Ernest Shackleton's Trans-Antarctica expedition of 1914 - 1917 is one of the most incredible adventure stories of all time. It is remarkable even for an era and region that already has far more than its fair share of incredible tales of heroism and fortitude in the face of appalling hardships.
The intention was to cross the Antarctic continent from one coast to the other via the South Pole. In the event, the expedition never set foot on continental Antarctica. The expedition managed to survive the loss of their ship in the middle of the Antarctic pack ice at a time when there was no chance of contacting the outside world, let alone of being rescued.
· On November 5th they arrived at South Georgia. Shackleton learnt much from the whaling captains about the conditions in the Weddell Sea.
· The Endurance battled her way through a thousand miles of pack ice over a six week period and was one hundred miles - one days sail - from her destination, when on the 18th of January 1915 at 76°34'S, the ice closed in around her.
· By the end of February the ship was now clearly frozen in for the winter.
· Shackleton wrote "The ice is rafting up to a height of 10 or 15 ft. in places, the opposing floes are moving against one another at the rate of about 200 yds. per hour. The noise resembles the roar of heavy, distant surf. Standing on the stirring ice one can imagine it is disturbed by the breathing and tossing of a mighty giant below"
· The Endurance finally broke up and sank below the ice and waters of the Weddell Sea on November 21st 1915.
· The 28 men of the expedition were now isolated on the drifting pack ice hundreds of miles from land, with no ship, no means of communication with the outside world and with limited supplies.
· They made landfall on Elephant Island being ecstatic to do so. It had been 497 days since they had last set foot on land.
For the time being they were safer and secure than they had been for a long time, but they were still stranded and there was no chance of rescue. No ships passed that way. No radio at that time was capable of summoning help. The outside world was not going to come to Elephant Island.
Shackleton realized that in order to effect a rescue, he was going to have to travel some 800 miles distant and across the stormiest stretch of ocean in the world. They expected to encounter waves that were 50 feet from tip to trough "Cape Horn Rollers" in a 22 foot long boat.
On May 5th, the eleventh day out at sea, the sea became much rougher, Shackleton wrote:
"I called to the other men that the sky was clearing, and then a moment later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave.
During twenty-six years' experience of the ocean in all its moods I had not encountered a wave so gigantic. It was a mighty upheaval of the ocean, a thing quite apart from the big white-capped seas that had been our tireless enemies for many days. I shouted 'hold on! It's got us.'
We felt our boat lifted and flung forward like a cork in breaking surf. We were in a seething chaos of tortured water; but somehow the boat lived through it, half full of water, sagging to the dead weight and shuddering under the blow. We baled with the energy of men fighting for life, flinging the water over the sides with every receptacle that came to our hands, and after ten minutes of uncertainty we felt the boat renew her life beneath us"
On the morning of the 8th of May, they began seeing kelp floating in the sea, then some sea birds, just after noon they caught a glimpse of South Georgia. After 2 years and 22 days it was over.
The amazing fact that the men kept going during this time was a tribute to Shackleton's leadership skills, his abilities, and understanding of the importance of keeping up morale.
2Timothy 2:3 – “Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
Obedience leads to inexhaustible resources of strength.
Isaiah 40:29 – “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength.”
(Information taken from Cool Antartica.com, and compiled by Rob Cronin)