100 crew, six legs, five continents, ten countries, 15,000 nautical miles and 25 weeks the stats really do stack up for Exercise Atlantic Quest, the Royal Engineers’ adventurous sailing expedition to the foot of the globe – the South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands archipelago.
The expedition will see the 72ft Challenger Class training yacht ‘Adventurer of Hornet’ set sail from the home of the Royal Engineers in Chatham on its first leg to the island of Lanzarote. From there she will make her transatlantic crossing arriving on the east coast of South America for a crew change before venturing deeper south on her third leg to Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands. Here she will pick up a combined crew including a group of specialist mountaineers that will be put ashore on South Georgia.
Using the yacht as their base station the climbing team will embark on a several expeditions of their own to scale a number of South Georgia’s imposing mountains including Mount Paget which is the highest peak on British sovereign territory. Some of the mountains on their list remain unnamed to this day so one of the duties the team is set to perform is to first of all conquer, and then officially ‘christen’ them.
Given that the expedition is in the year of the coronation of King Charles III, and this the first expedition of its kind for the Royal Engineers under their redesigned cap badge carrying the new sovereign’s cypher, there is every chance you may come across Mount King Charles III or Coronation Peak next time you’re down South Georgia way.
I think one of the biggest challenges will be tiredness and sleep deprivation. We’ve done this for a week now in training and we seem happy with each other, and we have a good team, so I think we’ll be alright. I’m really looking forward to being away from everything and exploring as well, we saw dolphins the other day and hopefully we’ll get to see more of them and whales too Craftsman Jack Hardiman, 36 Engineer Regiment
Each of the sailing legs will carry a crew of 15 with a Skipper and First Mate. Split into three watches, a crew member can expect to spend four hours on and four hours off watch 24/7 for the duration of their leg. Each leg carries its individual set of dangers and challenges be that: heat, extreme cold, shipping lane congestion, icebergs, sea state and of course wind either too much or too little.
Craftsman Jack Hardiman from 36 Engineer Regiment was looking forward to further developing his sailing skills. Surprised that he was selected as he knew it would be popular, he said “I think one of the biggest challenges will be tiredness and sleep deprivation. We’ve done this for a week now in training and we seem happy with each other, and we have a good team, so I think we’ll be alright. I’m really looking forward to being away from everything and exploring as well, we saw dolphins the other day and hopefully we’ll get to see more of them and whales too.”
One of the overriding considerations will be the sheer isolation that the crews will face for weeks on end. This globe spanning event will see the Sappers upholding their Corps’ motto of ‘Ubique’ – everywhere and being engineers their ingenuity and problem solving elan will stand them in good stead in the hugely demanding environments they are to traverse.
The crews are made up from a diverse mixture who have volunteered to climb aboard; highly experienced and qualified offshore skippers will share cabin space with those who have never set foot on a boat in their lives. Among the 3rd leg crew will be a group from the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers based in Maidstone, coming from land-locked Nepal, the Gurkhas are not necessarily noted for their sea legs. All of those taking part will have completed their Competent Crew certification as part of their pre-expedition training which if you were to explore in civvy street would set you back around £700.
Last year expedition members took Adventurer of Hornet up to the icy waters of Greenland as a proving and training exercise to give the crews a little taste of what they can expect. Plotting a course through icebergs and learning how to confront and work the yacht in extreme low temperatures were just two of the valuable lessons learned. The boat is purposely designed and equipped as a training vessel; it is as far away from the reality TV show ‘Below Decks’ as you can possibly get. You won’t find any motorised winches or roller reefing headsails, everything is ‘handraulic’ it takes teamwork to raise the sails, four on the halyard to raise the main sail alone.
Adventurous training is a vital component in the development of a British Soldier, taking a person and pushing them whilst well outside their comfort zone not only builds character and fortitude, but also boosts self-confidence and hoses them down with sense of self achievement. Working as a tight knit team towards a single goal whilst living such close proximity for weeks at a time nurtures tremendous interdependence. A fart here a snore there, everyone learns to accept each other’s foibles it is all about gelling as a single unit all of which are directly transferable skills that can lead to success in the deployed operational environment. In the case of Atlantic Quest, each person is important to their watch, which is important to the crew, which important to the leg which eventually is important to the success of the whole expedition.
Another aspect to the expedition is the environment. Whilst in the South Atlantic the Royal Engineers will seize the opportunity to further build on the understanding of the impact humans are having within the ecosystem. In partnership with the Global Oceanic Survey led by the University of Edinburgh they will be taking and measuring samples and feeding back the results to see the effect of plastic waste on the area’s wildlife and plankton, specifically that of microplastics.
Sailing is just one of the many adventurous training activities open to all soldiers and reservists in the British Army. An aspect not often appreciated when considering a military career, Atlantic Quest will give those on it the experience of a lifetime and many stories to tell their families and next generations to hear. A three-week expeditionary cruise from the tip of Chile out to South Georgia will set you back between £15,000 - £22,000 depending on the tour operator. How much did it cost those aboard Adventurer of Hornet? They were asked to stump up 150 quid!