By Bob Shepton
265 pages, $20,
How many people in their 86th year sail throughout the islands and coast of Scotland, then from England to the Canaries via Biscay and Madeira, and then make yet another cruise of Scotland in the cold and gales of autumn? And all this while also readying his latest book for publication? Of course, none other than the unstoppable polar sailor and mountaineer Bob Shepton.
The Reverend Bob Shepton, an ordained minister in the Church of England, has been traversing the high seas and making first ascents of formidable walls and peaks for more than 35 years. He was a climber first, and so it was natural that when he began sailing he would combine the two endeavors, just like the renowned Bill Tilman, the sailing and mountaineering legend of the early 20th century. Indeed, Bob has been awarded the Royal Cruising Club’s Tilman Medal twice. He has also been honored with the Ocean Cruising Club’s Barton Cup (twice), and with climbing’s highest accolade, the Piolet d’Or. The British yachting press named Shepton Yachtsman of the Year in 2013 and bestowed a Lifetime Achievement award on him in 2020.
In 1995 Bob received the Cruising Club of America’s highest award, the Blue Water Medal, for his circumnavigation of the globe via Antarctica and Cape Horn aboard his 33-foot fiberglass Westerly sloop Dodo’s Delight. But his high latitude circumnavigation was in some ways only the beginning of many years of adventuresome voyaging. Most sailors know Bob today for his many sailing-to-climb expeditions to the most isolated regions of the Arctic, often with the “Wild Bunch,” a group of first-class climbers and all-around intrepid people.
A few years ago, Bob wrote an excellent book recounting many of these endeavors. Addicted to Adventure: Between Rocks and Cold Places (London: Adlard Coles, 2014) opens with a disastrous fire during his winter on board Dodo’s Delight in the Greenland ice. It goes on to tell tales of pioneering routes on un-climbed cliffs, of a dismasting in Antarctica, and of a Northwest Passage transit, to name a few. But he left many stories untold. Happily, his newest book, just released on Amazon, fills the gaps.
Addicted to More Adventure: Risk is Good, Enjoy It begins with Bob’s first youth, in North Africa in 1954 with the Royal Marines. Evidently not finding the desert warfare training to be enough for his level of energy, he and two fellow Marines set off on a 50-mile trek across the hot desert to Tripoli. They covered those 50 miles in only one day, and even made time to drink coffee with a Bedouin in his tent along the way. Adventurers today completing something similar would probably call it an ultra-marathon and make a bit of noise about it on social media. Not Bob. It was just a “yomp,” a hike, to him.
This kind of refreshing understatement characterizes the whole book. Whether he’s describing the frequent gales he and his young crew encountered on the long passage from Antarctica to Easter Island or the difficulties of landing climbers onto big walls from the deck of Dodo’s Delight in Greenland, he does so with humor, lightness, and quiet understatement.
In addition to the high latitude stories, Bob tells us about a delivery to Peru, another from the Mediterranean, and exploring regions closer to his home in Scotland. The book ends with a voyage to the Antarctic island of South Georgia aboard a friend’s boat. The return trip from South Georgia to the Falkland Islands was marked by a gale strong enough to merit the use of the boat’s drogue. A reader familiar with Bob’s first book can’t help but recall another passage Bob made, sailing nearly 1,000 miles from the former Faraday base in Antarctica to the Falklands under jury rig after the dismasting of Dodo’s Delight.
Throughout Addicted to More Adventure, Bob includes excellent photographs that add to the stories. Having read both books now, I marvel that one person has packed so much superb adventure into his life. If you are not already familiar with Bob, and especially if you are, I urge you to read this book. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. n
Author’s note: Bob did me the great honor of asking me to write the Afterword to Addicted to More Adventure, but that was, of course, a volunteer effort, and did not affect my review.
Contributing editor Ellen Massey Leonard is a writer, photographer and circumnavigator with 60,000 ocean miles.