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With the benefit of hindsight, ‘The Skipper’, as we knew him, was one of the most extraordinary characters of the twentieth century. Like many others of Tilman’s crew, I knew virtually nothing about the man when I first sailed with him. He was a true maverick who survived the Great War with distinction before carving out a new life in Kenya, where his climbing partnership with fellow coffee farmer Eric Shipton began. Their expeditions to the Himalaya and Nepal included the ‘orgy of mountaineering’ which marked the 1935 Everest Reconnaissance, with two dozen virgin peaks over 20,000 feet bagged in a single season. The following year, Tilman was to stand atop Nanda Devi, at 25,600 feet the highest mountain yet climbed by man. During the Second World War, Tilman returned to his military roots, at first in conventional operations in Northern Europe and North Africa, before the maverick in him led him behind enemy lines, by the end of the war becoming a local hero in the liberation of the Italian city of Belluno. After a brief return to the Himalaya and an even shorter steady consular job in Burma, Tilman bought a boat, taught himself to sail and become the pioneering high latitude navigator recognised by all those who follow in his wake today.
Containing further unpublished photographs and detail from personal correspondence, the talk offers a unique opportunity to gain awareness and understanding of this remarkable man based on a friendship that endured until Tilman’s loss at sea in 1977.
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