Chasing Shack: Ocean Rowers Re-create Shackleton’s Lifeboat Journey


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Tighten up your mukluks. This month a rowing team plans to embark on a world record Antarctic row, retracing the 17-day voyage made in April 1916 by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his five-man crew across the Southern Ocean and the Scotia Sea.

Chasing Shack: Ocean Rowers Re-create Shackleton’s Lifeboat Journey

The 2023 Shackleton Mission will cross the most tumultuous waters on the planet to establish three Guinness World Firsts: First to Row the Scotia Sea, First to Row from the Antarctic Continent, and First to Row the Southern Ocean South to North.

According to Expedition News, the six-person Shackleton Mission team is embarking on the 800-mile rowing journey across the Southern Ocean and the Scotia Sea, recreating the 17-day voyage in April 1916 made by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his five-man crew in their 23-ft. lifeboat James Caird—a rescue mission that eventually saved the entire 28-person crew and has been called the greatest small boat voyage of all time.

As part of the mission, the team hopes to have the Polar Medal, a milestone in polar exploration, awarded posthumously to a member of the original crew, Harry “Chippy” McNish. In fact, their row boat is named Mrs. Chippy in memory of Chippy’s cat who accompanied the original voyage.

The journey will be led by Iceland’s Fiann Paul, 42, the world’s most record-breaking explorer, holding 14 world’s firsts, the highest number ever ratified by Guinness World Records. His accolades include being the first and the only person to achieve the Ocean Explorers Grand Slam-completing open water crossings on all five oceans using human powered vessels. He was also the captain of the only three successful human-powered pioneering expeditions into the open-waters of both polar regions, where he rowed some of the world’s most extreme seas. And in 2019 he led the Impossible Row Expedition, where he and his team were the first to row the Drake Passage. His team consists of First Mate Dr. Mike Matson (USA), Jamie Douglas Hamilton (UK), Lisa Farthofer (Austria), Stefan Ivanov (Bulgaria), and Brian Krauskopf (USA).

Sponsored by Actipth Alkaline Ionized Water, Nansen Polar Expeditions, Polar Latitudes, and SiteGround, the team will cross some of the most tumultuous ocean waters on the planet, on January 12th, 2023. The team will row the Southern Ocean and the Scotia Sea, which exceeds the difficulty level of the widely feared Drake Passage, for a total of 18 days. During the expedition, the six ocean rowers will be rowing in groups of three 24 hours a day, changing shifts every 1.5 hours. The group will face waves the size of buildings, risk of collision with icebergs, freezing winds, high humidity, and sub-zero temperatures. “Pack ice on a high swell is the scariest environment that a small rowing boat can ever encounter,” says Paul, adding the team will also face sleep deprivation, hunger, risk of injury and illness, and exhaustion.

The Antarctic Treaty requires the expedition to be accompanied by a supervising vessel. That vessel will serve as a platform for a documentary film crew to shoot a full-length feature film about the expedition. It will also house a space for groundbreaking scientific research to bring the world’s attention to the impact of human exploration in the once pristine environment of Antarctica. Crew member Dr. Michael Matson will lead research using digital technology in real time to highlight the challenges facing marine biodiversity in Antarctic waters, including live-charting illegal fishing vessels throughout the journey. The mission’s goal is to secure protection for critical marine ecosystems in the region.

“This is such a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Matson. “A large part of my life is dedicated to addressing climate change, and it is so important to never lose sight of the world we are trying to save. I cannot wait for our amazing encounters with wildlife in the area.”

Adds Paul: “The Shackleton Mission is a chance for me to practice leadership in the most challenging and unforgiving of environments and we’ve got a great team, I love them all-they are ambitious, educated, and successful. Together, we will not only rewrite history, but also make some history of our own. One goal is the recovery of Chippy’s Polar Medal. I thought naming our boat Mrs. Chippy after Chippy’s cat, who accompanied the original voyage in 1914, would be a great reminder for our team of our vision, as well as to announce to the world our intent to rewrite a historic wrong.”

The completion of the Shackleton Mission will mark the end of Fiann Paul’s ocean-rowing career. “If I successfully finish this expedition,” he says, “it will be a beautiful feeling to leave this space undefeated. The best moment to change direction and charter a new course is when you are at the peak of your career and you can use the momentum.”

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