79-year-old Scot plans new Arctic adventure

A SCOTTISH explorer is planning his latest sailing expedition through the icy waters of the Arctic at the age of 79.

Bob Shepton steers a steady course on Torssukatak Fjord. Picture: Sean Villaneuva
Bob Shepton steers a steady course on Torssukatak Fjord. Picture: Sean Villaneuva
Bob Shepton steers a steady course on Torssukatak Fjord. Picture: Sean Villaneuva

The Rev Bob Shepton, a retired school chaplain from Appin, Argyll, will voyage to the region aboard the 33ft Westerly, Dodo’s Delight, in June – three months after his 79th birthday – to lead an expedition transporting a team of adventure climbers from Greenland to Baffin in search of unexplored peaks.

Last year his vessel was one of only three yachts that managed to complete the west to east route of the Northwest Passage, because of bleak conditions which created a third more sea ice than normal. That journey won him the UK Yachtsman of the Year trophy.

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He said: “In 2012 I went from east to west along the Northwest Passage and wintered the boat in Nome, Alaska, and then we came back, from west to east, from Nome to Greenland, in 2013.

“The voyage back was much more difficult – we nearly didn’t get out because there was a big sword of ice, 150 miles long, stretching down the Prince Regent inlet.

“This Sword of Damocles, of concentrated ice, was blocking us from getting into open water on the other side.

“We couldn’t get out, we were stuck in Fort Ross, an old Hudson Bay company. We had a short window in the end but, in a week of us getting out, it had all iced up behind us.”

Relieved to complete the journey he left his yacht in Aasiaat harbour, in Greenland, with the aim of picking it up this summer to bring it back to Scotland, where some of his seven grandchildren are eager to join him on a trip around local west coast waters.

But before he returns home to wife Kate, the father of four has now agreed to take on the Greenland to Baffin trip.

The former Royal Marine’s taste for adventure began after a climbing course during national service.

In 2011 he not only led his climbing friends to the Arctic, but trekked some previously untouched peaks with them, a feat which saw the team awarded the climbing accolade the Piolets d’Orr.

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He said: “I can’t really describe the feeling when you know you are treading on part of God’s good earth where no-one else has ever stood.

“I am an adrenaline junkie. It’s the challenge of achieving what we are aiming to do that is the chief motivation – all the other aspects, like the mountain scenery, they are all subsidiaries to the challenge aspect.”

The Rev Shepton moved on from climbing to sailing when his wife suggested they buy a boat, thinking that sailing was something that all the family could enjoy.

When she found she was prone to seasickness, he started taking the family boat out on adventure trips and is now regularly away for two months at a time.

Mrs Shepton said: “I am so used to it now, it’s part of my life. He is either here, or he is not.

“He used to be a school chaplain and the kids at the school came in one day and said is the Rev in? I said no, he is not, can I tell him what you want?

“They said, we just want to ask him about this trip round the world we are doing with him. I didn’t know about it at that time, but it turned out to be a two-year trip.”