prepare them for rough and icy seas.

"In sea trials we had four oars and broke three, but we were given a formula to make them more flexible, by soaking them in seawater," he said. "Shackleton relied on adaptability and for us it's the same."

They plan to land on the same mountainous fang of rock on South Georgia Island as Shackleton.

When he arrived, the explorer found himself on the wrong side of the island. So he and two other men traversed an icy mountain range before reaching a whaling station on the other side.

Mr Jarvis' crew plans to make the mountain climb while subsisting largely on animal fat and sleeping for 10 minutes at a time.

"If you stop for longer, you freeze," he said.

The crew will sail on Thursday night from Argentina for Antarctica, where they will begin their re-creation on January 20, after spending some time trialling their boat in Antarctic seas.

Joining the mission is Victorian-born sailor Paul Larsen, who set the world sailing speed record in November.

An inveterate adventurer, Mr Larsen said he was awed by the chance to walk in Shackleton's giant footsteps.

"The very essence of adventure is randomness," he said. "Shackleton set out with a plan and something else happened, and it turned out to be a bigger adventure than he had ever hoped for.

"Now that [we're] under way we will see what really happens."