Rower Jamie Douglas-Hamilton prepares for Antarctic trial

SCOTTISH adventurer Jamie Douglas-Hamilton is preparing to row from Antarctica to South Georgia to raise money for the British Heart Foundation and honour Sir Ernest Shackleton’s carpenter.

Douglas-Hamilton is undertaking the row just months after undergoing open heart surgery at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to repair a leaking aortic valve.

The 950-mile expedition is due to begin on 10 January, without assistance or wind power.

The international team will retrace Shackleton’s route across the Scotia Sea from Elephant Island to South Georgia, following the sinking of his ship, Endurance, by pack ice in October 1915.

Shackleton and his crew rowed in a boat called James Caird, which was built by Harry McNish from Port Glasgow, who was the carpenter on the Endurance.

The relationship between Shackleton and the outspoken McNish was described as “difficult” and Shackleton awarded almost all of his team the Polar Medal, excluding McNish.

Now, Douglas-Hamilton hopes his expedition will lead to McNish receiving a posthumous Polar Medal.

“None of the crew would have made it back if it was not for Harry McNish,” he said.

“Not only did he build the boat that saved the whole crew with the most limited of tools, but he created the crampons for Shackleton, Crean, and Worsley to cross the mountains of South Georgia to the whaling station on the other side.

“Without McNish speaking up to Shackleton on the pack ice, the lifeboat hulls would have been irreparably damaged.

“He was portrayed as a mutineer but was the real hero.”

Douglas-Hamilton added: “When I was a boy, I read Endurance about Shackleton’s rescue voyage when they sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia in a small lifeboat and I couldn’t believe the hardship they went through.

“I’m excited to be going on this adventure in memory of Harry McNish.

“We have named our expedition boat ‘Mrs Chippy’ after his cat who accompanied the Endurance.”

John McNish, Harry’s great nephew, said: “Our family are incredibly touched that Jamie is rowing the treacherous seas of the Antarctic, which my great uncle sailed in the early 1900s and that the journey will be made in honour of him.

“Our family is incredibly proud of my great uncle, and we have always believed it to be very unjust that Chippy wasn’t given the Polar Medal.

“It is very exciting that this expedition, ‘The Harry McNish Row’, will highlight just how brave and courageous my great uncle was.”

Douglas-Hamilton said: “It was a shock to me when I discovered the issue with my heart and that I needed immediate open heart surgery.

“I felt as if my life had been turned upside down, however, it turned out to be the biggest blessing of my life.

“The operation makes you feel like you have been hit by a bus and the recovery takes a long time but I feel so much better now and my fitness levels are increasing.

“I’m ready to take on the challenge and am incredibly honoured to be rowing on behalf of Harry McNish, who I believe ultimately saved Shackleton’s crew from disaster.”

Icelander Fiann Paul will captain Douglas-Hamilton’s crew, which also consists of: Austrian Lisa Farthofer, who will be the first woman to have rowed in the Antarctic; Americans Mike Matson and Brian Krauskopf, who holds world records for rowing the Atlantic; and Bulgarian Stefan Ivanov, who rowed the Atlantic and has won awards for completing endurance events.

Read more stories on Scottish Field’s outdoors pages.

Plus, don’t miss Guy Grieve’s column in the January issue of Scottish Field magazine.