Just finished watching all the episodes...fascinating. As an MD, I was especially fascinated by the interaction that you(?) had your expedition MD. If it was not you, then I am sure you know what I am referring to. I am curious if that interaction has been settled in an amicable manner. My take was that you all were pretty comfortable back in the early 20th century, yet the accompanying MD was expected to perform in the 21st century, using all his skills to provide the best care/advice possible. Now, I am not sure if the contract you made with the authorities insisted on an MD on the expedition, which in of itself might explain the colliding of wills we saw.
This is not the first time that two eras collided in the Antarctic. The classic example to me, at any rate was the "race" between Scott and Amundsen. Scott was a brave explorer modeled on those exploits of the 19th Century. His "adversary", Amundsen was pretty much a man of the times. The clash that ensued almost had a predictable outcome...well, predictable, at any rate, with hindsight!
Congratulations again. We too, when we were in SG poured our rum ( or at least some of it) onto "The Boss'" grave...although it is rumored he is actually buried near there, but not at that exact spot. Grytviken is a pretty desolate spot, but quite beautiful.
Hi Fairwinds and Phillysailor, The role of the MD was a very interesting dynamic within this expedition. It really highlighted the problems of trying to re-create a legendary feat of survival in a modern world. I believe there was confusion and communication issues here. I don't want to say who was right or wrong as I wasn't privvy to everything that was said/agreed before the trip or even during. I can only comment on what I saw from my own perspective in the middle.
The problems begin to arise when you take into account such issues as insurance and health and safety responsibilities. Members of the team were down there as paid professionals working for Discovery. If the Dr said that he had seen nerve damage and symptoms on one of the team then he felt he would be obliged to share that information if asked about it later i.e. if something went wrong on the crossing and there was an insurance claim. Alex (the Dr) would then call to find the details of the insurance policy and discuss it further with Discovery back in the UK. Once this process had begun and the responsibilities had been placed... people tend to take the safe options. You can imagine how the discussion would go at a later date if someone who was advised/warned of a pre-existing state i.e. onset of "trench-foot" went ahead and did further permanent damage and lodged a claim. So this process would be going on on the support boat and what you saw on the documentary was the point where this process was introduced to the project leader. I think that Tim had envisaged that the doctor was there to help in cases of more defined injury/emergency and as someone to be referenced on camera for the purpose of the documentary. The whole trench-foot thing kind of snuck up on us all. I actually first mentioned it on only day 2 of our sea crossing. As I massaged my white toes down below, I casually asked Baz what it was to which he gave a full description. I guess we never really thought it would affect us as swiftly as it did as we had not been through the prior ordeals that the 'originals' had. For some it just got worse as the trip went on. As Nick, Seb and I were expected to be the back-up 'mules' for the crossing of Sth Georgia, we would be wearing modern gear and go back onto the Australis whilst we waited for a weather window once we reached Sth Georgia. For that reason we were the ones to jump in the freezing water when we hit the shore. Our boots filled up and we probably spent too much time filming and celebrating on shore. It really started to hurt. this was probably the nail in the coffin for Nick and Seb. We still thought things would come good once we dried out in the warmth of The Australis.The next day we began to know we had a problem as Nick began to struggle with walking and the Dr became involved. Interestingly, when I read back on the original accounts, clear mention is made of this problem and the affect it had on the original crew. I was surprised (in hindsight) how we had figured we would naturally not have the same issue. Perhaps this highlights how similar our clothing was or that we were somewhere on the same 'line' as the original crew (They may well have been more up the bloody cold/hard,old bastard corner whilst we were at the warmer/soft, modern guy scale) but the end result was similar.
To see someone like Nick get taken out by this was disheartening. Nick would never take the soft option and I knew there was no doubt it was the real deal. I listened in to the debate and reasoning on the Australis. The Dr did what he felt was his responsibility in sharing his diagnosis... and the implications of it. Nicks case was a no-brainer. He would have physically struggled to walk. I guess when it began to cross over to slightly more vague cases that the problem arose. Once the Dr realised that other team members were suffering then he began to play a bigger role in the potential outcome of the project. I think this came as a bit of a shock to Tim. You do have to consider Tims frame of mind and focus at this point. I think he let a little bit of a "them vs us" mentality creep in. Three of the team were sitting in damp, smelly original gear still on the AS hanging off a long stern line tied off the back of The Australis whilst everyone else was very cosy, well fed and washed at the other end of the line. There were times we were sort of left feeling guilty about this. It's easy to be cold, wet, thirsty or hungry when you have no option... but to have sweet relief so near by almost waving in your face is pretty tortuous. This stage of the game needed clear leadership and communication and for a while, as we sat and waited for a weather window for the crossing, things got a bit ugly.
It was actually a fascinating part of the whole experience. If the whole support boat thing just disappeared, we would have been in a very similar place as the originals. We would have had three people suffering with trench-foot who would have been left with the boat at Peggoty Bluff whilst three would have had to make a dash across the island to get help. As it was, we had a different objectives on our hands as we did have a support boat and a Documentary to film. The focus wasn't purely on getting a team across... but also in filming and supporting it. There were effectively three teams with their own responsibilities (expedition team, support i.e. The Australis, film crew... and the Dr as well perhaps as a lone fourth).
The documentary showed the stage where Tim was made aware of the discussions from onboard The Australis and the growing empowerment of the Dr to affect the outcome of what he felt was 'his' project. Imagine you have chosen to take on one of the greatest tales of survival, courage, leadership and resilience. Your house mortgaged to the hilt just to make this happen for everyone. You've actually made it this far and completed what you thought was the most difficult bit and now there is a very real possibility that you could actually, really make it... only to be told that someone else has stepped up to say they can call the whole thing off and head back to the Falklands because someone has cold feet. This situation needs to be handled in a proper manner with clear heads. I think Tim felt as if the Dr had overstepped his position and as Philly said... he should have reported directly to Tim to explain his diagnosis and its implications i.e. both physical and to such things as ongoing liability. To have it broken to him in the way it was and on camera was obviously a shock. I could see it from both sides. I had listened to the debate on the Australis but also fully sympathised with Tims state of mind and focus on finishing his project off successfully. The problem needed communication. Eventually this is what happened. Tim called a meeting in a cave ashore and all the cards were laid on the table. He reminded everyone of the big picture and what we were doing whilst also explaining our roles. More than anything it got everyone in the one spot and helped break down the 'them and us' mentality and re-focus on the crossing.
The fact was that we were trying to do something that was bloody difficult and might result in some form of injury. In the end, and this is my belief, it had to come down to the individual in what they were willing to risk i.e. people with families to support have to be more protective of their livelihood. I felt that the damage I felt in my feet was in no way disabling but knew it wouldn't pass the Doctors inspection (he would ask you to close your eyes whilst he prodded your feet. You had to tell him when he was touching your foot or not. After many days in a warm, dry environment, this would tell him if there was ongoing nerve or circulation damage). Whilst I had big numb patches, I felt no pain walking and felt it was manageable in modern boots. I was willing to risk it and didn't want his diagnosis to affect mine or others thinking in my suitability for the crossing. Nick could barely walk so his case was black and white with or without a Dr's diagnosis. This might have made it easier to digest. Ed's case wasn't as severe but was bad enough to not only risk further, permanent damage but also likely hamper the progress of the crossing. We still wanted to do it in a fast dash as per the originals rather than a stop-start affair relying heavily on modern equipment to bivouac with. Ed also does films all sorts of extreme expeditions for a living (i.e. three times up Everest) so and permanent injury of this nature could have a significant effect on his future. These are all great, rock-solid guys so it was painful to see them have to give up on the crossing.
When the weather shut down our first attempt and left us with two guys (Tim and Baz) stuck up on a glacier in howling weather, the same scenario began to play out again. The 'Them and us' mentality crept back in only this time 'they' were far more remote. The Doctor now raised the possibility that he may make the call to evacuate Nick or Si to the Falklands on The Australis and hence end the expedition. His call was based on his diagnosis of the patient and also the current status of the crossing. In some ways he was second guessing the leadership and making his own judgements based on this. This was tough on both sides of the scratchy VHF radio used to communicate the arguments. Once again I was just sitting in the middle. To be honest... half my mind was still going "65 f*****g knots... hell yeah!!!". The fact that we had just successfully completed the whole Sailrocket thing by continually pushing on was obviously on my mind. I sympathised with Tim and the pressures he felt. I wanted to go up there, cross the 'them and us' divide and give them a big shot of confidence. I had to listen to the others as in their own fields they were a lot more experienced than me... but on the other hand, I felt I owed Baz, especially Baz, my confidence. He had calmly sat on the AS and trusted Nick and I to get them safely to Sth Georgia and now it was his rocky ocean. He's a highly experienced guy at the top of his game so if he thought it was worth a shot... then it would be a privilege to literally walk in his footsteps. It was.
Looking back, one of the things that really struck me about the whole experience was the insight you get to the day-to-day problems that face a group of people in that situation. Things aren't always clear and this is when you need solid leadership and everything that comes with it i.e. trust, communication and a sense of direction. I'm sure there were times when even Shackletons leadership was called into question. He would have made some wrong calls and this would have been discussed within groups within the team. Some of the guys probably downright disliked him at stages. In the end we see the big picture of what he achieved. Actually living through this you see it warts and all. All of those of you who have done long offshore trips will understand exactly what I'm talking about here. Forced into a tight, inescapable environment you have to ride the rollercoaster of everyones highs and lows. A person that you may have viewed with murderous intent during a late night sail change may well end up a friend for life once it's all over. We all have our good and bad moments. It's the leaders ability to deal with the small day-to-day stuff whilst keeping focus on the big picture that keeps everyone pulling in the same direction. Often they need the support of other members. I think overall we had a very good team.
The Dr's role in this trip should have been more considered and explained to all beforehand. I think, in this case, that Philly is right when he puts forward his case for how the Dr should communicate his findings. You would be naive to take on that trip and not expect there to potentially be some likelihood of physical injury. How you deal with it maybe should have been discussed in greater depth although, to be fair, despite there being tensions along the way, it all worked out fine. Some things have to be done on the hoof and some times you just have to end the discussions, rely on your ability to work it out... and go for it. We all learnt a lot from this trip and I'm happy to say that I know I will now have some new friends for life.
This ended up a lot longer reply than I expected.