Following the year living in Antarctica, Don and Margie planned to build a 30m sailing ice breaker, but eventually made moves to buy Jean-Louis-Etienne’s magnificent 120ft Aluminium sailing ice ship ‘Antarctica’.
Dick Smith agreed to lend Don the $1.3m, but at the last minute, the late Sir Peter Blake beat him to it. (He would be killed by pirates onboard some years later).
Instead, with Dick Smith’s sponsorship, Don searched the world for an ice expedition ship, finding what was to become ‘Sir Hubert Wilkins’ in Finland. It was 36m long and 600 tonnes, built in 1960 for the president as his personal yacht. Six months later, having sailed half way across the world, it was in New Zealand for a major refit, including a helipad and Hughes 300 helicopter on floats, latest environmental gear, more bunks for up to 32 people and all the latest dive gear, including a five man recompression chamber.
All of a sudden, Don’s other hero Jacques Cousteau and the Calypso felt close and with Margie they were set to play! With a volunteer crew, what followed was nearly four years of challenges and struggles, during three summer seasons in Antarctica, supporting private adventures, conservation teams and adventure seekers. In the first season Don and his team located the south magnetic pole for the first time in the history of mankind and claimed it for themselves! This achievement was accepted internationally.
With poor charts of the Commonwealth Bay area and boat harbour, Don’s team completely surveyed the area, finding new hazards and the Navy Hydrographic office developed and published a new chart from that. Sir Hubert Wilkins voyaged as far south as any ship can go, to Ross Island and Mount Erebus, the site of Scott and Shackleton’s huts.
After two years, the sponsorship finished, but fortunately things kept rolling. Don removed the Gadget Hut from Cape Denison, returning the site to nature untouched. He engaged the French head on, in an international confrontation at Du Monte D’Urville, that lead to the French Government having to rescind French laws, pertaining to asserting sovereignty in Antarctica, against Antarctic Treaty rules.
In the final year treasure hunting in the Philippines looking for Spanish galleons, Don and his team battled typhoons, corruption, pirates and armed men from the NPA terrorist organisation attempting to access the ship. The diving and people were spectacular and while some important discoveries were made, the ‘booty’ was just corrugated iron and some very old timber!
It was an exciting day when they bought the ship, but more so when it was sold. The helicopter was eventually sold ‘cheap’ to Sea Shepherd for whale wars!