Sir Ranulph set for Coldest Journey
Veteran explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has spoken of the patriotic pride and a mischievous rumour that has driven him to attempt "the last great adventure" across the Antarctic during the polar winter.
The expedition, entitled the Coldest Journey, will see Sir Ranulph and his five-man team attempt to cross the continent over a six-month period. The Prince of Wales, patron of the Antarctic Winter Crossing Expedition 2012, gave the SA Agulhas, the team's ship, a royal send-off on Thursday afternoon.
SA Agulhas will set sail to Cape Town, South Africa, and will be met by Sir Ranulph and the team early in the new year. The journey across the Antarctic has never before been attempted during the winter but a Norwegian exploring team recently crossed the Arctic during the summer months.
Sir Ranulph explained that friendly rivalry between the two nations had been a factor in driving him to complete the coldest journey on Earth. He said: "The Norwegians do consider the polar regions to be theirs, and not for the Brits or the French and that to muck around in."
Speaking of a previous expedition in 1974, the explorer continued that a Norwegian newspaper had run a story claiming that he and co-explorer Charlie Burton had taken a prostitute with them. "Luckily, my late wife was watching our departure so she knew that there was no prostitute, and anyway, at -40 certain things are impractical," he said. "So, yes, the Norwegians did come into our thinking of why we are doing this. If we don't succeed, you can be sure that they will try within a year or two."
At 68, Sir Ranulph is the oldest explorer to attempt the crossing and has been described by The Guinness Book of Records as "the world's greatest living explorer". Speaking about what might happen if the team did not get along, Sir Ranulph said drily: "I'm very happy that they will all get on very well together, and I'm extremely easy-going."
The Ice Team includes Brian Newham, Ian Prickett, Spencer Smirl, Richmond Dykes and Dr Robert Lambert. In March 2013 the Ice Team will set off to travel 2,000 miles across the Antarctic, mostly in complete darkness and in temperatures plummeting to -90C.
On board the SA Agulhas the Prince told the explorers: "I can only wish you God speed and every possible good fortune in this wonderful, dotty adventure. I'm somebody who greatly admires the kind of intrepid explorer activity undertaken by Ran and others."
Charles, a patron of the Antarctic Winter Crossing Expedition, met Sir Ranulph and expedition co-leader Anton Bowring. The Prince was joined by fellow patron Joanna Lumley in wishing the explorers well.
The expedition aims to raise 10 million US dollars (£6.17 million) for Seeing is Believing, a charitable initiative tackling preventable blindness across the globe. Sir Ranulph and his team will depart from London in the centenary year of Captain Scott's death in the Antarctic in 1912.