EnduranceShackleton's Incredible Voyage
Carroll & Graf PublishersCopyright © 1999 Alfred Lansing
All right reserved.ISBN: 9780786706211
The order to abandon ship was given at 5 P.M. For most ofthe men, however, no order was needed because by then everybodyknew that the ship was done and that it was time to giveup trying to save her. There was no show of fear or evenapprehension. They had fought unceasingly for three days andthey had lost. They accepted their defeat almost apathetically.They were simply too tired to care.
Frank Wild, the second-in-command, made his way forwardalong the buckling deck to the crew's quarters. There, twoseamen, Walter How and William Bakewell, were lying in thelower bunks. Both were very nearly exhausted from almostthree days at the pumps; yet they were unable to sleep becauseof the sounds the ship was making.
She was being crushed. Not all at once, but slowly, a littleat a time. The pressure of ten million tons of ice was drivingin against her sides. And dying as she was, she cried in agony.Her frames and planking, her immense timbers, many of themalmost a foot thick, screamed as the killing pressure mounted.And when her timbers could no longer stand the strain, theybroke with a report like artillery fire.
Most of the forecastle beams had already gone earlier in theday, and the deck was heaved upward and working slowly upand down as the pressure came and went.
Wild put his head inside the crew's quarters. He spoke quietly."She's going, boys. I think it's time to get off." How and Bakewellrose from their bunks, picked up two pillowcases in whichthey had stowed some personal gear, and followed Wild backup on deck.
Wild next went down into the ship's tiny engine room. Kerr,the second engineer, was standing at the foot of the ladder,waiting. With him was Rickenson, the chief engineer. Theyhad been below for almost seventy-two hours maintaining steamin the boilers to operate the engine-room pumps. During thattime, though they couldn't actually see the ice in motion, theywere altogether aware of what it was doing to the ship. Periodicallyher sides—though they were 2 feet thick in most places—bowedinward 6 inches under the pressure. Simultaneously, thesteel floor plates jammed together, screeching where theiredges met, then buckling up and suddenly overriding one anotherwith a sharp metallic report.
Wild did not pause long. "Let down your fires," he said."She's going." Kerr looked relieved.
Wild turned aft to the propeller shaftway. There McNeish,the old ship's carpenter, and McLeod, a seaman, were busy withtorn pieces of blankets calking a cofferdam built by McNeishthe day before. It had been thrown up in an attempt to stem theflow of water coming into the ship where the rudder and thesternpost had been torn out by the ice. But the water now wasalmost up to the floor plates, and it was gaining faster than thecofferdam could hold it back and faster than the pumps couldcarry it away. Whenever the pressure ceased for a moment, therewas the sound of the water running forward and filling up thehold.
Wild signaled to the two men to give up. Then he climbedthe ladder to the main deck.
Clark, Hussey, James, and Wordie had been at the pumpsbut they had quit on their own, realizing the futility of what theywere doing. Now they sat on cases of stores or on the deck itself,and leaned against the bulwarks. Their faces showed theunspeakable toil of the past three days at the pumps.
Farther forward, the dog-team drivers had attached a largepiece of canvas to the port rail and made it into a sort of chutedown to the ice alongside the ship. They took the forty-ninehuskies from their kennels and slid each one down to othermen waiting below. Ordinarily, any activity of this sort wouldhave driven the dogs mad with excitement, but somehow theyseemed to sense that something very extraordinary was goingon. Not one fight broke out among them, and not a single dogattempted to break away.
It was, perhaps, the attitude of the men. They worked witha deliberate urgency, hardly speaking to one another. There wasno display of alarm, however. In fact, apart from the movementof the ice and the sounds from the ship, the scene was oneof relative calm. The temperature was 8 1/2 degrees below zero,and a light southerly wind was blowing. Overhead, the twilightsky was clear.
But somewhere, far away to the south, a gale was blowingtoward them. Though it probably wouldn't reach their positionfor at least two days, its approach was suggested by the movementof the ice, which stretched as far as the eye could see, andfor hundreds of miles beyond that. So immense was the pack,and so tight, that though the gale had not yet reached them, thedistant pressure of its winds was already crushing the floes together.
The whole surface of the ice was a chaos of movement. Itlooked like an enormous jigsaw puzzle, the pieces stretchingaway to infinity and being shoved and crunched together by someinvisible but irresistible force. The impression of its titanic powerwas heightened by the unhurried deliberateness of the motion.Wherever two thick floes came together, their edges butted andground against one another for a time. Then, when neither ofthem showed signs of yielding, they rose, slowly and often quiveringly,driven by the implacable power behind them. Sometimesthey would stop abruptly as the unseen force affecting the iceappeared mysteriously to lose interest. More frequently, though,the two floes—often 10 feet thick or more—would continue torise, tenting up, until one or both of them broke and toppledover, creating a pressure ridge.
There were the sounds of the pack in movement—the basicnoises, the grunting and whining of the floes, along with an occasionalthud as a heavy block collapsed. But in addition, the packunder compression seemed to have an almost limitless repertoireof other sounds, many of which seemed strangely unrelated to thenoise of ice undergoing pressure. Sometimes there was a soundlike a gigantic train with squeaky axles being shunted roughlyabout with a great deal of bumping and clattering. At the sametime a huge ship's whistle blew, mingling with the crowing ofroosters, the roar of a distant surf, the soft throb of an enginefar away, and the moaning cries of an old woman. In the rareperiods of calm, when the movement of the pack subsided for amoment, the muffled rolling of drums drifted across the air.
In this universe of ice, nowhere was the movement greater orthe pressure more intense than in the floes that were attacking theship. Nor could her position have been worse. One floe wasjammed solidly against her starboard bow, and another held heron the same side aft. A third floe drove squarely in on her portbeam opposite. Thus the ice was working to break her in half,directly amidships. On several occasions she bowed to starboardalong her entire length.
Forward, where the worst of the onslaught was concentrated,the ice was inundating her. It piled higher and higher against herbows as she repelled each new wave, until gradually it mountedto her bulwarks, then crashed across the deck, overwhelming herwith a crushing load that pushed her head down even deeper.Thus held, she was even more at the mercy of the floes drivingagainst her flanks.
The ship reacted to each fresh wave of pressure in a differentway. Sometimes she simply quivered briefly as a human beingmight wince if seized by a single, stabbing pain. Other times sheretched in a series of convulsive jerks accompanied by anguishedoutcries. On these occasions her three masts whipped violentlyback and forth as the rigging tightened like harpstrings. But mostagonizing for the men were the times when she seemed a hugecreature suffocating and gasping for breath, her sides heavingagainst the strangling pressure.
More than any other single impression in those final hours,all the men were struck, almost to the point of horror, by theway the ship behaved like a giant beast in its death agonies.
By 7 P.M., all essential gear had been transferred to the ice,and a camp of sorts had been established on a solid floe a shortdistance to starboard. The lifeboats had been lowered the nightbefore. As they went over the side onto the ice, most of the menfelt immense relief at being away from the doomed ship, and fewif any of them would have returned to her voluntarily.
However, a few unfortunate souls were ordered back to retrievevarious items. One was Alexander Macklin, a stocky youngphysician, who also happened to be the driver of a dog team. Hehad just tethered his dogs at the camp when he was told to gowith Wild to get some lumber out of the ship's forehold.
The two men started out and had just reached the ship whena great shout went up from the campsite. The floe on which thetents were pitched was itself breaking up. Wild and Macklinrushed back. The teams were harnessed and the tents, stores,sledges, and all the gear were hurriedly moved to another floea hundred yards farther from the ship.
By the time the transfer was completed, the ship seemed onthe point of going under, so the two men hurried to get aboard.They picked their way among the blocks of ice littering the forecastle,then lifted a hatch leading down into the forepeak. Theladder had been wrenched from its supports and had fallen toone side. To get down, they had to lower themselves hand overhand into the darkness.
The noise inside was indescribable. The half-empty compartment,like a giant sounding box, amplified every snapping boltand splintering timber. From where they stood, the sides of theship were only a few feet away, and they could hear the ice outsidebattering to break through.
They waited for a moment until their eyes grew accustomed tothe gloom, and what they saw then was terrifying. The uprightswere caving in and the cross members overhead were on theverge of going. It looked as if some giant vise were being appliedto the ship and slowly tightened until she could no longer holdout against its pressure.
The lumber they were after was stored in the black-dark recessesof the side pockets in the very bow of the ship. To reachit, they had to crawl through a thwartships bulkhead, and theycould see that the bulkhead itself bulged outward as if it mightburst at any moment, causing the whole forecastle to collapsearound them.
Macklin hesitated for just a moment, and Wild, sensing theother's fear, shouted to him above the noise of the ship to staywhere he was. Then Wild plunged through the opening and afew minutes later began passing boards out to Macklin.
The two men worked with feverish speed, but even so the jobseemed interminable. Macklin was sure they would never get thelast board out in time. But finally Wild's head reappearedthrough the opening. They hoisted the lumber up on deck,climbed out, and stood for a long moment without speaking,savoring the exquisite feeling of safety. Later, to the privacy ofhis diary, Macklin confided: "I do not think I have ever had sucha horrible sickening sensation of fear as I had whilst in the holdof that breaking ship."
Within an hour after the last man was off, the ice pierced hersides. Sharp spears drove through first, opening wounds that letin whole blocks and chunks of floes. Everything from midshipsforward was now submerged. The entire starboard side of thedeckhouse had been crushed by the ice with such force thatsome empty gasoline cans stacked on deck had been shovedthrough the deckhouse wall and halfway across to the other side,carrying before them a large framed picture that had hung onthe wall. Somehow, the glass on its front had not broken.
Later, after things had settled down at the camp, a few menreturned to look at the derelict that had been their ship. But notmany. Most of them huddled in their tents, cold through andtired, for the time being indifferent to their fate.
The general feeling of relief at being off the ship was notshared by one man—at least not in the larger sense. He was athickset individual with a wide face and a broad nose, and hespoke with a trace of an Irish brogue. During the hours it took toabandon the ship, he had remained more or less apart as theequipment, dogs, and men were gotten off.
His name was Sir Ernest Shackleton, and the twenty-seven menhe had watched so ingloriously leaving their stricken ship werethe members of his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
The date was October 27, 1915. The name of the ship wasEndurance. The position was 69 [degrees] 5' South, 51 [degrees] 30'West—deep in the icy wasteland of the Antarctic's treacherous Weddell Sea,just about midway between the South Pole and the nearest knownoutpost of humanity, some 1,200 miles away.
Few men have borne the responsibility Shackleton did at thatmoment. Though he certainly was aware that their situation wasdesperate, he could not possibly have imagined then the physicaland emotional demands that ultimately would be placed uponthem, the rigors they would have to endure, the sufferings towhich they would be subjected.
They were for all practical purposes alone in the frozen Antarcticseas. It had been very nearly a year since they had lastbeen in contact with civilization. Nobody in the outside worldknew they were in trouble, much less where they were. They hadno radio transmitter with which to notify any would-be rescuers,and it is doubtful that any rescuers could have reached them evenif they had been able to broadcast an SOS. It was 1915, andthere were no helicopters, no Weasels, no Sno-Cats, no suitableplanes.
Thus their plight was naked and terrifying in its simplicity. Ifthey were to get out—they had to get themselves out.
Shackleton estimated the shelf ice off the Palmer Peninsula—thenearest known land—to be 182 miles WSW of them. Butthe land itself was 210 miles away, was inhabited by neitherhuman beings nor animals, and offered nothing in the way ofrelief or rescue.
The nearest known place where they might at least find foodand shelter was tiny Paulet Island, less than a mile and a halfin diameter, which lay 346 miles northwest across the heavingpack ice. There, in 1903, twelve years before, the crew of aSwedish ship had spent the winter after their vessel, the Antarctic,had been crushed by the Weddell Sea ice. The ship which finallyrescued that party deposited its stock of stores on Paulet Islandfor the use of any later castaways. Ironically, it was Shackletonhimself who had been commissioned at the time to purchase thosestores—and now, a dozen years later, it was he who neededthem.
Shackleton's order to abandon ship, while it signaled the beginningof the greatest of all Antarctic adventures, also sealed thefate of one of the most ambitious of all Antarctic expeditions.The goal of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, as its nameimplies, was to cross the Antarctic continent overland from westto east.
Evidence of the scope of such an undertaking is the fact thatafter Shackleton's failure, the crossing of the continent remaineduntried for fully forty-three years—until 1957-1958. Then, asan independent enterprise conducted during the InternationalGeophysical Year, Dr. Vivian E. Fuchs led the CommonwealthTrans-Antarctic Expedition on the trek. And even Fuchs, thoughhis party was equipped with heated, tracked vehicles and powerfulradios, and guided by reconnaissance planes and dog teams,was strongly urged to give up. It was only after a tortuous journeylasting nearly four months that Fuchs did in fact achievewhat Shackleton set out to do in 1915.
This was Shackleton's third expedition to the Antarctic. Hehad gone first in 1901 as a member of the National AntarcticExpedition led by Robert F. Scott, the famed British explorer,which drove to 82 [degrees] 15' south latitude, 745 miles from thePole—the deepest penetration of the continent at that time.
Then in 1907, Shackleton led the first expedition actually todeclare the Pole as its goal. With three companions, Shackletonstruggled to within 97 miles of their destination and then had toturn back because of a shortage of food. The return journey wasa desperate race with death. But the party finally made it, andShackleton returned to England a hero of the Empire. He waslionized wherever he went, knighted by his king, and decoratedby every major country in the world.
He wrote a book, and he went on a lecture tour which tookhim all over the British Isles, the United States, Canada, andmuch of Europe. But even before it was over, his thoughts hadreturned to the Antarctic.
He had been within 97 miles of the Pole, and he knew betterthan anyone that it was only a matter of time until some expeditionattained the goal that had been denied him. As early asMarch of 1911, he wrote to his wife, Emily, from Berlin wherehe was on tour: "I feel that another expedition unless it crossesthe continent is not much."
Meanwhile, an American expedition under Robert E. Pearyhad reached the North Pole in 1909. Then Scott, on his secondexpedition in late 1911 and early 1912, was raced to the SouthPole by the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen—and beaten by alittle more than a month. It was disappointing to lose out. Butthat might have been only a bit of miserable luck—had not Scottand his three companions died as they struggled, weak withscurvy, to return to their base.
When the news of Scott's achievement and the tragic circumstancesof his death reached England, the whole nation was saddened.The sense of loss was compounded by the fact that theBritish, whose record for exploration had been perhaps unparalleledamong the nations of the earth, had to take a humiliatingsecond best to Norway.
Throughout these events, Shackleton's own plans for aTrans-Antarctic expedition had been moving rapidly ahead. In anearly prospectus designed to solicit funds for the undertaking,Shackleton played heavily on this matter of prestige, making ithis primary argument for such an expedition. He wrote:
"From the sentimental point of view, it is the last great Polarjourney that can be made. It will be a greater journey than thejourney to the Pole and back, and I feel it is up to the Britishnation to accomplish this, for we have been beaten at the conquestof the North Pole and beaten at the first conquest of theSouth Pole. There now remains the largest and most striking ofall journeys—the crossing of the Continent."
Shackleton's plan was to take a ship into the Weddell Sea andland a sledging party of six men and seventy dogs near VahselBay, approximately 78 [degrees] South, 36 [degrees] West. At more or less thesame time, a second ship would put into McMurdo Sound in theRoss Sea, almost directly across the continent from the WeddellSea base. The Ross Sea party was to set down a series of foodcaches from their base almost to the Pole. While this was beingdone, the Weddell Sea group would be sledging toward the Pole,living on their own rations. From the Pole they would proceedto the vicinity of the mighty Beardmore Glacier where they wouldreplenish their supplies at the southernmost depot laid downby the Ross Sea party. Other caches of rations along the routewould keep them supplied until they arrived at the McMurdoSound base.
Such was the plan on paper, and it was typical of Shackleton—purposeful, bold, and neat. He had not the slightest doubt thatthe expedition would achieve its goal.
The whole undertaking was criticized in some circles as beingtoo "audacious." And perhaps it was. But if it hadn't beenaudacious, it wouldn't have been to Shackleton's liking. He was,above all, an explorer in the classic mold—utterly self-reliant,romantic, and just a little swashbuckling.
He was now forty years old, of medium height and thick ofneck, with broad, heavy shoulders a trifle stooped, and darkbrown hair parted in the center. He had a wide, sensuous butexpressive mouth that could curl into a laugh or tighten into athin fixed line with equal facility. His jaw was like iron. His gray-blueeyes, like his mouth, could come alight with fun or darkeninto a steely and frightening gaze. His face was handsome, thoughit often wore a brooding expression—as if his thoughts weresomewhere else—which gave him at times a kind of darklinglook. He had small hands, but his grip was strong and confident.He spoke softly and somewhat slowly in an indefinite baritone,with just the recollection of a brogue from his County Kildarebirth.
Whatever his mood—whether it was gay and breezy, or darkwith rage—he had one pervading characteristic: he was purposeful.
Cynics might justifiably contend that Shackleton's fundamentalpurpose in undertaking the expedition was simply the greaterglory of Ernest Shackleton—and the financial rewards thatwould accrue to the leader of a successful expedition of thisscope. Beyond all doubt, these motives loomed large in Shackleton'smind. He was keenly aware of social position and the importantpart that money played in it. In fact, the abiding (and unrealistic)dream of his life—at least superficially—was to achievea status of economic well-being that would last a lifetime. Heenjoyed fancying himself as a country gentleman, divorced fromthe workaday world, with the leisure and wealth to do as hepleased.
Shackleton came from a middle-class background, the son ofa moderately successful physician. He joined the British MerchantNavy at the age of sixteen and though he rose steadily throughthe ranks, this sort of step-by-step advancement grew progressivelyless appealing to his flamboyant personality.
Then came two important events: the expedition with Scott in1901, and his marriage to the daughter of a wealthy lawyer. Thefirst introduced him to the Antarctic—and his imagination wasimmediately captivated. The second increased his desire forwealth. He felt obliged to provide for his wife in the manner towhich she was accustomed. The Antarctic and financial securitybecame more or less synonymous in Shackleton's thinking. Hefelt that success here—some marvelous stroke of daring, a deedwhich would capture the world's imagination—would open thedoor to fame, then riches.
Between expeditions, he also pursued this financial masterstroke.He was perennially entranced with new schemes, each ofwhich in turn he was sure would win his fortune. It would beimpossible to list them all, but they included an idea to manufacturecigarettes (a sure-fire plan—with his endorsement), afleet of taxicabs, mining in Bulgaria, a whaling factory—evendigging for buried treasure. Most of his ideas never got beyondthe talking stage, and those that did were usually unsuccessful.
Shackleton's unwillingness to succumb to the demands ofeveryday life and his insatiable excitement with unrealistic venturesleft him open to the accusation of being basically immatureand irresponsible. And very possibly he was—by conventionalstandards. But the great leaders of historical record—theNapoleons, the Nelsons, the Alexanders—have rarely fitted anyconventional mold, and it is perhaps an injustice to evaluatethem in ordinary terms. There can be little doubt that Shackleton,in his way, was an extraordinary leader of men.
Nor did the Antarctic represent to Shackleton merely thegrubby means to a financial end. In a very real sense he neededit—something so enormous, so demanding, that it provided atouchstone for his monstrous ego and implacable drive. In ordinarysituations, Shackleton's tremendous capacity for boldnessand daring found almost nothing worthy of its pulling power;he was a Percheron draft horse harnessed to a child's wagon cart.But in the Antarctic—here was a burden which challenged everyatom of his strength.
Thus, while Shackleton was undeniably out of place, eveninept, in a great many everyday situations, he had a talent—agenius, even—that he shared with only a handful of menthroughout history—genuine leadership. He was, as one of hismen put it, "the greatest leader that ever came on God's earth,bar none." For all his blind spots and inadequacies, Shackletonmerited this tribute:
"For scientific leadership give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."
This, then, was the man who developed the idea of crossing theAntarctic continent—on foot.
The largest items needed for the expedition were the ships thatwould carry the two parties to the Antarctic. From Sir DouglasMawson, the famous Australian explorer, Shackleton bought theAurora, a stoutly built ship of the type then used for sealing. TheAurora had already been on two Antarctic expeditions. She wasto carry the Ross Sea party, under the command of LieutenantAeneas Mackintosh, who had served aboard the Nimrod onShackleton's 1907-09 expedition.
Shackleton himself would command the actual transcontinentalparty, operating from the Weddell Sea side of the continent.To obtain a ship for his group, Shackleton arranged topurchase from Lars Christensen, the Norwegian whaling magnate,a ship that Christensen had ordered built to carry polarbearhunting parties to the Arctic. Such parties were then becomingincreasingly popular with the well-to-do.
Christensen had had a partner in this would-be enterprise, M.le Baron de Gerlache. He was a Belgian who had been the leaderof an Antarctic expedition in 1897, and was therefore able tocontribute many helpful ideas concerning the construction of theship. However, during the building of the vessel, de Gerlacheran into financial difficulties and was forced to back out.
Thus deprived of his partner, Christensen was pleased whenShackleton offered to buy the ship. The final selling price of$67,000 was less than Christensen had paid to have the shipbuilt, but he was willing to take the loss in order to further theplans of an explorer of Shackleton's stature.
The ship had been named the Polaris. After the sale, Shackletonrechristened her Endurance, in keeping with the motto ofhis family, Fortitudine vincimus—"By endurance we conquer."
As with all such private expeditions, finances for the ImperialTrans-Antarctic Expedition were perhaps the primary headache.Shackleton spent the better part of two years lining up financialaid. The blessings of the government and of various scientificsocieties had to be obtained in order to justify the expedition asa serious scientific endeavor. And Shackleton, whose interest inscience could hardly be compared with his love of exploration,went out of his way to play up this side of the undertaking. Thiswas hypocrisy in a sense. Nevertheless, a capable staff of researcherswas to go with the expedition.
But despite all of his personal charm and persuasiveness, whichwas considerable, Shackleton was disappointed time after timeby promised grants of financial aid which failed to materialize.He finally obtained some $120,000 from Sir James Caird, awealthy Scottish jute manufacturer. And the government votedhim a sum equal to about $50,000, while the Royal GeographicalSociety contributed a token $5,000 to signify its general, thoughby no means complete, approval of the expedition. Lesser giftswere obtained from Dudley Docker and Miss Janet Stancomb-Wills,plus literally hundreds of other, smaller contributions frompersons all over the world.
As was the custom, Shackleton also mortgaged the expedition,in a sense, by selling in advance the rights to whatever commercialproperties the expedition might produce. He promised towrite a book later about the trip. He sold the rights to the motionpictures and still photographs that would be taken, and he agreedto give a long lecture series on his return. In all these arrangements,there was one basic assumption—that Shackleton wouldsurvive.
In contrast to the difficulties in obtaining sufficient financialbacking, finding volunteers to take part in the expedition provedsimple. When Shackleton announced his plans he was delugedby more than five thousand applications from persons (includingthree girls) who asked to go along.
Almost without exception, these volunteers were motivatedsolely by the spirit of adventure, for the salaries offered were littlemore than token payments for the services expected. They rangedfrom about $240 a year for an able seaman to $750 a year forthe most experienced scientists. And even this, in many cases,was not to be paid until the end of the expedition. Shackletonfelt that the privilege of being taken along was itself almostcompensation enough, especially for the scientists for whom theundertaking offered an unmatched opportunity for research intheir fields.
Shackleton built the crew list around a nucleus of tested veterans.The top post as second-in-command went to Frank Wild, avery small but powerfully built man whose thin, mousy hair wasrapidly disappearing altogether. Wild was a soft-spoken andeasy-going individual on the surface, but he had a kind of innertoughness. He had been one of Shackleton's three companions inthe race for the Pole in 1908 and 1909, and Shackleton had developeda tremendous respect and personal liking for him. Thetwo men, in fact, formed a well-matched team. Wild's loyalty toShackleton was beyond question, and his quiet, somewhat unimaginativedisposition was a perfect balance for Shackleton's oftenwhimsical and occasionally explosive nature.
The berth of second officer aboard the Endurance was given toThomas Crean, a tall, row-boned, plain-spoken Irishman whoselong service in the Royal Navy had taught him the ways of unquestioningdiscipline. Crean had served with Shackleton onScott's 1901 expedition, and he had also been a crewman aboardthe Terra Nova, which had carried Scott's ill-fated 1910-1913group to the Antarctic. Because of Crean's experience andstrength, Shackleton planned to have him as the driver of asledge team in the six-man transcontinental party.
Alfred Cheetham, who shipped aboard as third officer, wasCrean's opposite in appearance. He was a tiny man, even shorterthan Wild, with an unassuming, pleasant disposition. Shackletonspoke of Cheetham as "the veteran of Antarctic," since he hadalready been on three expeditions, including one with Shackletonand one with Scott.
Then there was George Marston, the expedition's thirty-two-year-oldartist. Marston, a boyish-faced, chubby man, had doneoutstanding work on Shackleton's 1907-1909 trek. Unlike mostof the others, he was a married man with children.
The nucleus of veterans was completed when Thomas McLeod,a member of the 1907-1909 expedition, was signed on theEndurance as a seaman.
In the matter of selecting newcomers, Shackleton's methodswould appear to have been almost capricious. If he liked thelook of a man, he was accepted. If he didn't, the matter wasclosed. And these decisions were made with lightning speed.There is no record of any interview that Shackleton conductedwith a prospective expedition member lasting much more thanfive minutes.
Leonard Hussey, an irrepressible, peppery little individual,was signed on as meteorologist even though he had practically noqualifications for the position at the time. Shackleton simplythought Hussey "looked funny," and the fact that he had recentlyreturned from an expedition (as an anthropologist) to the torridSudan appealed to Shackleton's sense of whimsy. Hussey immediatelytook an intensive course in meteorology and later proved tobe very proficient.
Dr. Alexander Macklin, one of the two surgeons, caughtShackleton's fancy by replying, when Shackleton asked him whyhe was wearing glasses: "Many a wise face would look foolishwithout spectacles." And Reginald James was signed on as physicistafter Shackleton inquired about the state of his teeth, whetherhe suffered from varicose veins, if he was good-tempered—andif he could sing. At this last question, James looked puzzled.
"Oh, I don't mean any Caruso stuff," Shackleton reassuredhim, "but I suppose you can shout a bit with the boys?"
Despite the instantaneous nature of these decisions, Shackleton'sintuition for selecting compatible men rarely failed.
The early months of 1914 were spent acquiring the countlessitems of equipment, stores, and gear that would be needed.Sledges were designed and tested in the snow-covered mountainsof Norway. A new type of rations intended to prevent scurvywas tried out, as were specially designed tents.
By the end of July, 1914, however, everything had been collected,tested, and stowed aboard the Endurance. She sailed fromLondon's East India Docks on August 1.
But the tragic political events of these dramatic days not onlyeclipsed the departure of the Endurance, but even threatened thewhole venture. Archduke Ferdinand of Austria had been assassinatedon June 28, and exactly one month later Austria-Hungarydeclared war on Serbia. The powder trail was lighted.While the Endurance lay anchored at the mouth of the ThamesRiver, Germany declared war on France.
Then, on the very day that George V presented Shackletonwith the Union Jack to carry on the expedition, Britain declaredwar on Germany. Shackleton's position could hardly have beenworse. He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn't. He wasjust about to leave on an expedition he had dreamed about andworked toward for almost four years. Vast sums of money, muchof it involving future commitments, had been spent, and countlesshours had gone into planning and preparation. At the sametime, he felt very strongly about doing his part in the war.
He spent long hours debating what to do, and he discussed thematter with several advisers, notably his principal backers. Finallyhe reached a decision.
He mustered the crew and explained that he wanted their approvalto telegraph the Admiralty, placing the entire expeditionat the disposal of the government. All hands agreed, and the wirewas sent. The reply was a one-word telegram: "Proceed." Twohours later there was a longer wire from Winston Churchill, thenFirst Lord of the Admiralty, stating that the government desiredthe expedition to go on.
The Endurance sailed from Plymouth five days later. She seta course for Buenos Aires, leaving Shackleton and Wild behindto attend to last-minute financial arrangements. They were tofollow later by faster commercial liner and meet the ship inArgentina.
The trip across the Atlantic amounted to a shakedown cruise.For the ship, it was her first major voyage since her completion inNorway the year before; and for many of those on board, it wastheir first experience in sail.
In appearance, the Endurance was beautiful by any standards.She was a barkentine—three masts, of which the forward onewas square-rigged, while the after two carried fore-and-aft sails,like a schooner. She was powered by a coal-fired, 350-hp steamengine, capable of driving her at speeds up to 10.2 knots. Shemeasured 144 feet over-all, with a 25-foot beam, which was notoverbig, but big enough. And though her sleek black hull lookedfrom the outside like that of any other vessel of a comparablesize, it was not.
Her keel members were four pieces of solid oak, one above theother, adding up to a total thickness of 7 feet, 1 inch. Her sideswere made from oak and Norwegian mountain fir, and they variedin thickness from about 18 inches to more than 2 1/2 feet. Outsidethis planking, to keep her from being chafed by the ice, therewas a sheathing from stem to stern of greenheart, a wood soheavy it weighs more than solid iron and so tough that it cannotbe worked with ordinary tools. Her frames were not only doublethick,ranging from 9 1/4 to 11 inches, but they were double innumber, compared with a conventional vessel.
Her bow, where she would meet the ice head-on, had receivedspecial attention. Each of the timbers there had been fashionedfrom a single oak tree especially selected so that its naturalgrowth followed the curve of her design. When assembled, thesepieces had a total thickness of 4 feet, 4 inches.
But more than simple ruggedness was incorporated into theEndurance. She was built in Sandefjord, Norway, by the Framnaesshipyard, the famous polar shipbuilding firm which foryears had been constructing vessels for whaling and sealing inthe Arctic and Antarctic. However, when the builders came tothe Endurance, they realized that she might well be the last ofher kind—as indeed she was—and the ship became the yard's petproject.
She was designed by Aanderud Larsen so that every jointand every fitting cross-braced something else for the maximumstrength. Her construction was meticulously supervised by amaster wood shipbuilder, Christian Jacobsen, who insisted onemploying men who were not only skilled shipwrights, but hadbeen to sea themselves in whaling and sealing ships. They tooka proprietary interest in the smallest details of the Endurance'sconstruction. They selected each timber and plank individuallywith great care, and fitted each to the closest tolerance. For luck,when they put the mast in her, the superstitious shipwrightsplaced the traditional copper kroner under each one to insureagainst its breaking.
By the time she was launched on December 17, 1912, she wasthe strongest wooden ship ever built in Norway—and probablyanywhere else—with the possible exception of the Fram, thevessel used by Fridtjof Nansen, and later by Amundsen.
However, there was one major difference between the twoships. The Fram was rather bowl-bottomed so that if the iceclosed in against her she would be squeezed up and out of thepressure. But since the Endurance was designed to operate inrelatively loose pack ice she was not constructed so as to rise outof pressure to any great extent. She was comparatively wall-sided,much the way conventional ships are.
However, on the trip from London to Buenos Aires, her hullwas altogether too rounded for most of those on board her. Atleast half the scientists were seasick, and strapping young LionelGreenstreet, the outspoken First Officer, who had long experiencein sailing ships, declared that she behaved in a "most abominableway."
The trip across the Atlantic took more than two months. Duringthe voyage the Endurance was under the command of FrankWorsley, a New Zealander who had been to sea since he wassixteen.
Worsley was now forty-two years old, though he looked muchyounger. He was a deep-chested man of slightly less than averageheight with a coarse-featured yet handsome face which had abuilt-in mischievous expression. It was very difficult for Worsleyto look stern, even when he wanted to.
He was a sensitive, fanciful individual, and the manner inwhich he claimed to have joined the expedition, whether it wastrue or not, characterized him perfectly. As he told it, he wasashore in London, staying at a hotel, when one night he had adream in which he pictured Burlington Street, in the fashionableWest End section, as being filled with blocks of ice through whichhe was navigating a ship.
Early the next morning, he hurried over to Burlington Street.As he was walking along he saw a nameplate on a door. It read:"Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition." (The expedition's Londonoffice was, in fact, at 4 New Burlington Street.)
Inside he found Shackleton. The two men were immediatelydrawn to one another, and Worsley hardly had to mention thathe wanted to join the expedition.
"You're engaged," Shackleton said after a brief conversation."Join your ship until I wire for you. I'll let you know all the detailsas soon as possible. Good morning."
With that he shook Worsley's hand and the interview, if thatis what it was, had ended.
Worsley had thus been appointed captain of the Endurance.That is, he was put in charge of the physical running of the shipunder the over-all command of Shackleton, as leader of the entireexpedition.
Temperamentally, Shackleton and Worsley had some of thesame characteristics. Both were energetic, imaginative, romanticmen who thirsted for adventure. But while Shackleton's naturedrove him always to be the leader, Worsley had no such inclinations.He was fundamentally light-hearted, given to bursts ofexcitement and unpredictable enthusiasms. The mantle of leadershipwhich fell to him on the trip across the Atlantic did not resttoo comfortably on his shoulders. He felt it was his duty to playthe part of commander, but he was woefully out of place in therole. His tendency to indulge his moods became obvious one Sundaymorning, when a church service was being held. After someappropriately reverent prayers, the idea struck him to sing a fewhymns—and he broke up the proceedings by clapping his handsand demanding impetuously, "Where's the ruddy band?"
By the time the Endurance reached Buenos Aires on October9, 1914, Worsley's lack of discipline had let morale slip to asorry state. But Shackleton and Wild had arrived from London,and they applied a firm hand.
The cook, who had been an indifferent worker on the trip over,came aboard drunk and was immediately paid off. Amazingly,twenty men applied to fill the vacancy. The job went to asqueaky-voiced man by the name of Charles J. Green, who wasa different sort of person altogether, conscientious almost to thepoint of being single-minded.
Later, two of the seamen, after a stormy night ashore, tangledwith Greenstreet and were similarly let go. It was decided thatthe complement would be adequate with only one replacement.The berth went to William Bakewell, a twenty-six-year-old Canadianwho had lost his ship in nearby Montevideo, Uruguay.He arrived with a stocky eighteen-year-old shipmate, PerceBlackboro, who was hired temporarily as the cook's helper duringthe Endurance's stay in Buenos Aires.
Meanwhile, Frank Hurley, the official photographer, had arrivedfrom Australia. Hurley had been on Sir Douglas Mawson'slast expedition to the Antarctic, and Shackleton had hired himsolely on the basis of the reputation he had achieved as a resultof his work there.
Finally, the last official members of the expedition came onboard—sixty-nine sledge dogs that had been purchased in Canadaand shipped to Buenos Aires. They were kenneled in stallsbuilt along the main deck amidships.
The Endurance sailed from Buenos Aires at 10:30 A.M. onOctober 26 for her last port of call, the desolate island of SouthGeorgia off the southern tip of South America. She proceededout the ever-widening mouth of the River Platte, and dropped herpilot the next morning at the Recalada Lightship. By sunset theland had dropped from sight.