'However many times it has been done, the act of casting off the warps and letting go one’s last hold of the shore at the start of a voyage has about it something solemn and irrevocable, like marriage, for better or for worse.’
Mostly Mischief’s ordinary title belies four more extraordinary voyages made by H.W. ‘Bill’ Tilman covering almost 25,000 miles in both Arctic and Antarctic waters.
The first sees the pilot cutter Mischief retracing the steps of Elizabethan explorer John Davis to the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage. Tilman and a companion land on the north coast and make the hazardous crossing of Bylot Island while the remainder of the crew make the eventful passage to the southern shore to recover the climbing party. Back in England, Tilman refuses to accept the condemnation of Mischief’s surveyor, undertaking costly repairs before heading back to sea for a first encounter with the East Greenland ice.
Between June 1964 and September 1965, Tilman is at sea almost without a break. Two eventful voyages to East Greenland in Mischief provide the entertaining bookends to his account of the five-month voyage in the Southern Ocean as skipper of the schooner Patanela. Tilman had been hand-picked by the expedition leader as the navigator best able to land a team of Australian and New Zealand climbers and scientists on Heard Island, a tiny volcanic speck in the Furious Fifties devoid of safe anchorages and capped by an unclimbed glaciated peak. In a separate account of this successful voyage, Colin Putt describes the expedition as unique—the first ascent of a mountain to start below sea level.
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.
Roger Taylor has been sailing small, engineless yachts to outlandish places for nearly fifty years. He is a recipient of the Ocean Cruising Club’s Jester Medal, and the Royal Cruising Club’s Medal for Seamanship. He lives on a remove croft in north-west Scotland.
Philip Temple had climbed extensively in New Zealand and West New Guinea before the Heard Island expedition described in his book. He is an author of fiction and non-fiction and was made an Officer of the New Zealand order of Merit in 2005. He lives in New Zealand.