Shackleton: The Endurance – Found in Antarctica!

Shackleton ship, Endurance, in Antarctica, has been found. I am excited to report that I broke the story @natego website this Wednesday morning at 7.00 a.m GMT. It was a thrilling story to work on. One of the most exciting moments was spending an hour on the phone with the explorers in Antarctica, just after they had found the ship.

When Ernest Shackleton abandoned his Antarctic expedition in 1915, he and his men made it out alive. But his ship, Endurance, sank to the bottom of the Weddell Sea where it remained, hidden in the frozen depths. Now, after one of the most dramatic underwater searches ever undertaken, it has been found.

The world’s first watery images of the Endurance were transmitted from the bottom of the Weddle Sea on March 5th. By uncanny coincidence, it was the hundredth anniversary of Shackleton’s burial in the cemetery at Grytviken on the island of South Georgia, where he died of a heart attack.

    As the underwater camera moves through the wreck, we can see spars and ropes, tools and even the mast. Due to the absence of light and cold and low oxygen, they are in almost pristine condition. “I’ve been hunting for wrecks since my mid-20’s,” Falkland Islands born Mensun Bound, one of the expedition leaders, told me when I reached him by phone yesterday, as they headed away from the wreck site. “And I have never found a wreck so coherent as this one. You could see the bolt holes, and everything.”

         But it was a day later that the most breathtaking image was captured: a closeup of the stern of the ship, showing the brass letters of the word Endurance, as bright as a shiny penny. Below it, a polar star. “You see that, and your eyes pop out on stalks,” says Mensun Bound. “It was one of those ‘wormhole moments” when you are tumbling back in time. I could feel the breath of Shackleton on my neck.”

Endurance was part of the grandly named Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Backed by the then First Sea Lord, Winston Churchill, the idea was to cross the White Continent. The ship, a 144-foot- long, three-masted barque specially built for polar waters, set out from South Georgia on December 5th, 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. Even here, at the ends of the earth, war was close by. As Endurance entered the Weddell Sea, the British and German fleets locked horns in the battle of the Falkland Islands.

     The enemy Irish-born Shackleton and his men faced was of a different sort. Covering an area of 2.8 million sq. kilometres, the Weddle Sea is one of the most remote, and unforgiving, environments in the world. Shackleton called it “the worst sea in the world.”

    They made good progress at first, but as the winter of 1915 closed in, they found themselves trapped in the sea ice.  “At 7 p.m. very heavy pressure developed, with twisting strains that racked the ship fore and aft,” Shackleton later wrote in his book, South. It was Tuesday October 26th, 1915. “The butts of planking were opened four and five inches on the starboard side, and at the same time we could see from the bridge that the ship was bending like a bow under titanic pressure. Almost like a living creature, she resisted the forces that would crush her; but it was a one-sided battle. Millions of tons of ice pressed inexorably upon the little ship that had dared the challenge of the Antarctic.”

   The next day, October 27th, the order was given to abandon ship. “After long months of ceaseless anxiety and strain,” wrote Shackleton, “after times when hope beat high and times when the outlook was black indeed, the end of the Endurance has come. But though we have been compelled to abandon the ship, which is crushed beyond all hope of ever being righted, we are alive and well, and we have stores and equipment for the task that lies before us.”

      There was one more painful task to perform before they set out to get help. “This afternoon Sallie’s three youngest pups, Sue’s Sirius, and Mrs. Chippy, the carpenter’s cat, have to be shot,” recalls Shackleton. “We could not undertake the maintenance of weaklings under the new conditions. Macklin, Crean, and the carpenter seemed to feel the loss of their friends rather badly.”

     Endurance finally sank on November 27th. “This evening, as we were lying in our tents we heard the Boss call out, ‘She’s going, boys!’” writes Shackleton. “We were out in a second and up on the look-out station and other points of vantage, and, sure enough, there was our poor ship a mile and a half away struggling in her death-agony. She went down bows first, her stern raised in the air. She then gave one quick dive and the ice closed over her for ever.”

About sworrall

Writer with @Natgeo; author of The Poet and The Murderer; and the forthcoming Starcrossed: A Romeo And Juliet Story in Hitler's Paris (2022)

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