I am now an ADMIRAL!
This is the last book that I read for the Seafaring Challenge, because about half of the story involves seamanship under some of the worst conditions.
This challenge is also the SECOND one that I have completed for 2008! Yippie.
The South Pole had already been discovered by Roald Amundsen, leader of the Norwegian explorers on 12/14/1911. Englishmen Robert Scott and some members of his explorers arrived a month later but never returned.
The next explorer to reach this frozen land was Ernest Shackleton, an Anglo-Irish for England. He wanted to be the first go across the Antarctica. Combined with previously unpublished pictures taken by Frank Hurley, I didn’t have to imagine too hard what was going on.
The only problem with the narrative is that I had to keep flipping back and forth to find a picture of the crew member being talked about. Since there were so many men, I had trouble keeping a mental picture of each individual. There were several group pictures, but they were from a distant, and it was difficult to see the distinctive faces.
Sir Ernest Shackleton is one of my heroes. He had grandiose ideas. He was able to raise funds to pay for the expedition. He understood marketing; he had plans to write books and give speeches about the journey when it was over, and he hired Frank Hurley, a photographer, so that slides and prints could be made.
He was known as a leader for putting his men first. In an earlier Antarctic expedition, when food rations were low and everyone ate a paltry meal of pony meat and pemmican (seal meat with fat), he noticed that Frank Wild needed more to eat and gave him a biscuit (biscuit = US cookie or actual round little bread, I am not sure.)
Wild wrote in his diary “I DO by God I shall never forget it. Thousands of pounds would not have bought that biscuit.”
The expedition left on Endurance, a wooden ship on August 1914. Shackleton received special permission from King George V to proceed, despite the start of WWI.
Unfortunately, Endurance got stuck in the ice. In mid-December 1914, Frank Hurley writes in his diary, “We admire our sturdy little ship, which seems to take a delight herself in combating our common enemy, shattering floes in grand style. When the ship comes in contact with the ice, she stops, dead shivering from trunk to keelson; them almost immediately a long crack starts from our bows, into which we steam, and like a wedge slowly force the crack sufficiently to enable a passage to be made.”
Many attempts were made to chisel the ship free. Everyone stayed on board but lived in the safer sections and took shifts in bailing out the water. Eventually, it sank, and the expedition became a fight for survival, not for exploration.
Shackleton wrote about Endurance, “To a sailor his ship is more than a floating home..she is slowly giving up her sentient life at the very outset of her career.”
For awhile, everyone lived on
Shackleton averted a mutiny early on by promising all the sailors that they would get paid, despite the fact that Endurance was gone. Naval custom dictated that as long as a ship existed, then the sailors would receive pay, but if the ship sank, too bad.
The three rescued rowboats were refurbished by the carpenter, McNish to make them sea worthy. On April 1916, the expedition sailed to
After a few days of resting, Shackleton decided to continue on to S. Georgia Island, a whaling station. He took Worsley, McCarthy, McNish, Crean, and Vincent on the James Caird rowboat to make the 600 mile journey. They started on 4/25/1916 and landed on 5/10/1916.The James Caird voyage is considered one the most spectacular sea voyages of all times. The men survived a hurricane that sank 500-ton steamship. If Worsley miscalculated the latitude of S. Georgia Island, then the James Caird had to cross 3000 miles of ocean to the next settlement. Steering at night was difficult, because the stars were not visible. All the reindeer skin sleeping bags were shedding, and the hair got into everyone’s food and mouths.
Worsley wrote in his diary “Going below was a dreaded ordeal. The space amid the increasing water logged was only five by seven feet. The men had to line up one behind the other and crawl, in heavy wet clothes, over the stores and under a low twart to reach their bags. With the boat rolling and shipping water, entrapment in this narrow space held all the horror of being buried alive.”
Because of the weather, they landed on the wrong side of the island. Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean then had to walk 22 miles over mountainous terrain and uncharted valleys to the whaling station. When they finally arrived, all grody from not bathing or washing clothes for about two years, they terrified two children.
On 5/20/1916, the three other men from the James Caird were picked up. But, because of WWI, the British government did not have the resources to rescue the men on
Some of Hurley’s pictures and maps on the voyages can be seen on this site!Take a peak and be amazed at these heroic men.