Former chaplain is a sailing legend

Bob Shepton

He has completed the unique feat of sailing his 33ft sloop through hostile Arctic conditions of the North West Passage in both directions in successive years.

This ex-Royal Marine and retired school chaplain is by any standards one of the most remarkable voyagers, explorers and ice adventurers of our times – a modern day H. W. (Bill) Tilman.

Over the past 25 years he has circumnavigated the world and sailed over 130,000 miles in every latitude from the Arctic to the Antarctic. In the 1990s, he took a crew of underprivileged schoolboys to the Antarctic and back across the Atlantic.

He has sailed to, and climbed in, high latitudes numerous times and scaled previously unclimbed Arctic mountains – to give but two examples:

In 2001 Shepton sailed through the Davis Strait to Baffin Bay where, at its northernmost point, he skied across the remote and hostile Bylot Island (a land mass of 11,000km2 with no settlements). This was an epic ten-day traverse with the ascent of eight peaks.

In 2004 he sailed to Greenland with a crew of skiiers and climbers, encountering a storm in which he had to heave to for 26 hours. At Kangerdlugssuaq, Shepton made a personal ascent of a 1,650m peak over 30km distance (some of it on loose and difficult terrain), taking 28 hours. Later, he rounded Kap Alexander and continued until he was stopped by pack ice at 78°32’N, probably the furthest north that a glassfibre yacht has ever been in Greenland.

Unfortunately, while overwintering in the ice in 2005, a fire from the diesel heater consumed his 33ft Westerly Dodo’s Delight and she burned to the waterline and sank. Undeterred, Shepton sought out and bought another similar Westerly Discus, and he has continued voyaging to the far north since.

He has completed the unique feat of sailing his 33ft sloop through hostile Arctic conditions of the North West Passage in both directions in successive years. His latest voyage west to east in 2013, aged 78, was in particularly bleak conditions and the feat was managed by only three boats that year.

He won the Apollo/Yachting Journalists’ Association Yachtsman of the Year Award in January 2014.

We asked him where his boat was now, and he replied: “Greenland”, so no need to ask his cruise plans this year as he heads into his ninth decade.

 

An extract from Yachting World, March 2014