Friday, March 15, 2013

Tough Guy Two

By Julie Rahm

Last week, I wrote about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, got stuck and crushed by the Antarctic ice. The expedition was marooned on the ice until they managed to land themselves on Elephant Island. There, Shackleton decided to “go for help”. Twenty-two members of the expedition remained on Elephant Island while Shackleton “set off” in a 20-foot lifeboat with five others to get help. Unfortunately, the nearest help was 800 miles away, across the open and very treacherous South Atlantic Ocean. As you recall, Shackleton chose five companions for the journey: Frank Worsley, Endurance's captain, who was an excellent navigator; Tom Crean, who had "begged to go"; two strong sailors in John Vincent and Timothy McCarthy; and finally the ship’s carpenter McNish.
For fifteen days, the six explorers sailed the lifeboat through the waters of the southern ocean, at the mercy of the stormy seas, in constant peril of capsizing. On May 8th, thanks to Captain Worsley’s navigational skills, the cliffs of South Georgia Island came into sight. But, hurricane-force winds prevented any landing. The lifeboat party was forced to ride out the storm offshore, in constant danger of being dashed against the rocks. On the following day, they were finally able to land on the unoccupied southern shore. But, help was on the other side of the island! Rather than facing the sea again, to reach the whaling stations on the northern coast, Shackleton decided to attempt a land crossing of the island. Although it is likely that Norwegian whalers had previously crossed at other points on skis, no one had attempted this particular route before. Leaving McNish, Vincent and McCarthy at the landing point on South Georgia, Shackleton traveled 32 miles in 36 hours with Worsley and Crean over mountainous terrain. They reached the whaling station at Stromness on May 20th. (Of note, the next successful crossing on foot of South Georgia Island was in October 1955, by the British explorer Duncan Carse. He traveled much of the same route as Shackleton's party. In tribute to Shackleton’s 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 immediately sent a boat to pick up the remaining three men from the other side of South Georgia while he organized the rescue of his 22 men still marooned on Elephant Island. His first three attempts at rescue were foiled when sea ice blocked the approaches to the island. Resourcefully, he appealed to the government of Chile. Chile offered the use of a small seagoing tug from its navy. With the Chilean tug, rescue finally reached the remaining men on Elephant Island on August 30th. The men had been isolated there for four and a half months! Shackleton’s expedition is one of the greatest survival adventures in history. His mental toughness set the example for all people!
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