Lodestar republishes Bill Tilman’s legendary sailing and mountaineering adventures

Dick Wynne’s Lodestar Books has published the first two volumes of a uniform edition of the books of HW (Bill) Tilman — who must have been one of Britain’s most extraordinary and successful independent explorers by both land and sea.

Tilman was born in 1898 and began climbing in 1929, and then in 1955 also took up voyaging. He disappeared in 1977 along with the crew of Simon Richardson’s En Avent on a trip from Southampton to Las Palmas and Rio de Janeiro – the vessel is presumed lost at sea en route to the Falkland Islands with loss of all hands.

His seven mountaineering titles and eight sailing titles, plus the biography High Mountains and Cold Seas by JRL Anderson will appear in pairs at quarterly intervals over the two years from September 2015.

The first volumes to be released are out now: Snow on the Equator and Mischief in Patagonia, and have forewords by Sir Chris Bonington and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston respectively.

Tilman has an engaging, breezy and often characteristically upper-class understated British style, and is frequently very amusing, though the lightness of his style belies his complex character. (For more on that, see the latest edition of the wonderful Marine Quarterly).

‘… the Himalaya are high, too high for those who are not ‘in the vaward of youth’, and though the ageing mountaineer will assuredly find rich solace in its valleys and upon its glaciers he is not likely to resort to them when he knows there are peaks in other parts of the world still within his feeble grasp. 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.

‘Before this line of thought had led me anywhere I had acquired a stout 14ft. dinghy as a first step to venturing upon the sea. There are a number of mountaineers whose devotion to mountains is not entire, who own and sail boats; but there are few sailors who also climb.

‘Of these, the best known was the late Conor O’Brien. He was a celebrated yachtsman who had designed his own yacht Saoirse. Having been invited to join a climbing party in the New Zealand alps for Christmas in 1923 he thought a voyage there an excellent opportunity for trying her out. Going by the Cape and running his easting down in the Roaring Forties he reached New Zealand. He arrived too late for any climbing so he sailed home by way of the Pacific and Cape Horn. One feels that his devotion to the sea came first and that in his eyes the loss of a climbing season was nothing to the accomplishment of such a tremendous voyage.

‘There is something in common between the arts of sailing and of climbing. Each is intimately concerned with elemental things, which from time to time demand from men who practise those arts whatever self-reliance, prudence, and endurance they may have. The sea and the hills offer challenges to those who venture upon them and in the acceptance of these and in the meeting of them as best he can lies the sailor’s or mountaineer’s reward. An essential difference is, perhaps, that the mountaineer usually accepts the challenge on his own terms, whereas once at sea the sailor has no say in the matter and in consequence may suffer more often the salutary and humbling emotion of fear.

‘The sea’s most powerful spell is romance; that romance which, in
the course of time, has gathered round the ships and men who from the beginning have sailed upon it—the strange coasts and their discoveries, the storms and the hardships, the fighting and trading, and all the strange things which have happened and still do happen to those who venture upon it. For the professional sailor this romantic veil has no doubt become threadbare, but for the amateur there is endless fascination.’

Read a longer sample here.

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