173: Bob Shepton

#173. The Reverend Bob Shepton, now 81, got his start shortly after WWII as a climbing instructor in the British Armed Forces, where he used the outdoors to teach leadership & scripture. He didn’t start sailing until much later in life, but got real serious about it real quickly. I sat down with him at the Southampton Boat Show to talk religion, spirituality, his early days as a climber, losing his boat during an Arctic winter, his 15 Atlantic crossings, meeting the Wild Bunch, and the story behind the film series ‘Vertical Sailing Greenland.’

The music in this episode is courtesy of the Wild Bunch.

This episode is sponsored by Forbes Horton Yachts. Visit forbesyachts.com.

Bob Shepton might not be a household name in the US, but he certainly is in the UK. He was honored as ‘Yachtsman of the Year' in 2014, which may sound irrelevant until you realize the winners in 2013 & 2015 - that would be Sir Ben Ainslie & Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. Good company indeed. Anyway, Bob is one of the most accomplished and yet most humble sailors I’ve ever met. My interview with him was like sitting down with your favorite grandfather and hearing him tell old stories. We could have talked for hours, and Bob seemed to enjoy every second of it. Before you listen to this episode, take five minutes and watch Episode 2 of Vertical Sailing Greenland - you'll find it in the show notes below. That film is what initially inspired me to reach out to Bob, and he tells the behind-the-scenes story of it at length about halfway through our chat.

Show Notes:

Topics discussed in the podcast:

  • Bob's sailboat, Dodo's Delight, a, Westerly 33ft Discus built in 1980.
  • The name Dodo's Delight came from his daughter who read the children book Dodo's Delight by John Ryan at the time 
  • Bob's background as climber and reverend back in England.
  • Limestone cliffs in Portland of the English south coast
  • How Bob Shepton got in to sailing. He saw a boat in Weymouth Harbor and thought it could be a good family vacation. He bought his first boat when they lived up in Scotland. It was a wooden pilot cutter converted to a gaffed rigged ketch, around 32 ft long.
  • The first sailing adventure was with the family, all seven of them, from Scotland to Belfast, Northern Ireland.
  • When they moved south they sold the wooden ketch and thats when he bought the first Dodo's Delight.
  • "I must be the first reverend who has hit rocks in both Antartica and Arctic!"
  • "The never again climb" together with the Wild Bunch
  • Bill Tilman and his many books, He bought a pilot cutter & sailed to remote places and climbed mountains from the boat, a big inspiration for Bob. 
  • The Wild Bunch: Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, Benjamin Ditto, Olivier Favresse & Nicolas Favresse.
  • "The Wild Bunch got in touch with e first via email and asked if I knew about any good rocks to climb in Greenland in 2011. I'm not going to tell you, why don't you come with me this year (2010) instead and I can show you! We called it the 2010 Tilman International. 
  • Where to store the climbing gear on board? One side of the v-berth is dedicated to gear, and a big box strapped down on top as well. "The boat was heavily overloaded!"
  • During the time when the Wild Bunch climbed the "Impossible Wall", Bob went over to a different bay to scout out some cliffs. The tripping line on the anchor got wrapped around the prop. Bob got the dry suit on to dive on it but could not zip it alone. Long story short, he barely made it back on the boat with a fully loaded dry suit... a bit of drama!
  • "You have to have plan B, plan C, plan D and so on when sailing to remote places like Greenland. You have to rely entirely on your own resources, of course they have hospitals etc but it may be days away!"
  • Bob's winter in Greenland, inspired by Alvah Simon's book "North to the light"
  • "I wanted to prove it was possible to winter a fiberglass boat in the Arctic!"
  • Bob talks about the fire onboard Dodo's Delight during his winter in Greenland 2005.
  • "If there were no risk, in my mind, it would not be worth it. If there are risk, it could go wrong but at the same time, if there is no risk there is no challenge".
  • Whats coming in the future for Bob Shepton? "I am 81 years old and some people think its time for me to wrap it up. I think I'm done with Greenland for the moment, Scotland to Greenland is the meanest Atlantic Crossings of them all. I like to sail more on the west coast of Scotland, I have never been to Shetland".
  • Steve Brown on yacht Novara, a Bestevaer 60C. Bob plans to join Steve and crew in the Falklands and sail to South Georgia and repeat the Shackleton expedition!  

Books & Authors mentioned in the podcast

Movies with Bob Shepton & the Wild Bunch

Addicted to Adventure: Between rocks and cold places by Bob Shepton.
Buy Bob Shepton's book straight from Amazon.com