PBS has aired and released its great three-part video series, Chasing Shackleton, which follows the exploits of five modern-day adventurers as they seek to recreate Ernest Shackleton’s amazing small-boat voyage from Antarctica to South Georgia Island in 1916. Follow this link here, and you can watch all three 1-hour episodes for free. Don’t dawdle! I’d be surprised if they leave these up for long.
For sailors, the story inside this story is that one of the five crew aboard Alexandra Shackleton, a very accurate duplicate of Shackleton’s lifeboat James Caird, was Australian Paul Larsen. Just weeks before embarking on this grueling survivalist nightmare of a voyage deep in the Southern Ocean, Larsen had been in Namibia triumphantly shattering the world sailing speed record aboard Vestas Sailrocket 2. This was the culmination of a 10-year personal quest, during which many had ridiculed Larsen and his revolutionary boat.
Even better, Larsen’s job aboard Alexandra, arguably the most important and most difficult one, was navigator. Not only did all the crew wear accurate period clothing, but Larsen had to do all his navigation strictly by sextant. One miscalculation and the boat would either end up on the rocks of South Georgia… or miss the island altogether. Larsen was also one of the three crew who hiked across the unmapped interior of the island after landing in the lifeboat.
Accommodations inside Alexandra Shackleton. The only way to stay warm was to cuddle with shipmates (Photo by Ed Wardle)
Larsen aboard Sailrocket (Photo courtesy of Vestas Sailrocket)
Larsen in the period Shackleton gear he wore during his 800-mile voyage across the Southern Ocean (Photo by Ed Wardle)
Landing on South Georgia Island on the same beach where Shackleton landed a century earlier (Photo by Jo Stewart)
Anyway, I’m not going to spoil the viddies for you by giving anything away. Watch them first, then take a look at this story in Classic Boat, which describes the voyage aboard Alexandra in some detail. Then saunter over to this Sailing Anarchy discussion forum, where Paul mixes it up with the peanut gallery and answers lots of questions about the boat and the passage.
Finally–please, please, please–can someone tell me why Larsen never received any kind of sailing award for this amazing doubleheader of unique accomplishments?