Thursday, January 8


Just finished reading "Endurance" by Alfred Lansing. It describes how Ernest Shackleton's and his team of 27 sailors and what have you attempted to cross the antarctic ocean. Their ship (the Endurance) was caught in ice for about 10 months until it finally sank because of the pressure of the ice. We are around 1916 and thus no helicopters and satellites to save their sorry asses. And what did they do? They saved themselves. And how?

From October till April they stayed on some ice floes. Then finally in April when their last floe (called Patience Camp) got torn in two, Shackleton ordered his men into boats. We are talking about normal boats. In the Antarctic Ocean. After five horrible days at sea (it was cold, wet, no proper equipment, they were drenched in salt water (apparently your skin turns white and mushy)) they finally landed on an island called Elephant Island.

Now they couldn't stay here forever so Shackleton and 5 other men boarded the sturdiest of the boats (pictured) and started sailing for South Georgia. They sailed through the Drake Passage which is the shortest path to the southern most point in the south american continent (Cape Horn). Now I didn't know then, but I know now, the Drake Passage is one of the most horrible places with respect to water on this planet. It happens right where the Atlantic crosses into the Pacific. At that particular latitude there is no other land for the entire circumference of the Earth, which means that the Antarctic Circumpolar Current can flow without any obstacle. It carries a huge volume of water (about 600 times the flow of the Amazon River) through the Passage and around Antarctica. Here is a video of a big russian ship facing a storm in the Drake Passage. It's a very big ship but notice how it gets trashed by the waves. They sailed for 15 days (the last 4 without water) until they reached South Georgia.

It wasn't over yet, because they still had to cross uncharted mountains and glaciers (which nobody had crossed before) to get to the other side where there was a whaling station. [Wiki] "The next successful crossing of South Georgia was in October 1955, by the British explorer Duncan Carse, who travelled much of the same route as Shackleton's party. In tribute to their achievement he wrote: "I do not know how they did it, except that they had to—three men of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration with 50 feet of rope between them—and a carpenter's adze"" Shackleton and two others did this in 36 hours non stop.

They say that the chief of the whaling station started crying when he saw the state Shackleton was in. The experienced whalers told Shackleton that they had lived their entire life in that station and had never ever even thought about crossing the Drake Passage in a small open boat like the one. Finally on August 30 the rest of the party on Elephant Island was saved. NOBODY died. For example, the entire Franklin expedition of 129 people had perished in 1845 in the Arctic, Scott's party to the south pole died in 1912 - uncomparable, but still. Nobody died.

The family motto of Ernest Shackleton was:
Fortitudine vincimus - By endurance we conquer

Google books has a limited preview of Shackleton's book.

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