The Importance of a Drink at 17:30
Updated: Jan 18
What makes someone a true friend? Is it someone who’ll challenge you, expose you to new ideas, and accompany you on adventures? Is it someone who’ll throw back a drink or three with you and be there whenever you need them? For Ranulph Fiennes, true friends are forged through shared experiences and travelling the globe.
One person who has always been a friend to Ran over the years is Oliver Shepard; a fellow member of the famed Transglobe Expedition. The purpose of the expedition was to become the first crew to circumnavigate the surface of the globe from Pole to Pole; a daring feat that would test the endurance and friendship of all who took part. The base for the expedition was the M.V. Benjamin Bowring - affectionately known by Oliver as the Benji Bee.
This courageous journey was conceived by Ginny; a skilled radio operator, meticulous planner, and wife to Ran. The expedition was considered the most monumentally ambitious private expedition ever attempted, and it’s still thought of as perhaps the most groundbreaking of its kind. Planning for the expedition took over seven years of arduous training and thorough preparation. The actual trip began in September 1979 and took three years to execute and a further two years to finish completely. It wasn’t just the first polar circumnavigation; it was also a record-breaking expedition; the first crossing of both polar ice caps.
During the Antarctic leg of this trip, Oliver Shepard served as a member of the ice team; a dab hand at assisting in mechanical problems, a trusted medic, and even meteorologist. Oliver also helped ensure that all of the M.V. Benjamin Bowring crew would never have to look too hard for a tipple when needed - like a true friend.
But Oliver and Ran’s friendship didn’t begin onboard the Benji Bee. They had actually known each other since their teenage years, having met in Eton College. Oliver’s life had been just as varied and exciting as Ran’s, and when he left college he would go on to be commissioned into the Coldstream Guards in 1964. After that, Oliver joined the 21 Special Air Service Regiment (Artists Rifles) and came to love adventure and exploration even more.
Eventually, Oliver joined Ran, Ginny, and the rest of the team at the Duke of York Barracks and assisted with the preparation for the Transglobe Expedition. Oliver was responsible for obtaining sponsors for the expedition wherever he could, helping net them invaluable funding and equipment that would allow a group of seasoned explorers and friends to successfully complete their intense journey.
Perhaps one of the most timeless ways to celebrate friendship is tradition. We meet up with our friends at the same old hangouts, drink the same old drinks, and laugh with each other over the same old stories and jokes. When your friends are all seasoned explorers and seemingly always on the move, however, it can prove to be a little tricky keeping those types of traditions alive.
That’s where the 17:30 Club began.
Most military “messes” will hold a Happy Hour on Friday evenings, when all drinks are sold at half price and everyone scrambles to grab a seat and a glass before the whole supply is drained. On December 30th 1979, on board the M.V. Benjamin Bowring, the team of the Transglobe Expedition created something similar - the 17:30 Club.
The ship was stationed at 62.17 degrees South, 15.39 degrees East, on a bearing of 220 degrees, when Oliver Shepard came up with the brilliant idea. Together with Charlie Burton, Anton Bowring, Mick Hart, David Mason, Ranulph Fiennes, and Ginny, the club was born. Each and every single day - whenever possible - the team were to raise a toast high into the air for the expedition, at half past five (local time) wherever they were.
Usually, they would all meet up in Oliver’s cabin for their drink. Having spent most of his working life in the drinks industry, Oliver ensured that the M.V. Benjamin Bowring was well stocked with gin, whisky, vodka, beer, wine, and - of course - good rum.
Over the course of their three-year long expedition, the team would battle dangerous terrain, extreme temperatures, dark polar winters, and unforgiving waters. They would map out hundreds of miles of previously unexplored regions in the Antarctic, carry out extensive field research, and even scientifically monitor the effects of the gruelling journey on their own bodies. They’d break records, defy expectations, and win awards - Ginny even became the only woman to receive the Polar Medal from the Queen. Throughout all this - no matter the danger and no matter the location - they would set aside time of an evening to toast their accomplishments.
The 17:30 Club still exists to this very day.
Next time you’re arriving home after a long day, why not pour yourself a drink and raise a toast to the Transglobe Expedition to become a member of the club yourself? We hope that Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Great British Rum - and the many stories surrounding him, his friends, and their exploits - will help inspire people all around the world to create their own traditions and make their own adventures while sharing a drink.