Thursday 10 March 2022

Shackleton, yes - but also Worsley

It's lovely to be distracted from all the horrible world news by the discovery in Antarctica, 3000m underneath the increasingly solid surface of the Weddell Sea, of the amazingly well-preserved wreck of the Endurance. It sank in 1915, on an ill-judged voyage towards a crossing of the continent by Ernest Shackleton - he was strongly advised not to go, because winter had started early that year, but he was stubborn and went anyway, with his crew of 27 men, 69 dogs and one cat.

The discovery was announced on the 100th anniversary of Shackleton's funeral, in South Georgia, where he had gone again to attempt another Antarctic expedition, his fourth. He died in Grytviken of a second heart attack, the first having happened in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil en route to South Georgia - which he had brushed aside. Antarctica does that to you, you know - gets under your skin, draws you back, won't let go.

I'd go there again like a shot, offered the chance. It's unique, stunningly beautiful, and pitilessly inhospitable. On my Silversea cruise there, despite it being so expensive (*cough* to regular punters, not freebie-grabbing travel writers like me), several of the passengers guests had already been there at least once.

We visited Shackleton's grave there, and toasted 'The Boss' with a glass of champagne; and later visited dauntingly barren and rocky Elephant Island, where his crew had clung for four and a half unimaginably brutal months while awaiting rescue. That they were indeed all saved is due in huge part to the comparatively-unsung hero Frank Worsley - of Akaroa, NZ - who managed to navigate their little lifeboat in almost impossible conditions over 1300 stormy kilometres to South Georgia, to summon a ship for rescue. 

It's also thanks to Worsley's excellent mapping skills that the discoverers of the Endurance knew to look in pretty much the right place for the wreck. And, another Kiwi connection, one of the photography team who took these amazing underwater images of the ship is James Blake, son of Sir Peter, famous sailor, who was killed by pirates while on an expedition up the Amazon. In Brazil.

PS While writing this entry, a Silversea email popped into my inbox about - you guessed it - expedition cruises to polar regions, focussing on a giant petrel feeding frenzy in South Georgia and Zodiac explorations in Antarctica. Connections, people.

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