Row, row, row your boat gently to the Pole
But four weeks after commencing their arduous journey into the unknown, a team of explorers led by seasoned Scots adventurer Jock Wishart last night were on the brink of becoming the first oarsmen in history to reach the magnetic North Pole.
The six-man crew, which includes Mr Wishart’s fellow Scot, long-distance cyclist Mark Beaumont, were making a final, painful push over two miles of solid ice, dragging their specially-designed boat-cum-sledge in freezing temperatures.
Speaking to The Scotsman yesterday via satellite phone, Mr Wishart said he hoped the team would earn its place in the record books today.
“We’re only around two miles away from the pole, but we’ve come across a massive great ice floe and we’re having to drag over it, there’s no way around,” explained the 57-year-old.
“It’s frustrating but we hope to complete the journey soon. The boat’s built to be dragged over the ice so we’re all getting our harnesses on.
“We’re not sure how long a drag it is, but we’ll get there. There’s a little bit of frostbite and dead fingers among people, but everyone’s well, although we’ve lost a bit of weight.”
A philosophical Mr Wishart, who is originally from Dumfries and claims to be a descendant of Robert Burns, said that he and his crew had come to expect the unexpected during their daring adventure.
Only a few days ago, there were doubts that the team would be able to complete its arduous journey, regarded as one of the last remaining global “firsts” to be overcome by man, due to rapidly shifting packs of broken ice which threatened to trap its boat.
However, a spell of good weather allowed them to make progress on their 450-mile endurance feat. The final two miles, he insisted, would not defeat them. “If it was an easy expedition, anybody would have tried it,” said the father-of-two, who has twice trekked to the North Pole and co-founded the Polar Race.
“We’re all tired as it’s been a long row and the ice floe doesn’t make things easier. But we’ll get on with it and do it. Morale is good.
“We’ve had lots of problems negotiating moving ice, fog, and there have been bears around us, all sorts of things which have made life interesting. I don’t think I’d do it again but it’s only going to be done once. It’s one of the greatest ocean rows of all time.”
Asked what he and his five fellow intrepid adventurers planned to do upon reaching the end of their trip, Mr Wishart said they all intended to savour a generous measure of Scotch.
The pioneering expedition was only made possible due to the increase in seasonal ice melt of the Arctic landscape, allowing the adventurers a navigable – albeit treacherous – route through some of the harshest conditions on earth. On their way they have encountered an array of wildlife, including polar bears, walruses and Beluga whales.
Throughout the journey, the crew liaised with scientists to establish up-to-the-minute environmental data. Around Ellef Ringnes Island they confronted both solid and floating sea ice which they painstakingly picked their way through. They were also involved in several collisions with large chunks of ice.
The entire expedition has been subject to stringent time pressures. If they had not reached the North Pole by the first week in September, the sea would have frozen over again.
The Old Pulteney Row to the Pole expedition set off from Resolute Bay in Canada on 29 July. The team slept in shifts between rowing stints and survived on 7,000 calorie-per-day rations.
Margaret Mary Clarke, senior brand manager at Old Pulteney, said she was tracking the team’s progress with “bated breath”.