Scots explorer unveils boat-cum-sledge to navigate the Arctic

IT IS a vessel unlike any other, built for a treacherous journey that has never before been undertaken.

• Picture: PA

Scots explorer Jock Wishart has unveiled the boat-cum-sledge in which he hopes to navigate the icy waters of the Arctic.

He will skipper the pioneering frost-proof vessel through water, snow and ice on a gruelling 450-mile trek next summer.

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Known as the Old Pulteney, the boat was put to the test during its unveiling at the outdoor ice rink at the Natural History Museum in London yesterday.

Mr Wishart said he hoped other adventurers would learn from the vessel's design and adapt it for future use.

Dutch yacht designer Peter Bosgraaf teamed up with Hugh Welbourne, a Devon-based boat expert, and Europe's top sledge designer Roger Daynes to create the adapted rowing boat.

The sleek, navy blue vessel - a colour chosen to absorb heat - resembles an elongated powerboat and was built in Christchurch, Dorset. It is the first of its kind to have a "cathedral hull" with sledge runners fitted underneath.

Sheathed in carbon fibre and Kevlar to withstand extreme Arctic conditions, the boat will remain light enough for the crew to pull, with a planned weight of 900 kilograms.

Furthermore, it has been designed with a golden underside so that in the worst-case scenario, Mr Wishart and his five-man crew will be able to spot the vessel should it capsize. Mr Wishart, 57, who is originally from Dumfries and claims to be a descendant of Robert Burns, described his latest adventure as the "greatest challenge of my life".

"We've taken on a lot of research in the design of the boat so it can reach speeds of three knots in the icy water, but also so we can lift it up and pull it on the ice if need be," he said.

"We had a yacht designer who didn't know a thing about sledges and a sledge designer who didn't know about yachts, but they've come up with something special."

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Mr Wishart, who declined to reveal how much the boat cost, added: "We've had some good trials and we're hoping for snow over the winter so we can continue. It's a unique boat and we hope people can watch our journey and learn from it, although hopefully there won't be too many mistakes to learn from.

"I've been planning this for over three years, so it's great to finally see today a truly magnificent boat. The crew now have some serious training to be ready for the voyage."

The crew's trek in subzero temperatures across the Arctic - part maritime adventure, part environmental expedition - will last up to six weeks and will take the team past dramatic ice-bound coastlines and shifting sea-ice barriers.The expedition, which will take place next August and will be documented by a film crew, has never been undertaken before and is only possible now due to the increase in seasonal ice melt of the Arctic landscape.

Timing is key to the expedition's success, as the final section of the journey is navigable for only a few weeks of the year before the area refreezes.

The team will set off from Resolute Bay in Canada in the "ice boat" before rowing across the Arctic to the magnetic North Pole in some of the harshest conditions on Earth.

Such an arduous challenge is not new for Mr Wishart, who captained the team that broke the London-to-Paris rowing record in 1999 and in 1992 was part of the first group to walk unsupported to the geomagnetic North Pole.

The Row To The Pole challenge, sponsored by Wick malt whisky Old Pulteney, will be the first polar expedition to involve rowing since Ernest Shackleton and his men took to their boats to save their lives during the legendary Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1916.