Times Past, Pausing to Remember

Part III

Ernest H. Shackleton departed from London on his ship, Endurance, August 1, 1914. The real journey began December 5 when he and his crew of 27 left the Grytviken whaling station on the island of South Georgia. "Georgia" conjures up in the minds of most Americans images of a far different landscape from what the sailors aboard the Endurance saw as they departed that day. Their island of South Georgia rises steeply from the sea. It is rugged and mountainous, largely barren, and has steep, glacier-covered mountains. South Georgia is 100 miles long by 20 miles wide and has a land mass slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. It is 800 miles east of the Falkland Islands, of which it is a dependency.

Ship, Endurance December 5, 1914. The Endurance left South Georgia making for the coast of Antarctica to the south.

December 7, 1914. The vessel entered Antarctic pack ice. For many days it had to manoeuver through the ice, seeking clearer waters. Very little progress was being made towards the south, but the men kept up their spirits by playing football on the ice. There were dangers in that; one man fell through an area of rotten ice and had to be fished out of the freezing water. Another danger lay in the habits of killer whales. They lurked beneath the ice, watching for the shadows of seals above. Spotting one, they would launch themselves through the ice and take the seal. The expedition's photographer, Frank Hurley, later wrote "The whales behind...broke through the thin ice as though it were tissue paper, and, I fancy, were so staggered by the strange sight that met their eyes, that for a moment they hesitated. Had they gone ahead and attacked us in front, our chances of escape would have been slim indeed...Never in my life have I looked upon more loathsome creatures".

January 18, 1915. Endurance became beset in the pack ice. Just before midnight on January 24, a crack developed in the ice some five yards wide and a mile long, only fifty yards ahead of the ship. The crack widened to a quarter of a mile by 10 a.m. on the 25th, and for three hours Shackleton tried to force the ship into the opening with engines at full speed ahead and all sails set. The only result was a clearing of the ice from the rudder.

On the 27th, Shackleton decided to put the fires out. They had been burning coal at the rate of a half a ton each day in order to keep steam in the boilers. With only 67 tons remaining, representing 33 day's steaming, no more could be afforded as they remained stuck in the ice. Land was sighted to the east and south when the horizon was clear. By the 31st, the ship had drifted eight miles to the west. The sun, which had been above the horizon for two months, set at midnight on February 17th. On the 22nd the Endurance reached the farthest south point of her drift, touching the 77th parallel of latitude in longitude 35癢. The summer was gone. Temperatures fell to -10癋 at 2 a.m. on February 22. Shackleton wrote, "I could not doubt now that the Endurance was confined for the winter...The seals were disappearing and the birds were leaving us. The land showed still in fair weather on the distant horizon, but it was beyond our reach now, and regrets for havens that lay behind us were vain. We must wait for the spring, which may bring us better fortune."

May 1, 1915. The sun vanished for the season, setting below the horizon and not to return for four months. At midnight on the 11th of July, the temperature was -23癋. The most severe blizzard experienced to date in the the Weddell Sea swept down upon them on the evening of the 13th. By morning, the kennels to the windward side of the ship were buried under five feet of snow. By evening, the wind reached 70 miles per hour and the ship trembled under the attack. At least 100 tons of snow piled up against the bow and port sides. Pressure from the ice increasingly became a cause for concern. Distant rumblings and the appearance of formidable ice ridges gradually approached the ship. 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".

Endurance at night October 23, 1915. This was a Sunday, and it marked the beginning of the end. Their position was 69�'S, longitude 51�W. At 6:45 p.m. the ship sustained heavy pressure in a dangerous position. The Endurance groaned as her starboard quarter was forced against the floe, twisting the stern-post and buckling the planking. She immediately began to leak. The bilge pumps were started at 8 p.m. and by morning the leak was being kept in check. Then came Wednesday, October 27. Shackleton wrote, "The position was lat. 69�S, long. 51�'W. The temperature was -8.5� Fahr., a gentle southerly breeze was blowing and the sun shone in a clear sky. 'After long months of ceaseless anxiety and strain, after times when hope beat high and times when the outlook was black indeed, we have been compelled to abandon the ship, which is crushed beyond all hope of ever being righted, we are alive and well, and we have stores and equipment for the task that lies before us. The task is to reach land with all the members of the Expedition. It is hard to write what I feel". She had drifted for at least 1186 miles.

Before the ship began to break up, during the long period of darkness, photographer Frank Hurley managed to set up enough lighting to take the picture to the right. It was only a short time before the Endurance was lost.

October 27, 1915. Shackleton gave the order to abandon the Endurance, and the men removed everything they could carry off the ship that they would need. The men set up camp on the ice, and on November 21 Shackleton shouted, "She's going, boys!" The 28 men watched as their ship sank.

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