Friday, May 20, 2016

Centennial, Heroes, and Survival

So today is 20th May 2016. What's so special about this date I hear you ask? Be patient and I will tell you - but first a story.

When I was a teenager I came across an adventure book called 'South' by Ernest Shackleton. It looked a good read, so went to bed early at 353 (no TV there to distract me then) and buried myself in the book. At 5am I finished it - totally mesmerised and spellbound by this amazing story of survival. To this day it remains the only book I have read from cover to cover without putting it down.

I speak of the Antarctic expedition lead by Ernest Shackleton and his ship Endurance, captained by Frank Worsley, a Kiwi from Akaroa, not far from home. The ship was crushed by pack ice in the Weddell Sea in the Antarctica. I'll leave you to read the story - it is well worth the effort, but in short they man-hauled several lifeboats for hundreds of miles to Elephant Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. They were on terra firma but no-one knew where they were or what had become of them - and no ships were likely to come their way.

Endurance stuck in the pack ice
The iconic image of Endurance by expedition photographer Frank Hurley
Shackleton was determined to rescue his men. One of his lifeboats was called 'The James Caird' - with the help of his carpenter this boat was modified and a mast and sails prepared. Six men, including Shackleton and Worsley, launched the boat and set sail for South Georgia, 800 miles distant, leaving the rest of the expedition members on Elephant Island, hopefully to be rescued later.

Launching the James Caird from Elephant Island
On the 18th May 1916, thanks to superb navigation skills by Worsley in terrible conditions, they arrived on the southern side of South Georgia at King Haakon Bay. At 3am on the 19th three of them - Shackleton, Worsley and Crean - started the daunting trek across the island to the nearest whaling station. At 3pm on the 20th they walked into the whaling station at Husvik near Stromness.

Frank Worsley's hand drawn map of the journey across South Georgia
The crossing had taken 36 hours - an adventure worth reading in itself. Not without its moments!
In modern times a number of climbing parties have tried to replicate the crossing - it has been done, but no-one has ever got close to the 36 hours.

The next day they returned by local boat to rescue the three members back at King Haakon Bay on the south side. Later, after several attempts to get to Elephant Island were thwarted by ice, the remainder of the expedition was rescued.

I have left huge gaps in the story, so you will have to read 'South' to complete the epic.

And so, about this date - the 20th May 2016. It is 100 years to the day since Shackleton, Worsley and Crean arrived to announce their survival to the world and commence the rescue.

How do I know this? Well by sheer coincidence, I happen to be reading 'Frank Worsley - Shackleton's Fearless Captain' by John Thomson, and I just happen to be at the arrival at Stromness. Quite the shock!

Not bad for an Akaroa boy!!

To finish off this epistle, see the advertisement that Shackleton put in the newspaper in London to attract applicants........................

1 comment:

  1. Good blog. Like you and thousands of others Shackleton is my hero too. Very good to get the date right.