The Search For Shakleton’s Ship: Scientists On Expedition To Trillion-Tonne Iceberg Will Use Autonomous Robot Submarines To Hunt For The Famed Vessel — The Endurance

The Search For Shakleton’s Ship: Scientists On Expedition To Trillion-Tonne Iceberg Will Use Autonomous Robot Submarines To Hunt For The Famed Vessel — The Endurance
        Chris Dyer posted a December 26, 2018 article on the website of the, noting that “a team of scientists will for the first time, search for the wreck of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s doomed ship — The Endurance — that was crushed in the ice more than 100 years ago [1915]. Scientists on board the SA Agulhas II will leave for the Wendell Sea in Antarctica on New Year’s day/2019, and head towards the Larsen C ice shelf.”

     Mr. Dyer adds that “as part of one of the most ambitious polar expeditions in recent years, scientists, using underwater drones, will also try and discover why a trillion tonne iceberg the size of Northumberland broke off the ice shelf and floated 28 miles (45 kilometers) last year.”
     As you probably know, and has been well documented, “Shackleton’s ship became stuck in the ice,” and eventually was crushed and sank in 1915, near the Larsen C ice shelf in the Wendell Sea. “After ten months stuck in the ice pack, Shackleton and his men survived by camping on the frozen ice; before moving to an ice flow in the hope of drifting to safety,” Mr. Dyer wrote. “Eventually, the crew was able to set off in life boats to Elephant Island; but, as this was too hostile, the explorers made the treacherous journey to the island of South Georgia, in an open boat.”
     “This latest expedition hopes to visit where the famous ship went down, and for the first time, try to hunt for the wreckage with autonomous robot submarines,” Mr. Dyer wrote.
     Julian Dowdeswell, Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge and Chief Scientist  on the Wendell Sea Expedition, recently told London’s The Guardian: “Antarctica is a place of extremes. You never know what conditions will be like. But, if we are that close to one of the most iconic vessels in polar expedition, we have got to go and look for it.” John Sears, the expedition’s voyage leader told the Guardian: “We’d love to get to the wreck site; but, it will be a challenge — even in a light ice year. No one has ever got close. If it was easy to do, someone would have done it a long time ago.”
Trapped In A Polar Vortex
     Few stories captivate us like the Ernest Shackleton”s doomed voyage to cross the Antarctic from “sea to sea, via the pole,” Caroline Moorehead wrote in the January 9, 2015 Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Ms. Moorehead, author of Village Of Secrets: Defying The Nazis In Vichy France,” was reviewing Michael Smith’s new book [2015] “Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer.” Ms. Moorehead wrote that “On August 1, 1914, the same day that Germany declared war on Russia, the Imperial, Trans-Antarctic Expedition set sail on the Endurance, from London’s East India docks. Leading the voyage was Ernest Shackleton, a 40-year-old decorated veteran of two previous Antarctic expeditions, who had sailed the continent on Robert Falcon Scott’s historic 1901 voyage on the Discovery.
    “By 1914, Scott, hero of Antarctic exploration was gone,” Ms. Moorehead wrote, “having died on the ice two years previously, as his Norwegian rival, Roald Amundsen claimed the pole. But, the golden age of polar exploration, with its overtones of imperial conquest, and its prickly, backbiting rivalries, was far from over. “Polar Madness,” was in the air, and Shackleton, a handsome, barrel-chested man with a jaw like iron, and head of dark hair, yearned for fame — and the money — his own expedition might bring.”
     “Shackleton was determined to be the first to cross the Antarctic from sea to sea, via the pole,” Ms. Moorehead wrote. “His plan was that one party, that he would lead, would make its way from west to east, across the largely uncharted continent — it was still not known whether it was a single land mass, or a collection of islands — while a second team would leave supplies for them on the other side. So began an epic voyage that would forever capture popular imagination — not for what it accomplished; but, for what 28 men and 69 dogs on board….endured.”
     “The Endurance was a coal-fired, steam-engine ship with three masts, and a keel of solid oak,” Ms. Moorehead wrote. “By January 2015 [some 5 months after leaving London] the ship was trapped firm in the pack ice of the Wendell Sea. For the next three months, she was stuck fast, as the ice built up around her in massive, terrifying formations; her beams and timbers buckled and splintered.” “It was a sickening sensation to feel the decks breaking under one’s feet,” Shackleton wrote in his diary. “The great beams bending and then snapping with a noise like heavy gun-fire.” “Ultimately, her keel snapped, and Shackleton ordered the ship to be abandoned on October 27, 1915,” Ms. Moorehead wrote.
     Shackleton and his men, “now found themselves marooned on an ice flow, on which they would drift for another five months,” Ms. Moorehead wrote. “They had no radio transmitter; and, no one knew where they were. In due course, the dogs made their way into the pot.”
     “That all the men survived was, as Michael Smith writes in “Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer,” to some considerable extent due to the force of Shackleton’s personality; and, to his skills as a leader,” Ms. Moorehead wrote. “Heedless of his own well-being, he inspired courage in his crew, and he looked after his men, as the polar writer Sara Wheeler has described it, like a broody hen with her chicks. In return, they admired and believed in him, even if some found his cheeriness and sometimes bombastic manner irritating. Mr. Smith, in illuminating this unforgettable figure, brings his own considerable scholarship in the field to this story, in addition to access to new archives.”
     “When the ice flow on which they were perched shrunk by 200 yards across, the men took to three small lifeboats, finally reaching Elephant Island, a rocky outcrop of glaciers and howling winds, and then at last, the inhabited island of South Georgia,” Ms. Moorehead wrote. “It had been 497 days since “they had last felt the ground underneath their feet.” “Yet even now, there was a further ordeal to overcome,” Ms. Moorehead wrote: “Many of the men were “unable to work without being dragged from their bags, and some appeared to have given up hope. Shackleton had to make the toughest decision yet: “with no hope of rescue possible, and the conditions of the men in serious decline, he was forced to split the party.”
     “Taking five of the strongest men with him on one of the lifeboats, at constant risk of being squashed by icebergs, or capsized by killer whales, Shackleton set out for help,” Ms. Moorehead wrote. “His final feat was a 30-hour trek, over mountains and glaciers no man had ever crossed, to a whaling station.”

     “When Shackleton reached home, and learned of the horrors of the trenches [in WWI], he wrote:” “We were like men arisen from the dead to a world gone mad.” “The men of Endurance had become heroes, their feats relayed to the soldiers on the western front to keep their morale up,” Ms. Moorehead wrote. “Too old to play an active part in the war, Shackleton embarked on a series of crazy schemes to make his fortune — a whaling factory, a cigarette enterprise, mining in Bulgaria — neglecting his long-suffering wife and three children, before settling his hopes on a new expedition in 1921 to chart islands in the sub-Arctic waters.” “I return to the wilds again and again,” he explained to a reporter, “until in the end, the wild will win.” “Death found him on board the Quest, off South Georgia, on January 5, 1922. He was 47, and had long-suffered from a heart condition, which he refused to treat.”
     Ms. Moorehead concludes, “it took the swashbuckling Shackleton far longer than the secretive Scott to achieve true heroic status — not the least because Scott had died in such tragic circumstances. But since the late 1959s, the biographies have kept coming, most notably Roland Huntford’s excellent 1985 book, “Shackleton.” “Doubtless, many more will follow. Shackleton, like Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, or Marie Antoinette, is a larger than life character, that each generation of writers feel bound to honor.”
     Well, I do not know that I would put Shackleton in the category of Napoleon and Lincoln, more like Sir Edmund Hillary or Neil Armstrong. Clearly he was an exceptional leader and visionary. But, like many of those types of personalities, their own vision and goal comes first, and very often at the expense of their friends and family. I certainly admire Shackleton for his ‘endurance,’ no pun intended, his courage, vision, and determination to achieve what others can only dream about. But, I do not admire the neglect of the family; and, his stubbornness regarding his own heart condition cost him an early death. Nonetheless, one can certainly understand the infatuation with finding The Endurance’s last resting place. One does wonder though, if the ship was ultimately crushed by the ice — if the searchers will be able to find anything of any relevant size, that proves they have found the actual final resting place.  RCP,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *