‘I felt like one who had first betrayed and then deserted a stricken friend; a friend with whom for the past fourteen years I had spent more time at sea than on land, and who, when not at sea, had seldom been out of my thoughts.’
The first of the three voyages described in In Mischief’s Wake gives H.W. ‘Bill’ Tilman’s account of the final voyage and loss of Mischief, the Bristol Channel pilot cutter in which he had sailed over 100,000 miles to high latitudes in both Arctic and Antarctic waters.
Back home, refusing to accept defeat and going against the advice of his surveyor, he takes ownership of Sea Breeze, built in 1899; ‘a bit long in the tooth, but no more so, in fact a year less, than her prospective owner’. After extensive remedial work, his first attempt at departure had to be cut short when the crew ‘enjoyed a view of the Isle of Wight between two of the waterline planks’. After yet more expense, Sea Breeze made landfall in Iceland before heading north toward the East Greenland coast in good shape and well stocked with supplies. A mere forty miles from the entrance to Scoresby Sound, Tilman’s long-sought-after objective, ‘a polite mutiny’ forced him to abandon the voyage and head home.
The following year, with a crew game for all challenges, a series of adventures on the west coast of Greenland gave Tilman a voyage he considered ‘certainly the happiest’, in a boat which was proving to be a worthy successor to his beloved Mischief.
About the Author
Harold William Bill Tilman (1898 1977) was among the greatest adventurers of his time, a pioneering mountaineer and sailor who held exploration above all else. Tilman joined the army at seventeen and was twice awarded the Military Cross for bravery during WWI. After the war Tilman left for Africa, establishing himself as a coffee grower. He met Eric Shipton and began their famed mountaineering partnership, traversing Mount Kenya and climbing Kilimanjaro. Turning to the Himalaya, Tilman went on two Mount Everest expeditions, reaching 27,000 feet without oxygen in 1938. In 1936 he made the first ascent of Nanda Devi the highest mountain climbed until 1950. He was the first European to climb in the remote Assam Himalaya, he delved into Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor and he explored extensively in Nepal, all the while developing a mountaineering style characterised by its simplicity and emphasis on exploration. It was perhaps logical then that Tilman would eventually buy the pilot cutter Mischief, not with the intention of retiring from travelling, but to access remote mountains. For twenty-two years Tilman sailed Mischief and her successors to Patagonia, where he crossed the vast ice cap, and to Baffin Island to make the first ascent of Mount Raleigh. He made trips to Greenland, Spitsbergen and the South Shetlands, before disappearing in the South Atlantic Ocean in 1977.
An ordained minister in his early eighties, Bob Shepton is a formal Royal Marine who has sailed over 130,000 miles and made over a hundred first ascents. He received the Piolet d’Or in 2011, the Blue Water Medal in 1996, the Tilman medal in 1998 and 2009, Yachtsman of the Year award in 2014 and the Ocean Cruising Club’s Barton Cup in 2015.