Epic trip begins in earnest

Written By miftah nugraha on Kamis, 24 Januari 2013 | 19.55

The expedition team before its departure on Elephant Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. Picture: AFP

AN Australian-led expedition retracing Sir Ernest Shackleton's audacious 1916 crossing of the Southern Ocean has set sail.

The team of six took off in a small lifeboat from Elephant Island, in the South Shetland Islands, about 6am today (AEDT).

They are bound for South Georgia in the Southern Atlantic, about 800 nautical miles across the fearsome Southern Ocean, following the course of the explorer's perilous voyage.

Sir Ernest's crossing took 17 days, with a three-day trip across South Georgia.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard offered the expedition her best wishes today.

"On behalf of our nation, and in the warm spirit of Anglo-Australian friendship, I wish you well in the challenging days ahead," she said in statement.

Leading the crew aboard an exact replica of the 6.9-m whaler James Caird is 46-year-old Adelaide environmental scientist Tim Jarvis.

"Clearly there are inherent dangers involved in attempting an expedition of this magnitude," Mr Jarvis said shortly before taking off today.

"Shackleton's journey certainly defied the odds."

"I hope this expedition not only does his memory justice but also reminds us all of how incredibly beautiful, yet fragile, this part of the world is."

The crew's boat has been renamed the Alexandra Shackleton after the explorer's granddaughter.

"The expedition will be incredibly demanding both at sea and on land," Ms Shackleton warned today.

In the final leg of the journey, the crew plans to use only the equipment and food available to Shackleton during a two-day climb to 900m over the mountainous, crevassed interior of South Georgia.

Shackleton set off from Elephant Island in April 1916, after his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition's vessel, Endurance, became stuck in ice and was abandoned.

He made it to South Georgia and raised the alarm at a whaling station, and rescuers were eventually able to save the stranded party without loss of life.

Shackleton died of a heart attack off South Georgia in 1922 during his fourth Antarctic expedition when he was trying to circumnavigate the continent.

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