The first leg of a historic re-enactment of Shackleton's famous voyage has produced a fascinating insight into the conditions endured by the original crew.

The crew of Alexandra Shackleton onshore at South Georgia

The crew of Alexandra Shackleton onshore at South Georgia

Six heavily bearded, exhausted but jubilant adventurers took advantage of 15-20 knot winds and a 2 metre swell to help land their boat, Alexandra Shackleton on the beach at Peggotty Bluff, South Georgia island, at 1530GMT on February 3 – the location where Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men landed the James Caird nearly 100 years ago.

The crew of British and Australian adventurers have made it successfully through the first leg of their historic re-enactment of Shackleton’s voyage of 1916. It took them just 12 days to sail the 800 nautical miles from Elephant Island. Now, three of them, expedition leader Tim Jarvis, mountaineer Barry Gray and cameraman/mountaineer Ed Wardle will prepare to climb across its mountainous, crevassed interior to reach the whaling station at Stromness – just like Shackleton, Worsley and Crean did in 1916.

Expedition leader, Tim Jarvis, 46 said: “The Alexandra Shackleton really stood up well to the conditions. As an exact replica of the James Caird, she was designed as a life boat and that’s exactly how she performed. She did brilliantly. But steering her was a challenge that required enormous strength and focus.”

The Shackleton Epic  crew land at Peggotty Bluff

The Shackleton Epic crew land at Peggotty Bluff

Jarvis added: “I’m immensely proud of this crew. They all performed incredibly well under such dire circumstances and the fact that we managed to sail 800 nautical miles in such a small vessel really shows how solid they are individually and how well we worked together as a team.”

The crew, who shared a cheers  and ‘group hug’ on the beach when they touched dry land, comprised Jarvis along with skipper Nick Bubb, navigator Paul Larsen, bosun Seb Coulthard, mountaineer and cook Barry Gray and cameraman/mountaineer Ed Wardle.

“There was just no way to keep dry. The waterproofing with wax didn’t work. Below deck, the boat was constantly damp and being on watch meant that you were directly exposed to the elements. On a few occasions a big wave washed over the deck and down the hatch soaking everything down below,” Jarvis said.

Skipper Nick Bubb, a veteran around the world sailor who is known for few words smiled as he said: “We slept intertwined like a strands of spaghetti in a bowl.”

This sentiment was shared by Barry Gray who added “When someone needed to get up to go on watch, they need to disentangle themselves from us all. It was like the last 10 seconds of a one-hour game of twister.”

The other crew members shared the banter: “There was so little space below deck that I slept folded up like an accordion… with a wooden barrel as a pillow. As more moisture worked its way into the boat, the reindeer skins began to get wet and shed. The reindeer hair went absolutely everywhere – it was in your food, your drink, your clothing, your socks – everywhere,” Seb Coulthard said.

Australian navigator Paul Larsen who steered the boat on a solid course to South Georgia with only a few days of sunshine to record accurate sun sights using traditional celestial navigation, said: “Putting on your traditional outer gear at night in the dark was like putting on a cold, animal carcass.”

Veteran adventurer Ed Wardle, who has climbed Everest twice said:  “This was the hardest thing I have ever done. In the first few days it was really hard to get any footage at all as I was in basic survival mode. When that storm hit we were riding really huge waves - it was terrifying. ”

The crew will now rest for a day or so onshore before preparing for the climb.  Jarvis, Gray and Wardle will climb using traditional gear while Coulthard, Bubb and Larsen will use modern gear and follow in a second party with a film crew.

Shackleton Epic is aiming to become the first expedition to authentically re-enact Shackleton’s legendary voyage of survival, honouring the great leader as the Centenary of his daring Endurance expedition approaches (1914-1916). For more on the expedition see our earlier news story Centenary Shackleton Expedition launched.