Defying the odds … the Alexandra Shackleton consumed by ferocious, seven-metre high seas in Antarctica on its way to South Georgia. Photo: Jo Stewart/Shackleton Epic
IT WAS a meagre mercy, but a welcome one. After two days of feral seas, the crew of the Alexandra Shackleton emerged - wet, hungry and dog-tired - to sun themselves in a calm, zero-degree Antarctic chill.
The six men, retracing Ernest Shackleton's legendary Antarctic crossing almost a century ago, enjoyed a jaunty start after setting out from Elephant Island last Wednesday. But three days in, they were pummelled.
Fifty-knot winds whipped up a virile, seven-metre swell that washed over the deck and seeped below, soaking the crew and damaging their radio and radar equipment.
Frank Hurley's photograph of Shackleton's rowing boat, the James Caird, being launched from Elephant Island in 1916. Photo: Nick Smith
It dashed hopes of a celebratory Australia Day toast clutching cups of Mackinlay's scotch whisky - Shackleton's favourite.
"It wasn't much of an Australia Day," the expedition leader, Tim Jarvis, told a support boat crew. "As we were swapping duties on the watch in the middle of the night, I extended my arm to Paul [Larsen, an Australian], shook his hand and said 'Happy Australia Day, mate'. That was the best we could do under the circumstances."
The men spent a day drying out their clothes and sleeping bags in the freezing air.
Environmental scientist and explorer Tim Jarvis. Photo: Ben Rushton
They are using the same equipment as the original journey, wearing tough gabardine coats and navigating with a compass, a sextant and the stars.
"It is the conditions that are going to get to us first, not just the sailing. It's the living below deck, it's the toilet, trying to sleep, trying not to be sick, trying to eat," Mr Jarvis said.
One week in, the crew is on track with Shackleton who made the 800 nautical mile crossing in two weeks. They plan to land at the same spot on South Georgia and trek through its crevassed, icy interior, living off animal fat.
Before he left, Mr Jarvis, a Briton who emigrated to Sydney in 1997, wrote that he was fatalistic about the voyage.
"While I've been careful to plan well to avoid unnecessary risks … clearly there are inherent dangers involved in attempting something of this magnitude," he said. "Shackleton's journey certainly defied the odds. [But] Shackleton and his men returned home safely, and we aim to emulate him."