Amazing conclusion to an amazing story

I read a book (or maybe one story in a collection of survival stories) about the Shackleton expedition. A short version is here. In the long version you have difficultly believing there is an escape path for anyone at nearly every step in their journey. Yet, everyone survived.

And now people have found the ship Shackleton and his crew abandoned. It is four miles south and nearly two miles below where Shackleton reported it abandoned:

The wreckage of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” has been found, a team searching for it said on Wednesday, March 9.

The ship was crushed by Antarctic ice and sank some 10,000 feet to the ocean floor more than a century ago.

The three-masted sailing ship was lost in November 1915 during Shackleton’s failed attempt to make the first land crossing of Antarctica.

The pictures and video of the ship are incredible:



Endurance is right.


12 thoughts on “Amazing conclusion to an amazing story

  1. When I first read of the expedition, I saw that they were stuck in the ice-bound ship from January to May, and I thought, “That would be tough, but survivable.”

    Then I realised that it was from January 1915 to May 1916!!!

    Captain Bligh of the Bounty: After being cast adrift, I’ll sail this cutter with eighteen men four thousand miles to Timor.

    Shackleton: Hold my beer.

  2. I have a very good book, with lots of pictures, of the expedition.
    Sadly, none of the sled-dogs they brought survived.
    They would have been world-famous when they got back, except they returned in the middle of WW I.

    • Which book is that? I too, read something about Shackleton and that voyage when I was a boy. I cannot remember the author, There are two general histories of Shackleton and his voyages. One, “South”, was published about one hundred years ago, and is in the florid style that was popular with Victorian authors. The other was published in the early sixties, in a more normal voice. I have that one, “Shackleton’s Way”, a book that examines the voyage of the Endurance to glean leadership principles from the behavior and choices of Shackleton, and the DVD set of the movie that starred Kenneth Branagh as Shackleton.

      Curiously, Shackleton died in the mid nineteen twenties at age 44, heading south again for another expediction to Antarctica. His wife had him buried at the whaling station on South Georgia Island, saying that was where his heart was.

    • I have “South”, which was written by Shackleton. It has a bunch of photos in it taken by the expedition photographer.
      One amazing part of the story is how Shackleton and a couple of his crew journeyed to South Georgia Island to get help. They knew it was inhabited (a whaling station). But they landed on the opposite side of the island, with no plausible way to sail around it. So instead they hiked across the glaciers and snowfields and mountains of the island interior, something that had never been done before and for which no maps existed.
      Be sure to read that book, it’s absolutely mindboggling. As for florid, I don’t remember that. Then again, I read a lot of old books (courtesy so perhaps I’m immunized.
      Speaking of amazing Antarctic stories, there’s also “The worst journey in the world” by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. He was part of the Scott expedition, and accompanied Scott on his attempt to the South Pole right up to the final leg where his group was sent back as planned. But in addition, he was part of a scientific research side trip, across the ice shelf several hundred miles to observe the penguins at their hatchery. Doesn’t sound too bad except for the fact that the journey had to be made in mid-winter. In other words, no daylight, and temperatures (not windchill) down to -80 F. It was, as he reported, too brutal to take sled dogs, they could not handle conditions that bad. So the humans pulled the sleds. has this one.

      • Yes, on the push to the Pole. That was in summer, so it was warm enough to take the dogs.

  3. There are bunches of things amazing about this, starting with the voyages that they made in the tiny lifeboat across some of the most hostile seas in the world.

    Also amazing is the accuracy with which the captain of Endurance was able to pinpoint their position with the simple navigation tools available at the time. Only 4 miles off in location, and even that is not certain since the icepack almost certainly drifted before releasing its hold on the ship to drop it to the bottom.

    FINDING the bloody thing is also amazing. Magnetic detectors were useless since it was a wooden-hulled ship, so the entire search had to be by side-scanning sonar and visual at a depth of around 10,000 feet.

    The condition of the ship is also stunning. It must be so cold down there that the usual forms of sea life don’t subsume the ship with growth, and that the wood doesn’t rot. In the pictures I see small amounts of sea life colonizing the decks, but the fact that it’s not covered is pretty amazing.

    • The Captain’s ability to navigate from the ice to Elephant Island and then to the island (South Shetland?) which they had stopped at before heading farther south would be unbelievable in a movie, but he did it for real. Getting accurate angle measurements from the lifeboats in a pitching, roiling sea beggars belief, considering the winds and the currents were against making such a critical voyage to a small island.

    • Celestial navigation is more accurate than most people think. If you’re well practiced, accuracy can be less than a nautical mile. Even if you’re relatively indifferent at it, accuracy is still pretty good. Someone just learning can still get within a dozen miles or so. Certainly good enough to cross an ocean or find South Georgia Island.

      With a good accurate chronometer, decent sextant, current ephemeris, and practice, you can get very good accuracy. Especially if it’s your job.

      • Indeed, but it’s still amazing. Even though there wasn’t a lot to do while stuck in the ice, so the navigator likely took observations many times and rechecked all calculations more than once, it’s still pretty wild considering how often the weather was pretty bad.

        The fact that the art/science of shooting lunars and other angles to calculate the time to check or reset clocks was a well-established procedure so their measurements would maintain accuracy is something that most people today wouldn’t even consider possible, let alone know how to do; that is sort of awe-inspiring, too.

        • Lunars to get the time is a known technique, yes, but as far as I know that’s not a ship navigation tool. Marine navigation, classic style, is done with a sextant, a chronometer, and an ephemeris. Without the chronometer you can get latitude but not longitude.

          The impressive bit about Shackleton’s navigation is that he was doing it in a small open boat on a rough sea, not on a substantial ship. When your horizon is all over the place, using a sextant gets very problematic.

Comments are closed.