'So I began thinking again of those two white blanks on the map, of penguins and humming birds, of the pampas and of gauchos, in short, of Patagonia, a place where, one was told, the natives’ heads steam when they eat marmalade.'
So responded H. W. ‘Bill’ Tilman to his own realisation that the Himalaya were too high for a mountaineer now well into his fifties. He would trade extremes of altitude for the romance of the sea with, at his journey’s end, mountains and glaciers at a smaller scale; and the less explored they were, the better he would like it. Within a couple of years he had progressed from sailing a 14-foot dinghy to his own 45-foot pilot cutter Mischief, readied for her deep-sea voyaging, and recruited a crew for his most ambitious of private expeditions.
Well past her prime, Mischief carried Tilman, along with an ex-dairy farmer, two army officers and a retired civil servant, safely the length of the North and South Atlantic oceans, and through the notoriously difficult Magellan Strait, against strong prevailing winds, to their icy landfall in the far south of Chile.
The shore party spent six weeks crossing the Patagonian ice cap, in both directions, returning to find that their vessel had suffered a broken propeller. Edging north under sail only, Mischief put into Valparaiso for repairs, and finally made it home to Lymington via the Panama Canal, for a total of 20,000 nautical miles sailed, in addition to a major exploration ‘first’ all here related with the skipper’s characteristic modesty and bone-dry humour, and many photographs.
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.
Robin Knox-Johnston, four times UK Yachtsman of the Year, remains one of the world’s most celebrated sailors. Like Tilman, his hero and a fellow maverick, his adventurous spirit was incubated at Berkhamsted School. Leaving a career in the Merchant navy with a Master’s certificate, he made the first single-handed, non-stop small-boat voyage around the world in 1969. Addicted to ocean racing, he still finds time to cruise the Greenland coast, following in the footsteps of Tilman. An inspirational champion of ocean cruising and racing, he was knighted in 1995 in recognitions of his global sailing achievements.