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Hampshire sailor Nick Bubb tells how close his team came to tragedy on Shackleton Epic
IT was the moment their brave attempt to emulate one of the greatest survival feats in human history almost ended in disaster.
Six men crammed into a tiny 22ft boat had just completed an 800-mile voyage in the Antarctic and were heading for shore when the wind suddenly changed direction.
Moments later they found themselves surrounded by jagged rocks at the base of a 600ft cliff that towered over their tiny craft.
With their support vessel unable to get close enough to mount a rescue the wooden boat was in grave danger of being smashed to pieces.
But the skipper, award-winning Hampshire yachtsman Nick Bubb, pulled off an amazing feat of seamanship with the help of fellow sailor Paul Larsen.
Drawing on their vast experience they managed to sail parallel to the cliffs and reach the comparative safety of a nearby bay.
Nick was following in the footsteps of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who faced similar dangers almost 100 years ago.
Today the 33-year-old investment manager is due to return to his Lymington home for an eagerly-awaited reunion with his wife Sophie.
Married less than three years the couple have not seen each other since Boxing Day, when Nick left to secure his place in the annals of Antarctic history.
They were separated by a distance of more than 10,000 miles and Sophie had to rely on the expedition’s website for news of her husband’s progress as he risked his life in one of the remotest places on Earth.
In an interview with the Daily Echo, Nick told how he was looking forward to getting home, seeing his wife and “returning to normality”.
Shackleton and his crew were stranded on pack ice for several months after their ship the Endurance sank in 1915. When the ice began to melt they climbed into three wooden lifeboats and managed to reach the uninhabited Elephant Island.
Shackleton and five members of his crew continued on to South Georgia and managed to get help for their shipmates still stranded on Elephant Island.
Nick, of Lymington, and fellow members of the Shackleton Epic expedition used an exact replica of the explorer’s fragile craft.
After 12 days of 30ft waves, 50-knot winds and near-freezing temperatures they had almost made landfall on South Georgia when disaster loomed.
Nick said: “We found ourselves under some 600ft cliffs and had a very dangerous one-and-a-half-hours, with rocks and breaking waves all around us.
“It was a real challenge to keep the boat off the rocks and we all experienced a very tense time. Luckily we just made it out the other side.”
Asked if he ever thought he might die, the vastly-experienced yachtsman just shook his head.
The boat came ashore at the same spot chosen by Shackleton in 1916.
But jubilation turned to despair when Nick was diagnosed with trench foot – a condition caused by exposure to damp and cold conditions.
Barely able to walk he was prevented from taking part in the second and final leg of the expedition – a three-day trek across South Georgia.
Nick said: “My feet started to go numb a few hours after we set out and the feeling never came back. I felt as if I had no toes. You could have stabbed my feet with a knife and I wouldn’t have noticed.
“After we reached South Georgia I tried to go for a walk with the expedition doctor but it was ridiculous.
“I was warned that if I went into the mountains there was a high chance I’d get frostbite and lose some of my toes. That was a real shock and a real low from which I never really recovered.”
Nick’s disappointment at having to pull out of the expedition was compounded by enforced bed rest.
“I was bed-ridden for 20 hours a day with my feet elevated to reduce the swelling. The doctor then became worried about the danger of a blood clot. I’m normally a very relaxed person but that was traumatic.
“I went to hospital in the Falklands and was later flown home business class, which was the only good thing to come out of it.”
Nick had to remain aboard a support vessel while fellow members of the expedition completed a three-day trek across South Georgia’s mountainous interior.
But he was able to greet his companions when they arrived at Stromness, having successfully re-enacted the legendary trip made by Shackleton.
Now back in the UK, Nick said his feet were already improving and he expected to make a full recovery.
Specialist He said: “I’m going to see a specialist but basically I just need to keep my feet dry and not allow them to get too cold over the next few months. But I’ve been told it might take a couple of years for the nerves to fully recover.”
Now Nick is preparing to pick up the threads of his life and return to his job at investment management firm Brewin Dolphin.
Despite being confronted by huge whales and massive icebergs during his epic Antarctic voyage, the round-the-world sailor – veteran of countless adventures in far flung corners of the globe – says he has no plans to mark his homecoming with a huge celebration.
“As far as I’m concerned the fact that we’ve done it means it’s not such a big deal,” he said.
“Shackleton managed it in the Antarctic winter whereas we did it in the summer and without having to worry about 22 men waiting to be rescued on Elephant Island.
“I shall celebrate by getting back to normal, seeing my friends and watching my favourite rugby team – Lymington Mariners.”
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