A Guinness World Record holding adventurer is preparing to take on a “treacherous” row in the Antarctic just months after a heart operation.
Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, from North Berwick, will use the event to honour a “forgotten hero” of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance voyage when he sets out on the 950-mile journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia.
The 41-year-old is also hoping to raise more than £100,000 for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) when he and five others undertake the task on January 10.
Mr Douglas-Hamilton is calling for the Polar Medal to be awarded posthumously to Harry McNish, the ship’s carpenter on Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage which ended with the expedition vessel Endurance being sunk by pack ice in October 1915.
The group managed to reach Elephant Island and McNish adapted the James Caird lifeboat to make it seaworthy for the voyage which some of the crew made from there to South Georgia to seek help.
The Harry McNish Row will follow the route sailed by the James Caird, in what is considered one of the world’s most dangerous seas where waves can reach 80ft in stormy conditions.
It was originally planned for December 2021 but had to be postponed which turned out to be fortunate as, unknown to him, Mr Douglas-Hamilton had a heart condition that he believes would have killed him on the journey.
He 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.”
“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.”
The relationship between Shackleton and the outspoken McNish was difficult and Shackleton awarded almost all of the team the Polar Medal excluding McNish.
Believing this to be a great injustice, Jamie is calling out for the Polar Medal to be awarded to Harry McNish’s family posthumously.
He explained: “None of the crew would have made it back if it was not for Harry McNish. 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.”
The crew are yet again attempting to enter the history books with a world first, after their last expedition in 2019 which saw them row 750 miles from Cape Horn in South America to mainland Antarctica across Drake Passage.
No one has rowed this stretch of water from Antarctica to South Georgia before.
He is the only British member of a team of six who will row in 90-minute shifts around the clock, with little to no sleep for 24 hours a day for around three weeks in cold to freezing conditions.
On completion of the row, the crew will have scooped three world first records – first to row from the Antarctic continent, first to row the Scotia Sea by human power alone and first to row the Southern Ocean from South to North.