A ship from the British Empire. A captain singing karaoke. Spirits at dawn. Martin Schacht and Ken Schluchtmann travel down the Ayeyarwaddy from north to south towards Mandalay.
To Elephant Island and South Georgia, crossing South Georgia on the Shackleton Route
The 2015/2016 Expedition honoring the centennial of Endurance’s odyssey
35 Days on the Subantarctic Ocean
Sailing Voyage: Falklands – Elephant Island – South Georgia – Falklands
Traverse of South Georgia’s mountains on ski, along Shackleton’s route
3.739 Kilometer sailing with Santa Maria Australis
„Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.“
The S.E.A.-Team got together following their passions—for the ocean, the mountains, the polar regions, the history of the Heroic Age. We are professionals, but not only in the realms of adventure.
The Santa Maria Australis, a 66 foot aluminum ketch, owned and skippered by adventurer and antarctic sailing pioneer Wolf Kloss—whose company SIM Expeditions is in charge of the journey—will take the S.E.A. expedition from the Falkland Islands to Elephant Island and then continue on to South Georgia. A journey of 35 days on world’s fiercest ocean. In King Haakon Bay the Santa Maria Australis will land the team attempting the crossing, sail around the island, and rendezvous with the group again three to seven days later on the eastern coast at the old whaling station Stromness—provided that the crossing was successful.
The odyssey of the Endurance expeditioners culminated 1916 in the dramatic crossing of South Georgia’s high mountains, even today a nearly blank spot on the map.
And there is still no guarantee of success for those few who dare the crossing; the weather is perilous and unpredictable, and even under ideal conditions the tour, over glaciers and passes, on ski, hauling pulkas, is challenging. Our timeframe of seven days, though, should maximize our chances to succeed with this part of the expedition—and we are even aiming for first ascents along the way. The crossing will be led by Markus Gujan and Adrian Räz, both experienced alpinists and IVBV mountain guides.
We are not driven by the fight for survival, as Shackleton was. But are our motivations so very alien to those of Shackleton, the man who dazzled in extreme situations to the extend that he still hasn’t paled 100 years later, but withered in the pale of civilisation so severely that he eventually embarked on a last, aimless voyage, just so that he would not die in bed? Has man’s urge, man’s need, for adventure ever changed?
We might not be able to write history anymore, but we write stories. Is it simply by accident that there are traveling literati and literary travellers on this expedition? Or is it maybe not about record-breaking, but about dreams that are so vast they require blank spots on maps and charts?
Can we bring back narrations that will tell us more than Guiness Book entries do; narrations that will explain why a story like Shackleton’s still talks to us, after more than a hundred years—to those for whom the story suffices to inspire their own history, as well as to those who feel the irresistable urge to go out there themselves. For which reasons whatsoever. If only to carry a great story into the next hundred years, for whoever will have the need for it then as strongly as we do now.
Possibly there is no tale of adventure as mesmerizing as Shackleton’s Endurance expedition 1914–1917; no polar explorer of the Heroic Age still as faszinating (up to featuring as role model in seminars for CEOs) as Sir Ernest, nicknamed by his men—in a mixture of respect and love—Boss.
Sir Ernest, who failed. Being mobbed and sent home prematurely on his first antarctic journey 1901–1904 by expedition leader Robert Falcon Scott, later his archrival. Forced to turn back 180 kilometers from the pole on his own South Pole expedition 1907–1909—his justification of this decision towards his wife, Better a live donkey than a dead lion, became proverbial. In 1912 he lost the race to the pole irretrievably, in more than one aspect: First Amundsen, then Scott had reached the pole, the latter died on his way back a hero’s death and became a british national icon.
And Shackleton? As unanimously his men praised his integrity, his character, his leadership qualities and his extraordinary abilities in extreme situations, as little did he prove able to adapt to civic life. Although trying repeatedly, he never managed to build for himself a solid—solid in the economic sense as well—“normal“ existence (a strange CEO role model). If I had not some strength of will I would make a first class drunkard, he wrote to his wife in 1919 from Russia, serving for health reasons only in the rear echelon. And neither could he stay home after the war. His own words are revealing: Indeed the stark polar lands grip the hearts of the men who have lived on them in a manner that can hardly be understood by the people who have never got outside the pale of civilisation.
In 1914 Shackleton went on his next expedition. The pole was discovered, the last record left for him (and only by record-breaking he would get financing for his expedition from sponsors and media) was: A complete crossing of the antarctic continent.
He failed. Before even reaching land, his ship Endurance was caught in the ice of the Weddell Sea, drifted with it helplessly for nine month, and was finally crushed by the massive pack. After a harrowing march on the ice, towing three small boats, Shackleton and his men reached Elephant Island, a grim and desolate place—the survival of his crew here during the winter is little short of a miracle.
With one of the boats, the James Caird, Shackleton and five of his companions sailed about 800 nautical miles across the unrelenting Southern Ocean to South Georgia—but the whaling station, their last resort, was situated on the other side of the island, and neither the James Caird nor all of his men were in the condition to go on any further. So Shackleton, Worsley and Crean crossed the uncharted interior of South Georgia, glaciers and mountains, in a 36-hour nonstop march; sleeping would have meant certain death. How he then achieved to rescue every single man of his scattered crew is another tale of heroism.
For in one regard Shackleton never failed: He never lost one of his men, on none of his expeditions. Maybe that is one of the reasons why Scott may be admired, but Shackleton is still literally loved today, by people who know him only by his deeds and books. A further allure might lie in the faszinating combination of his sheer superhuman abilities in extreme conditions, but comparative awkwardness faced with life tuned down to standard parameters.
Shackleton is buried in South Georgia, where he died of a heart attack in 1922 before embarking on his next journey, which had only the vaguest of objectives.
© public domain
“For scientific discovery, give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when you are seeing no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton”
Why do it, following Shackleton, from Elephant Island to South Georgia on a sailboat, crossing the island on Shackleton’s route?
It has been done, not very often, hardly as spectacular as in the reenactment by Arved Fuchs in 2000. Everything has been done, our post-heroic age has left us no undone deeds, no untouched places, barely any blank spots on maps and charts.
It is still ardous, hazardous, tedious, there is no guarantee of success—but one will not write history in doing so. Why do it nevertheless?
Andrea Badrutt, Photographer, Climber, Designer
For many years I’ve been faszinated by the the barren, the deserted, the cold. Searching for the deep bond with nature—and finding it in the mountains. South Georgia … sailing across the wildest ocean … crossing a nearly uncharted mountain range. For me, that means experiencing the unknown. Living it. Within a team in which I feel at ease, of course that’s paramount. In this journey I see subjects for my cameras, emotions for my life, stories which will stay with me henceforth, horizons expanding my being. All this is what makes my life exciting, and what motivates me. And last but not least—I’m always in search of soulmates.
Markus Gujan, Alpinist and Moutain Guide
Having grown up in the mountains, living in the midst of snow, ice and rock ever since—and enjoying it—, I’m faszinated by the unknown. A journey south, in the direction towards the pole, has always been my desire, the S.E.A. Expedition finally offers me the opportunity. To discover new worlds and unknown territory. Experiencing the might of nature’s forces on terrain unfamiliar to me. Sailing in wild seas, walking on cold, barren mountain ranges—it fills me with awe. And at the same time it is very motivating to get to travel on such a historical route toghether with good companions. Those are the epiphanies which give excitement to our lifes and enrich our beings.
Wolf Kloss, Captain and Polar Explorer
I’m in search of a like-minded soul, who, like me, saw his aim in life in polar travels. Who had to fight for his longed-for journeys, like me. Who likewise shouldered hardships and sufferings to lead this kind of life. Mutinity on the Santa Maria after a storm in thick ice south of the polar circle. Springing a leak after collision with an iceberg. Casualties after capsizing in the freak waves of the Drake Passage. Pressed onto the lee shore at 70kn off Cape Horn. Nerve-racking meandering, seemingly aimless, in the ice of the Northwest Passage, and time ticks mercilessly against you on your 3000-miles run … I got the crew through situations like these, with motivation and discipline. On the South Georgia expedition I hope to get even closer to Shackleton, learn to understand him more thoroughly, keep this knowledge and pass it on.
Adrian Räz, Moutain Guide and Geographer
South Georgia. Why? A journey to the end of the world. Why? Because we have the chance. To discover new territory. To extend limits. To travel in the ice. To feel the ocean. Ever since my study of Geography, when I delved into the subject of glaciers and snow, I dreamed about the perpetual ice. I thought about a research ship, working scientifically—in the very tradition of the historic polar explorers. The possibility to collect scientific data during the crossing, presumably in cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences Berlin, is incredibly appealing to me. Furthermore, as a mountain guide I’m intrigued by the quest for the logical way across unknown, untouched terrain. To follow the footsteps of the legendary expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton, is a unique venture and a great endeavor. There aren’t many such void and wild spots left on earth.
Ray Timm, Polymath and Raconteur
Curious, somewhat temperamental, and determined, I am pretty much game and open for any adventure. When Manfred asked me if I wanted to go to Antarctica and South Georgia, I said yes without hesitation since it was a chance to fulfill one of my long held goals. Even though this trip has a plan and a goal, there is not a foregone conclusion that it will be successful. If it were, it would be a planned adventure and that is an oxymoron. I also thought my skills and general knowledge would contribute toward the success of the expedition.
Tina Uebel, Writer, Journalist, Polar Addict
Step by step, I invaded a world untrodden and unknown. Dulled as I was by hardship, I thrilled with the sense of the explorer in new lands, with the thrill of discovery and conquest, quote Frederick Cook, polar explorer. Every inch of the world is untrodden and unknown, as long as you have not walked it on your own. I thrill with the sense of the explorer in new lands, with the thrill of discovery and conquest. I cannot write history anymore, but I write stories. And the polar lands grip the hearts of the men who have lived on them in a manner that can hardly be understood by the people who have never got outside the pale of civilisation. When we talk about the polar regions, we are talking obsession.
Manfred Walter, Father, Mountaineer, Sea-Kayak Guide
Where everybody is, things are too tight for me. Therefore I have to go to places where nobody is, in those parts of our planet which refuse to get cultivated (yet). There I find the silence I want to get impregnated with, just like with the humility in the face of creation, paradise where it is still unimpaired. For the same reasons, I guess, I was drawn into the woods as a curious child, later into the mountains, out to the sea and the polar ice. The child in me and my curiousity stayed the same. And as natural as my wonder about the incredible ability of the Inuit to survive in the hostile Arctic for millenia, I marvel at the compulsion and the boundless will of men like Shackleton, to set out and achieve their dreams, uncompromising and under unbelievable deprivations. Under this auspieces, how could I have said no to joining this expedition?
Nikolaus Hansen, Sailor, Editor, Translator
Ever since sailing around the world in tropical waters during the Seventies, and later on in the Mediterranean and the cool Baltic, I have asked myself what it would be like, in the cold, in the ice. As a child I read Slocum’s account of the passage of the Magellanic Strait; 1977 I read Chatwin’s In Patagonia; when in 1995 I got my hands on Caroline Alexander’s book about the Endurance and learned about Shackleton’s incredible achievements, I knew that one day I would have to sail there myself, into this world of ice. In 1998 on the MS Hanseatic I at least encountered traces of Shackleton on Elephant Island; but the South Georgia expedition finally means the true fulfillment of this long-time dream. And the possibility to feel, evoke, experience firsthand something close to what Shackleton and his men must have undergone back then.
Daniel Holleis, Technician, Sailor, Mountain Lover, Freethinker
Having grown up in Austria’s mountains, I took over my father’s eleven-meter sailing yacht nine years ago and sailed in the West Indies for two years. Across the Atlantic and back to Europe single-handed, since then travelling with my partner Beate. After five years in the North Atlantic we took flight south. Since two years at home in Patagonia, a year ago we signed on with the Santa Maria Australis.
And when we are not anchoring in a snowy bay with our little boat, or are out skitouring, we combine everything with the Santa Maria Australis: Sailing, mountaineering, adventure, the encounter with countries and people, wind and waves … a dream of freedom. This time it will lead us to South Georgia, and I am proud to be part of this expedition.
Beate Löcker, Sailor, Snow Sports Teacher, Trained Seamstress
For all my life I was surrounded by moutains, hiking uphill was a natural thing—until, seven years ago, my partner Daniel abducted me into the world of sailing. A world of adventures, highs and lows, and no modern folderol. The only luxury is the enjoyment of nature and environment without any distraction.
It’s nearly inconceivable that 100 years ago Ernest Shackleton brought all his men home, with no fatalities, after wintering twice in the Antarctic. These sailors had an incredible will to survive, and only through their hazardous expeditions and the resulting experience the path into those areas got paved. I often ask myself: How would we fare today without all the discoverers and explorers before our times?
Viktor Nieman, Sailor and Publisher
Growing up at the Chiemsee, I learned swimming and sailing early. Voluntary sailing instructor during school years at the Steinhuder Meer; later sailing in the Baltic, the North Sea and the Aegean Sea until the 80’s. What is calling me to South Georgia … Is it the desire for adventure? No, rather it is about romance and Shackleton! Once more being on a great journey. The interest in the unknown and mysterious, the confrontation with the magic of untouched nature. I guess you’d call it „authentic experience“. I love seafaring, even though you might get wet, sick, and miserable. But captain, crew and faith will prevail.
Jaap Oosterveld, Polar Addict, World Traveller, Sport Teacher
It all starts with the addiction, the addiction to Polar Areas. Hitchhiking to Lapland, as a teenager, is the first step for me. At that time I don’t realize that it’s already „fatal“. I’m lost, it never stops! What’s in the polar emptiness that causes the addiction? I’m afraid I’m unable to explain. „Go there and you might know“, I would say. During the years I spent quite some time north, respectively south, of the polar circles: Spitsbergen, Arctic Russia, Greenland, Northwest Passage, different parts of Antarctica, and sub-antarctic islands like Macquarie, Campbell, South Georgia. Often a sailing ship brought me to these places. Sailing is the most appropriate way to travel, because it keeps me in touch with the world instead of making me a spectator. The rest was done by reading Shackleton’s South, the most amazing and impressive adventure story one can imagine.
Now, what’s a better way to come closer to what happened a century ago around Elephant Island and South Georgia than going there by sailing ship and experience a bit of history … ?!
Santa Maria Australis ist one of two expedition yachts owned by SIM Expeditions, the sailing and adventure travel company of Wolf Kloss and his wife Jeannete Talavera. For 16 years, SIM has made expedition dreams become reality, e. g. more than 100 roundings of Cape Horn, 30 journeys to Antarctica, and the circumnavigation of both Americas in 2011 — the Santa Maria Australis being the first yacht to ever succeed in doing so within one year—including the legendary Northwest Passage. SV Santa Maria Australis (SMA) is a 66 foot aluminum ketch built in Gdansk, Poland, in 1998. She was refitted in 2004 to endure high latitude sailing conditions.
In 2006, SMA reached the southern latitudes and has since endured 27 Antarctic expeditions. She has been designed and equipped for long distance cruising in comfort.
SV Santa Maria Australis can accommodate up to a total of 12 people.
She sails under german flag, registered in Berlin.
SV Santa Maria Australis:
Builder: Euro Aluship Ltd. Gdansk
Designer: Horst Glacer & Kurt Reinke
Type: Hydra Duo 66
LOA: 20.20 m
LWL: 17.10 m
Beam: 5.50 m
Draft: 2.30 m
Displacement: 32.00 tons