Leiston: Revells owner Anton Bowring’s role in Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ ‘Coldest Journey’
INTREPID explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is about to undertake another expedition to the South Pole – and the owner of a Suffolk company is playing a key role in the logistics. It is not the most obvious of roles for someone whose “day job” is in the removals business, but Antony “Anton” Bowring is no stranger to adventure himself.
A SUFFOLK-based transport company is about to prove that it will go to the ends of the earth for its customers – in the most literal of senses.
Antony Bowring, owner of Leiston-based Revells Removals and Storage, has been working for the past five years with veteran explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes on an expedition dubbed “The Coldest Journey” which involves the first-ever crossing of Antarctica in the winter.
It is the latest venture in a 35-year association between Antony – or Anton, as he is known in expedition circles – and Sir Ranulph which began in 1977 with preparations for the Transglobe Expedition.
“I had been working at sea as an iceberg researcher for the oil industry off the Greenland coast and, when that finished, I decided I wanted to continue working in the polar regions,” says Anton.
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“When I met Ran, I asked whether I could be a deckhand on the Transglobe Expedition ship. He replied that he didn’t yet have a ship but, if I could find one and recruit all the crew members and arrange for the ship to circumnavigate the world at no cost to the expedition, then he saw no reason why I shouldn’t join the crew.
“It took me two years to find ship and crew and in September 1979 the expedition set off from Greenwich on a 1200 ton ice strengthened ship called Benjamin Bowring after one of my pioneering ancestors.”
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Over the next three years the expedition famously completed the first ever longitudinal circumnavigation of the earth via both North and South Poles. Fiennes and his colleague, Charles Burton became the first, and remain the only people ever to have reached both poles by surface travel in a single journey.
During the voyage Anton married the ship’s cook Jill MacNicol. The expedition ended in August 1982 when the Benjamin Bowring returned to Greenwich having completed a 52,000 mile voyage in support of the expedition.
It was following the end of the Transglobe Expedition that Anton took over the running of Revells Removals.
“I needed to earn a proper living,” he says. “I never got any O-Levels and so I didn’t have any job prospects. Managing expedition ships is rather limiting so I bought a van, a portable cabin and a small removals business and set to work.”
Over the years, the business prospered and now it has new a purpose-built warehouse, a substantial fleet of vehicles and a growing team of drivers and porters.
“I have a fantastic team” Anton said. “To start with we only did smaller house moves and, occasionally, when he came to stay, Ran Fiennes used to join us. I remember him helping to move Benjamin Britten’s grand piano in Aldeburgh on one occasion.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. When the recession hit in 2008, while Anton was recovering in hospital from cancer of the oesophagus, his bank decided to reduce the company’s overdraft facility by 75%. Despite the difficulty of his situation, the bank was unrelenting but, with the help of support from regular customers, the company recovered and is now growing again.
Together with Sir Ranulph, Anton runs the Transglobe Expedition Trust, a charity which supports young people to undertake inspiring expeditions which have a scientific, educational or humanitarian purpose.
Despite reaching the age of 60, however, his own sense of adventure remains and when, five years ago, Sir Ranulph suggested he become co-leader of an expedition to cross the Antarctic in winter, he jumped at the chance to search again for an expedition ship.
“It appealed to me to combine my removal work with a polar expedition,” he says. “We could then honestly say that Revells had moved Sir Ranulph Fiennes to Antarctica.
The job proved not to be without its perils. In February this year, while conducting trials in Lapland, Anton got severe frostbite in all his fingers amid temperatures as low as minus 42�C.
“It completely confused the doctors when I got home,” he says. “At Ipswich hospital A&E they were fascinated and took photos for their scrap books but referred me to Chelmsford burns unit. It took about three months to heal.”
Nor was the task of finding the right vessel straightforward. “Over the years, I have scoured the world for a suitable ship,” he says. “It was important to find one with ice strengthening which was big enough to carry two 20-tonne Caterpillar bulldozers, large accommodation modules on sledges, spare parts, stores for a year in Antarctica and over 150,000 litres of fuel.
“There are plenty of new ships of this sort in Russia, Finland, Canada and Norway but they are far too expensive. We needed an old ship that was still in service.”
The solution was found earlier this year when he visited Cape Town and met the owners of the 30-year-old, 7,000 ton, polar re-supply and research vessel SA Agulhas.
Throughout its life this ship had served the South African Southern Ocean research stations on Marion Island, Gough Island and the Antarctic base called Sanae IV.
However, in July this year, the ship was replaced by a newer state-of-the-art vessel and the old SA Agulhas was transferred to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). Following negotiations, Anton secured the ship for a much subsidised fee with the generous support of SAMSA and Standard Chartered Bank.
The six Coldest Journey expedition team members are due to leave London for Antarctica in early December and will begin their trek on March 21, 2013, the autumnal equinox in the southern hemisphere.
Their journey from the Russian base of Novolazareskaya to Captain Scott’s base at McMurdo Sound, via the South Pole, will take around six months.
The SA Agulhas will play a crucial role, says Anton. “Apart from transporting Ran, his five man team and all the stores and equipment to Antarctica, the ship will also undertake a number of research studies. I am in the process of recruiting scientists to undertake the work. The science projects are being selected by a committee headed by Sir Peter Williams, Vice President of the Royal Society.
“This work will complement further studies being undertaken by Fiennes and his colleagues on the Antarctic plateau. Because Antarctica hasn’t been crossed in winter before, there is a fantastic opportunity to do some unique research, never done before, which will add to the understanding of the effects of global warming on the polar ice cap.”
Both the ship and the expedition team will stream information by satellite to an educational facility set up by Durham’s Education Development Services. The plan is to involve pupils of all ages in a broad range of subjects based on the expedition’s progress. This web-based resource, which is sponsored by Microsoft will be available to 42,000 schools in Britain and many thousands more throughout the Commonwealth.
“This is an exciting opportunity for us to interact with participating schools,” adds Anton. “The expedition is supported by the Commonwealth and with equipment donated by Panasonic and a satellite communications company called Iridium, we shall be able to film a wide range of material on instruction from the educationalists in Durham and beam it all over the world via our website.
“Jill, my wife, is really quite brainy and instead of cooking, this time she is going to coordinate the educational material from the ship.”
In addition, the expedition will raise funds for the international charity Seeing is Believing which provides solutions, both medical and surgical, to those suffering from sight impairment in the developing world.
“Our aim is to raise a minimum of US$10million,” says Anton. “We’ve done it before and, with a commitment by Standard Chartered Bank to match every donation made, this is a wonderful opportunity to tackle on a huge scale the problems of blindness and sight disorders, many of which can be cured with just a modest sum.”
The SA Agulhas will arrive at West India Docks on the Thames in late November and, following loading, final preparations and a visit by the expedition’s patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, the expedition will set off for Antarctica on December 6.
In all, the expedition team will spend a year in Antarctica and will be collected by the ship in January 2014 from the historic base at McMurdo Sound where Captain Scott undertook his last great expedition 100 years ago.
“It is a far cry from moving a conventional, three bedroom, semi detached house in Ipswich, Saxmundham or London, but it is something that we, at Revells are very proud of,” adds Anton.
“Some people cannot see the point and think it is a madcap scheme but, the point is, if someone doesn’t try to do these things from time to time, mankind would still be living in caves.”
And, after a pause he adds, “and that wouldn’t be much good for the removal business!”
: : For further details visit www.thecoldestjourney.org and www.seeingisbelieving.org .