The three-masted Endurance from Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition in 1914-1915 trapped in the pack ice. (Photo: Frank Hurley / Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust https://fmht.co.uk/)
Endurance22, a team of explorers, board the South African icebreaker SA Agulhas II on a mission to find Shackleton’s ship, trapped 3,000 meters below the surface in dark and cold polar waters.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
In the darkness of the ocean, 3 km deep in one of the world’s most inhospitable places, lies an artifact from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration.
Somewhere on the seabed beneath the sea ice of the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica is the wreckage of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance.
For more than 100 years, the exact location of the ship has remained a mystery, but in a few months, a new generation of explorers hope to finally find the wreck.
The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust announced on July 5 that it would launch a second expedition to find, study and film Endurance. The expedition, dubbed Endurance22, is scheduled for February 2022.
The South African icebreaker and research vessel, SA Agulhas II, will be an integral part of the expedition, which will depart from Cape Town. The launch of the expedition coincides almost a month to the day with Shackleton’s death a century earlier.
“There is a climate of optimism within the Endurance22 team that we can find, study and film the wreck as we will have a fantastic ship at SA Agulhas II, an exceptional and experienced crew, and we will use the technology of tip of the SAAB Sabertooths There has never been such a good opportunity to locate Endurance, âExpedition leader Dr. John Shears said in a statement.
The SAAB Sabertooths Shears are talking about are remote-controlled vehicles that can operate autonomously or on a hitch. They will travel 3000 m deep and travel the ocean floor in search of the wreck. Once they find it, they will send photos of the wreckage back to their mothership, SA Agulhas II.
Organizers hope the Sabertooths will perform better than the other Remote Control Vehicle (ROV) used on the first Endurance Expedition in 2019. This expedition had to be canceled when an ROV was lost under the ice.
If they find the wreck this time around, the search will be non-intrusive; Sabertooths will not be allowed to enter the ship or take any artifacts. The reason is that the wreck is protected as a historic site and monument under the Antarctic Treaty.
âTrying to locate the wreckage of the Endurance, something long thought to be impossible and out of reach, is an extremely exciting prospect. Given the harshness of the Antarctic environment, there is no guarantee of success, âMensun Bound, Endurance22 exploration director, said in a statement.
Explorers are hopeful that the discovery of the ship, which sank in November 1915, might provide answers to Shackleton’s epic expedition, which planned to cross the Antarctic continent from west to east.
Glimpses of the ship will reveal whether its hull, built specifically to survive the pack ice, is still intact, and also whether marine organisms are consuming the hull. Maybe a Sabretooth could find some of those glass photographic plates that Shackleton photographer Frank Hurley was forced to give up.
South African tour guide Rob Caskie grew up admiring Shackleton, who has long been overshadowed by Robert Scott, the tragic polar explorer who was beaten in the race to the South Pole and later died on the Ross Ice Cap during his return trip. The two men didn’t like each other.
âShackleton was always a man, unlike Scott, who had a real empathy for his men because he had spent time in the Merchant Navy, rather than the Royal Navy. He did not have the same dictatorial hierarchical means of leadership. He was one of the boys, âsays Caskie, who visited the Weddell Sea and led trips to Antarctica.
Shackleton had watched Scott and Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen sideways run for the South Pole. After it became clear that the South Pole had been conquered, he wondered what the next step was.
âShackleton decided that the next geographic grand prize would be a trip through Antarctica, from west to east via the South Pole. And from that was born the Imperial Transantarctic Expedition, âsays Caskie.
For this expedition, Shackleton purchased the Norwegian-built barquentine Endurance. To strengthen her hull so that she could navigate through pack ice, shipbuilders used planks of Norwegian oak and fir, some of which were three-quarters of a meter thick.
But it was not enough.
On Valentine’s Day 1915, the Endurance found itself trapped in ice as it made its way to Vahsel Bay on the Antarctic coast. For months, explorers hoped they could break through the ice, but they didn’t.
On October 24, Shackleton ordered his men to move the ships and essential ship equipment to the surrounding ice, when it was realized that the pressure of the ice had seriously damaged the Endurance.
On November 21, the Endurance sank. What was to follow was one of the great rescue missions of the Heroic Age. For months Shackleton’s men camped on the ice; As conditions warmed, they used their three lifeboats to reach Elephant Island, 557 km from where the Endurance reportedly sank.
Elephant Island was too far away and far from shipping lanes, so an attempt was made to reach South Georgia, where there was a whaling station. Shackleton and five men survived the 1,200 km open boat trip through the stormy polar seas. Upon reaching South Georgia, they were forced to travel 50 km over mountainous terrain to the other side of the island, where a whaling station and aid was located.
On August 30, 1916, the British whaler Southern Sky reached Elephant Island and rescued the remaining men.
Shackleton would not survive long after this heroic expedition. In 1922, he died of a heart attack in South Georgia, while taking part in an expedition during which he planned to tour the Antarctic continent.
For many decades, Shackleton’s exploits were largely forgotten by the public until an unlikely discovery brought him back into the news. In 2007, a case of whiskey buried in ice was discovered at a base in Antarctica that Shackleton had built on one of his first expeditions in 1907.
Caskie believes the whiskey was meant to be drunk when Shackleton returned triumphant from the South Pole. He didn’t, and it looks like he’s been forgotten. The blended whiskey was no longer available and there was no record of the whiskeys used in its making.
Fortunately, after tasting the whiskey, a master distiller was able to reproduce it. It is now commercially available, with part of the proceeds going to the New Zealand Heritage Trust.
Since then, other alcoholic companies have used Shackleton’s name. In Cape Town, a microbrewery makes a limited edition beer called Shackleton Ice Breaker, which uses melted Antarctic ice cores in the brewing process.
The discovery of Endurance is likely to reintroduce Shackleton’s remarkable achievements to a new generation, but Caskie believes his ship should be left in his aquatic grave.
âI feel like it’s almost a sacrilege to try to see what condition he’s in now, whether it’s in one piece or in several pieces. They don’t collect any artifacts and there is nothing of value on the ship. So we should leave Endurance alone. DM168
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