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RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary - 18 June 2000

Aberdeen call, more North Sea operations and part two of the history of Shackleton.

Date: Sunday 18 June 2000

Position at 0800 UTC +1
Latitude: 58°54′ North
Longitude: 00°50′ East

On passage to Peterhead.

Weather dull and overcast. Misty first thing this morning.

The various rigs and platforms that are dotted about the North Sea are, in many respects, similar to the British Antarctic Survey’s bases in Antarctica. Consisting of small communities isolated from the rest of the world and relying on others to keep them manned and running all year round. The two work-horses for these communities are the helicopters, used to do crew changes and bring out mail on a regular basis, and the supply boats, which will bring out all the larger items, ranging from fuel and water (neither of which the platforms can produce themselves, although a few do now use the burn-off gasses for heating and power) to all the consumables like food, equipment and everything associated with running a production system. Both the helicopters and the supply vessels have their operations limited by the weather, which in the winter can be severe. The supply vessels have to be navigated alongside the platform so that the cargo can be lifted off and returning cargo placed onboard. This requires skillful control, although most supply vessels will be fitted with a Dynamic Positioning system to help in these operations.

The supply vessel Safe Truck, from Aberdeen, in position for cargo work with the Heather Alpha Platform.
The supply vessel Safe Truck, from Aberdeen, in position for cargo work with the Heather Alpha Platform.

The supply vessel Safe Truck, from Aberdeen, in position for cargo work with the Heather Alpha Platform.

The forecast on Monday morning was for a severe change in the weather later in the day. The ROV survey work continued throughout Monday until about 1600 when the ROV came back on board and the vessel was made secure for sea. Shortly afterwards a course was set for Aberdeen. During Monday evening and the early hours of Tuesday morning the wind and the sea picked up and so by 0600 on Tuesday morning the wind was at Storm Force 10 with the vessel pitching heavily. The only casualty of the night was a printer on the Bridge that decided to learn how to fly! One result of such poor weather is that the speed of the ship is knocked back from twelve or thirteen knots to a humble six or seven knots, which then means it takes twice as long to get anywhere! It was the same weather that caused a drilling rig to break free of her anchors and start drifting around the Norwegian Sector of the North Sea and that also caused the capsizing of the catamaran Lottie Warren that was attempting a solo navigation of the United Kingdom.

The comfort of a nice calm berth briefly arrived as we docked at the Regents Quay, Aberdeen, at Midnight on Tuesday, only to be disturbed when the vessel had to move to the Torry Quay at about 0430 in the morning to take on bunkers. Once this was completed it was time for all change again and so at 1045 we moved back to Regents Quay. The intention was that we would remain there until the midnight tide when we would head off for our next survey project, working with BP/Amoco.

Harding Platform (With thanks to John Harrigan, Aberdeen Pilots, for this image)
Harding Platform (With thanks to John Harrigan, Aberdeen Pilots, for this image)

However, as seems to be the case more often than not, we did not manage to get away until about 1600 on Friday, setting course for the Harding Platform. The departure was in lovely weather and once clear of the breakwater and other traffic a full fire and boat muster was held.

The Harding Platform, in position 59°16′N 001°30′E is about 170 miles from Aberdeen and lies in the UK Licence Block 9/23b. Oil production is stored within the facilities in the Gravity Base Tank, from where it is exported via a 2km 24” pipeline and Submerged Turret Loading system to shuttle tankers. It is a triangular shaped structure with each side being about 80m in length and can accommodate up to 120 personnel. It lies in 109m of water. The Ernest Shackleton arrived at 0730 on Saturday morning and immediately set about testing and checking the Dynamic Positioning Equipment prior to launching the ROV’s or entering the restricted 500m zone around the platform.

The Ernest Shackleton is fitted with four tunnel thrusters, two forward and two aft, along with an Azi-pod thruster (a rotating thruster that is lowered through the hull when required), and it is these that are used to maintain position whilst in DP mode.

Our first task at Harding was to have a look at a valve and the route to it. To do this we were going to use an ‘Apache’ ROV, also known as the Eyeball. A new unit had been installed whilst in Aberdeen, with the one fitted for our last work period returning to Lake Windermere where it is used for training purposes! The Apache was deployed but no sooner was it in the water than it ran into trouble and it was then not possible to get it back into its ‘cage’ (used when putting into and taking out of the water) and so we moved away from the platform and put our Fast Rescue Craft into the water to manually hook the Apache onto our stores crane and winch it onboard. The sea conditions were not too good and those on the FRC had a bumpy ride. After several attempts the ROV was caught and back on board. So far the track record of the Apache ROV has proved somewhat poor, it seemingly not liking salt water!!!

The Apache ROV on deck
The Apache ROV on deck
The Apache ROV being recovered by FRC.
The Apache ROV being recovered by FRC.

The work at Harding was to use the large ROV, fitted with a Tool Deployment Unit (TDU), to approach a valve block that is situated under one of the platform legs and then to operate a valve which needed to be closed. The TDU is in fact a bit like a socket driver and once this is engaged on the valve mechanism it is then necessary to turn the valve control through 180 turns to ensure that it is fully closed.

The Harding Platform, close up!
The Harding Platform, close up!

This work required that the Ernest Shackleton was within 15m of the platform and once again we were dwarfed by the sheer size of it. Unfortunately due to weather the operation had to be suspended on Saturday afternoon and then when the ROV was lifted out of the water onto the deck it was discovered that the crane wire had suffered damage and was starting to split. This then meant that a new wire had to be fitted, fortunately a spare one was held onboard and, following the changing of the wire and an improvement in weather conditions the ROV was again back in the water and went straight to the valve, closed it and was back on board and the Ernest Shackleton departed the 500m zone at about 0445 on Sunday morning.

The Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) with the Harding Platform in the background
The Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) with the Harding Platform in the background

The Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) with the Harding Platform in the background.

At the time of writing this update the vessel is on passage to Peterhead with an ETA of 1800 on Sunday 18th June to offload some equipment prior to starting a major pipeline survey for BP/Amoco. This is likely to be a very short visit of just a few hours and then it will be back out to sea once again.

Ernest Shackleton Part 2

The Nimrod Expedition: 1907-09

In the Geographical Journal for March, 1907, Shackleton outlined his plans, some of which subsequently had to be changed. The expedition was expected to leave New Zealand at the beginning of 1908 and proceed to winter quarters on the Antarctic continent. Here the men and stores would be landed, followed quickly by the retreat of the ship to New Zealand to prevent her from being frozen in. Shackleton announced, “The shore-party of nine or twelve men will winter with sufficient equipment to enable three separate parties to start out in the spring. One party will go east, and, if possible, across the Barrier to the new land known as King Edward VII Land, follow the coast-line there south, if the coast trends south, or north if north, returning when it is considered necessary to do so. The second party will proceed south over the same route as that of the southern sledge-party of the Discovery; this party will keep from fifteen to twenty miles from the coast, so as to avoid any rough ice. The third party will possibly proceed westward over the mountains, and, instead of crossing in a line due west, will strike towards the magnetic Pole. The main changes in equipment will be that Siberian ponies will be taken for the sledge journeys both east and south, and also a specially designed motor-car for the southern journey… I do not intend to sacrifice the scientific utility of the expedition to a mere record-breaking journey, but say frankly, all the same, that one of my great efforts will be to reach the southern geographical Pole. I shall in no way neglect to continue the biological, meteorological, geological and magnetic work of the Discovery”.

The first step was to secure an office in London. A furnished room at 9 Regent Street served as headquarters of the expedition. The staff consisted of Mr. Alfred Reid, who had gained considerable experience in connection with previous polar adventures, and a district messenger. Fortunately, there was a typing office on the same floor which could deal with the correspondence which grew from day to day. Shackleton secured estimates for the supplies from a number of different companies as he wanted the best of everything possible. Shackleton stipulated that all the goods were to be delivered in London by June 15, for the ship was to leave England on June 30. As for the ship, Shackleton’s first choice was the Bjorn, owned by Mr. C. Christiansen. The Bjorn was a new ship, built specially for polar work, but was simply too expensive to purchase. Instead, when Shackleton returned to London after visiting Christiansen in Sandyfjord, the purchase of the Nimrod was made. At the time, the Nimrod was on a sealing venture, out of Newfoundland, but was expected to return very soon. The ship was small and old and her maximum speed under steam was hardly more than six knots, but on the other hand, she was strongly built. The Nimrod did not return as soon as Shackleton expected and when she did arrive, she had been somewhat damaged by the ice. She was inspected on Shackleton’s behalf and pronounced sound. A rapid transit was made across the Atlantic and the ship arrived in the Thames on June 15, 1907. Shackleton was very disappointed when he first inspected the ship; she was run down and smelt strongly of seal-oil. In addition, she required new caulking and masts. As work began on the Nimrod, Shackleton contracted Messrs. Humphreys, of Knightsbridge, to construct the hut in which to live during the Antarctic winter. The hut would be shipped in sections aboard the Nimrod. It was made of stout fir timbering of best quality in the walls, roofs and floors. The walls were strengthened with iron cleats bolted to main posts and horizontal timbering, and the roof was reinforced with iron tie rods. The hut was lined with match-boarding and the walls and roof were covered first with strong felt, then one-inch tongued and grooved boards, followed by an additional covering of felt. Granulated cork was used as insulation. The hut was to be erected on wooden piles, driven into the ice, with rings attached to the roof so that guy ropes could be used to give additional resistance to the gales.

“The personnel of an expedition of the character I proposed is a factor on which success depends to a very large extent. The men selected must be qualified for the work, and they must also have the special qualifications required to meet polar conditions. They must be able to live together in harmony for a long period without outside communication, and it must be remembered that the men whose desires lead them to the untrodden paths of the world have generally marked individuality”, Shackleton wrote. The staff:

SHORE PARTY

  • Lieutenant J. B. Adams, R.N.R., meteorologist.
  • Sir Philip Brocklehurst, Bart., assistant geologist, and in charge of current observations.
  • Bernard Day, electrician and motor expert.
  • Ernest Joyce, in charge of general stores, dogs, sledges and zoological collections.
  • Dr. A. F. Mackay, surgeon.
  • Dr. Eric Marshall, surgeon, cartographer.
  • G E. Marston, artist.
  • James Murray, biologist.
  • Raymond Priestley, geologist.
  • William Roberts, cook.
  • Frank Wild, in charge of provisions.

SHIP’S STAFF

  • Lieutenant Rupert England, R.H.R., master.
  • John K. Davis, first officer.
  • A. L. A. Mackintosh, second officer.
  • Dr. W. A. R. Michell, surgeon.
  • H. J. L. Dunlop, chief engineer.
  • Alfred Cheetham, third officer and boatswain.

NimrodThe work of preparing for the expedition was rapid and as the end of July approached, the stores and equipment were loaded on board the Nimrod in readiness for the voyage to New Zealand. On July 30, 1907, the Nimrod sailed from the East India Docks for Torquay. The first night was spent at Greenhithe and on the morning of the 31st the ship continued for Torquay. A detour was made when a tug overtook the Nimrod and conveyed news that the King and Queen wished to come on board to inspect the ship and equipment on Sunday, August 4. By Sunday, the ship was anchored at Cowes, and their Majesties, the King and Queen, their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales, the Princess Victoria, Prince Edward and the Duke of Connaught came on board. The King presented Shackleton with the Victorian Order and the Queen presented him with a Union Jack to carry on the southern sledge journey. The Nimrod sailed for Torquay early the next morning and arrived there on August 6. Farewell dinner and drinks were ingested that evening and on the morning of Wednesday, August 7, the ship sailed for New Zealand.Nimrod

After calling at St. Vincent and Cape Town, the Nimrod arrived at Lyttelton, New Zealand, on November 23. The Commonwealth Government gave Shackleton £5000 and the New Zealand Government another £1,000 which allowed Shackleton to increase the number of the shore party and add additional equipment. The New Zealand Government also agreed to pay half the cost of towing the Nimrod down to the Antarctic circle so that coal could be saved. At 4 P.M. on January 1, 1908, the lines were cast off from the wharf and the Nimrod was off for the south. Thousands watched and cheers broke out as the Nimrod passed the United States’ magnetic survey ship Galilee. With the Koonya steaming in front, Shackleton moved up close to her stern and hauled in the 4-inch wire cable to be used to tow the Nimrod south.

Everything went well until the third of January. As Mackintosh wrote, “A truly miserable day and night: everything upside down, nearly every one seasick. We exchanged signals with the Koonya occasionally — this afternoon she enquired how our passengers were faring? We replied and told her that “there were 20 seasick, but all cheerful’. It’s blowing strong from S.W. with quite a tidy sea and swell”. The weather moderated the next day but some of the crew were still very ill; Marshall, Mawson and Priestley being the worst. The first pony was lost on January 6. “Doctor” fell over onto his back in a very awkward manner. Try as they might, the poor animal could not get up so it was shot. Gales accompanied the ships on the journey south and on January 14 the first iceberg was sighted. The next day the pack ice was sighted off the starboard bow extending all the way to the port bow. A short time later the Nimrod was on her own as the Koonya’s tow-line was cast off.

After navigating through dense clusters of bergs, the Nimrod entered the Ross Sea on January 16, the first ship to do so without the vessel having been held up by pack-ice. January 17 found them at 70°43′S, 178°58′E. The Nimrod skirted the Barrier until January 25 at which time Shackleton gave up all hope of reaching King Edward VII Land. The pack-ice was too thick as well as being interspersed with giant icebergs. It seemed impossible to reach land, and the shortness of coal, the leaky condition of the ship, and the absolute necessity of landing all the stores and putting up the hut before the vessel left them made the situation extremely anxious for Shackleton. Fearing becoming trapped in the ice, Shackleton could see no option other than steering for McMurdo Sound. At 8 P.M. she turned to the west and on January 28 they entered McMurdo Sound. Around midnight, the frozen sea stopped them some 20 miles short of Hut Point; the ice anchor was dropped and made fast to the floe. Shackleton decided to lay off the ice-foot for a few days to give Nature a chance to break up the ice. Meanwhile, on the evening of the 29th, the sides and top of the motor-car case were removed and the wheels put on the car. On the 30th most of the beams of the pony shelter were removed so the ponies could be removed without difficulty at a moments notice. Most of them were in very poor shape and one, “Nimrod”, had to be shot.Mackintosh

The voyage had been without accident until the morning of the 31st. The entire crew was busy unpacking the stores from the after-hatch, preparatory to landing them, when a hook on the tackle slipped and, swinging suddenly across the deck, struck Mackintosh in the right eye. He fell to the deck in great pain but was able, in a few minutes, to walk to England’s cabin where Marshall examined him. It was clear that the eye must be removed so Marshall, assisted by Michell and Mackay, administered chloroform to Mackintosh and removed the eye.Nimrod

At 9:30 P.M. on February 3, the ship was fast alongside the ice foot off Hut Point Peninsula. The offloading began with the motor car the first thing to go over the side. By February 12th, the stores were safely ashore. The temperatures were now consistently below −10°F. The Nimrod’s masts “were grey with the frozen spray and the bows were a coat of mail”. At 10:45 P.M. on February 22, the Nimrod headed northward and arrived at Port Chalmers, New Zealand, on March 6, 1908.

It took a few more weeks to transform the hut from an empty shell to a fully furnished and functional lodging. The fifteen men had to eat, sleep, work, worry, talk and meet all their social needs for their time in Antarctica in the tiny hut. Shackleton had his own space while two men each shared the seven other cubicles.

The meteorologist, Jameson Adams, set to work building a meteorological screen on a hill near the hut to measure air temperature, wind speed / direction and evaporation. Measurements were taken nearly round the clock as Adams took them from 8am to 8pm and the night watchman took the 10pm to 6am shift. Douglas Mawson built an anemometer on the tallest ridge; wind speed was frequently recorded above 100 mph. Professor Edgeworth David made a snowgauge from spare stove and chimney parts. Evaporation was measured by hanging measured cubes of snow and ice from rods projecting from the wall of the hut. Sometimes wind direction could be tracked by monitoring the steam plume coming from Mount Erebus. The biologist, James Murray, built a sledge which could be lowered through a crack in the ice and pulled along the bottom which scooped up a vast variety of small fish, crustacea and other marine animals. Oddly to Murray, the fish and other animals would freeze before he could get back to the hut but, once thawed out, they would spring back to life.

As the sun began to set in March, tiny details of the daily routine became major events. The weather was an important factor of everyday life; in a blizzard the chores of emptying dishwater and ashes and getting fresh ice became small feats of endurance. Night watchmans’ duties were rotated every two weeks. Two men were exempted from these duties: Roberts, who was the cook, and Sir Philip Brocklehurst, whose toes were still black with frostbite (one later amputated by Marshall) after his climb of Mount Erebus. (NOTE: The successful ascent of Mount Erebus was one of the first accomplishments of the expedition. Six men, among them Douglas Mawson, measured the crater. They quickly descended by sliding down the 5000 feet in four hours). The others tended to their specialties: Adams wound the chronometers, checked instruments and did other meteorological work; Marshall, the surgeon, tended to medical needs and exercised ponies; Wild, the storekeeper, issued food to the cook, opened the cases of tinned food and dug the meat out of the snowdrifts (penguin, seal or mutton); Joyce fed the dogs and trained them for sledge-pulling; David spent time on geological studies; Priestley and Murray worked at dredging; Mawson studied the aurora, ice structures and measured atmospheric electricity.

By mid-winter, activity had declined to a lazy pace, as compared to the torrid one set earlier. Most of the men now stayed up late and Professor David, more of a late-night person than the others, organized an 11 o’clock tea. Nearly all were sound asleep by 1 am. First up at 7:30 am would be Roberts, to start breakfast, and Armitage, to feed the ponies. At 8:30 am the rest would get up and at 8:45 the table was lowered from the roof. At 9:00 they all sat down to porridge and hot milk. Occasionally a second course would follow consisting of bottled fruit and tea, followed by a smoke. Lunch was at 1:00 pm and dinner was at 6:45 sharp. On birthdays and mid-winter’s day (June 21), they broke the rules and celebrated with what Shackleton described as “a sort of mild spree”. Optimism was high through the six-month night. “We were all busy and there was little cause for us to find the time hung heavy on our hands; the winter months sped by”. Evidently, the men were actually thrilled when winter ended since they were obviously getting on each others’ nerves. One night, as Marshall writes, Wild “showed sign of being drunk, & was anxious to make a row, but after a little while persuaded him to turn in. Was seriously thinking of getting him outside to give me a hand with the ponies & then giving him a damn good hammering, as he was becoming very talkative and objectionable & Shacks was evidently afraid to come out and stop him, although awake and hearing all said”. At the beginning of August, Mackay suddenly went for Roberts, the cook, with whom he shared a cubicle. It seems that Roberts put his feet on Mackay’s chest to lace up his boots. Mackay, much bigger and stronger, tried to wring Robert’s neck and may have succeeded if Mawson, who was bigger and stronger still, hadn’t stepped in. In Priestley’s words, it was “lucky evidently that the Winter (was) almost over instead of just beginning”. In Marshall’s version, Shackleton was “in a regular panic about it & threatens he will shoot (Mackay). This is the 2nd time he has said (so). He is so easily frightened that he is not to be trusted with a pistol… Mac quite all right but slightly eccentric & quick tempered”.

Spring arrived and the plans, worked out over the winter, were ready to be launched. Shackleton, Adams, Marshall and Wild would head south for the Pole, a 1700-mile trek; Edgeworth David (aged 50) would lead the Northern Party on a 1260-mile journey towards the South Magnetic Pole, with Mackay (aged 30) and Mawson (aged 26) as teammates. The Northern Party had no experience of polar exploration. They would have to pull sledges and supplies without the help of dogs or ponies. At the start, they used the motor car to establish two depots 10 and 15 miles from the hut on Cape Royds. On September 25 the engine overheated and they actually had to wait in the blistering cold for it to cool down. When the party finally left winter quarters the next day, Mackay’s wrist was in a sling after an accident with the car’s starter. It seemed a rather ominous beginning to a journey into the unknown with the doctor’s arm in a sling! By November 1 they were becoming worried at the rate the rations were diminishing. Appetite consumed them but by November 5 they limited themselves to one plasmon biscuit each for breakfast and dinner, discovering in the process that “we had never before fully realised how very nice those plasmon biscuits were”. The three explorers used the traditional method for dividing food: the cook would put three biscuits on the cooker cover, then point to one, asking one of the others with his back turned, “Whose?” By this means there would be no opportunity to create a squabble over who was getting the biggest portion. In the beginning, no attention was paid to the crumbs; by early November they were breaking their biscuits over their pannikins to make sure they left no precious crumbs. Even their conversation was dominated by food as David wrote, “We could discuss nothing but the different dishes with which we had been regaled in our former lifetime at various famous restaurants and hotels”.

On December 11, a mile short of the Drygalski Ice Tongue, David fell into a crevasse only 20 feet from their tent. He managed to save himself, catching the edge on either side but needed Mawson’s assistance, with an ice axe, to pull him out. The next day it was Mackay’s turn. While hunting for emperor penguins he fell through an ice bridge up to his waist in water. On December 20, Mawson had a brush with death. David heard a “slight crash” and noticed that Mawson had disappeared. David and Mackay found him dangling over a deep crevasse, suspended by his harness attached to the sledge rope. Mawson, ever the curious scientist, took the opportunity to inspect the ice crystals on the crevasse wall. David wrote, “After this episode we were extra cautious in crossing the crevasses, but the ice was simply seamed with them. Twice when our sledge was being dragged up ice-pressure ridges it rolled over sideways with one runner in a crevasse and once the whole sledge all but disappeared into a crevasse… Had it gone down completely it would certainly have dragged the three of us down with it, as it weighed nearly one-third of a ton”.

On Christmas day, David and Mawson offered Mackay, who was suffering from snow-blindness, some sennegrass — dried Norwegian grass they used to line their boots — as substitute pipe tobacco. It was the only gift they had to offer. The sun and cold temperatures constantly wreaked havoc with the men. Mawson’s right cheek and the tip of David’s nose were frostbitten while the sun burned David’s hands. The cold stripped skin from their lips and Mawson woke each morning with his mouth glued shut from congealed blood. As they neared the magnetic pole, David wrote, “The heavy runners of the sledge rustled gently as they crushed the crystals by the thousand”. On January 15,1909, Mawson’s compass was only 15 minutes off the vertical.At the magnetic Pole

The men depoted most of the heavy gear and set out on a forced march to the pole. Arriving a short time later, David and Mackay planted a flagpole at the spot. The three men bared their heads, hoisted the Union Jack and posed in front of the camera which David triggered with a string. David said, “I hearby take possession of this area now containing the Magnetic Pole for the British Empire” and then gave three cheers for His Majesty King Edward VII. They were awfully tired but still managed to march back to the depot (24 miles) where they slept soundly knowing that they had indeed accomplished their objective. Now they just had to find a way to stay alive.

They calculated that in order to reach the Drygalski depot and signal the Nimrod on time, they would need to average nearly 17 miles a day from January 17 to February 1. On February 5, 1909, they were within one mile of the Drygalski depot. With the Nimrod nowhere in sight, their attention was turned to the possibility of striking out for Ross Island. About this time two sudden explosions were heard in the distance. Mawson screamed, “A gun from the ship!” and scrambled out of the tent. Mackay and David followed close behind and as they emerged, Mawson was already 300 feet away. Mawson turned and shouted, “Bring something to wave!” David grabbed a rucksack and “as I ran forward this time, what a sight met my gaze. There was the dear old Nimrod, not a quarter of a mile away, steaming straight towards us up the inlet… ” Mackay shouted to the ship, “Mawson has fallen down a crevasse, and we got to the Magnetic Pole!” By the afternoon the men were enjoying tea aboard the Nimrod. Later they enjoyed their first bath in over four months, followed by a wonderful dinner. As the men went to bed, David wrote, “None but those whose bed for months has been on snow and ice can realise the luxury of a real bunk, blankets and pillow, in a snug little cabin”. They had traveled 1260 miles with no dogs or ponies in the coldest place on earth. Upon completion of the trek, David felt they could have done it in half the time with a team of dogs. “We pioneered a route to the magnetic pole and we hope that the path thus found will prove of use to future observers”.

As for Shackleton and the South Pole crew, their journey began at 10 am, under a cloudless sky with the wind at their backs, on October 29, 1908. At lunchtime, one of the Manchurian ponies, “Grisi”, kicked Adams just below the kneecap and exposed the bone. This was not a good beginning. Even the light played tricks with them. When clouds and mist blocked the sun, they could see no shadows. As a result, ledges, mounds and gullies disappeared into a dead, flat white plain. Crevasses were difficult to spot. Covered only by fragile snowcrust, they were often so deep they could not see the bottom nor hear an echo from an object they dropped into them. On November 5 Wild, Adams, Marshall and “Grisi” were all rescued from crevasses — Marshall twice. Three days later Marshall and Wild pitched their tent right next to an unseen crevasse. The next day another pony slipped into an abyss and was fortunately saved from the brink of death. As with David and his men, Shackleton’s party also experienced deep hunger. Three weeks out Shackleton complained in his diary about the size of their rations… if they were this hungry now, what will it be like “later when we are really hungry?” They shot “Chinaman”, the weakest pony, on November 21, ate some of the meat and layed a depot with the rest for when they returned. Adams, unable to sleep for days from a toothache, let Marshall extract it without the use of tooth-pulling equipment. After 29 days, on November 26, they passed the previous “furthest south” record set by Robert Scott in 1902. In early December two more ponies were shot. Shackleton, with his soft heart for animals, believed he heard the last pony, “Socks”, whinnying “all night for his lost companions”. They started eating pony maize. Shackleton remained optimistic, reporting on December 11 that, “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all”. Christmas was celebrated at 9500 feet with plum pudding, medical brandy, cocoa, a spoonful of créme de menthe and cigars. They still had 250 miles between themselves and the pole, with only three weeks’ biscuits left. “Tomorrow we will throw away everything except the most absolute necessities”, Shackleton wrote. “Everytime we reach the top of a ridge we say ‘perhaps this is the last’, but it never is the last”, he wrote. On December 27th they reached the polar plateau at an altitude of 10,200 feet. The weather was severe as a strong headwind chilled them to the bone. On December 30 a blizzard held them to only 4 miles travelling. They were weak from a lack of food and their hands and feet were always on the verge of frostbite. By January 2, 1909, Shackleton was near the breaking point. “I cannot think of failure yet. I must look at the matter sensibly and consider the lives of those who are with me… man can only do his best… ” Two days later he wrote, “The end is in sight. We can only go for three more days at the most, for we are weakening rapidly”. They fought through a blizzard on January 4, 5 and 6. On January 7, only 100 miles from the pole, a howling blizzard kept them in their sleeping bags all day. It was the same on January 8. The end of their southern journey began at 4 am on January 9. They left the sledge, tent and food at the camp and took only the Union Jack, a brass cylinder containing stamps and documents to mark their farthest south, camera, glasses and a compass. Their farthest south was reached at 9 am: 88°23′S, longitude 162° — just 97 miles from the South Pole.97 miles from South Pole

They planted the flag, stayed a few minutes, and then turned round and headed for home. The strong winds which worked against them on their trip south now helped them on their return. For two weeks they traveled quickly with the sledge rushing, under sail, down ice falls and over crevasses. One day, January 19, they made 29 miles. By the morning of January 26 they had only tea, cocoa and a little pony maize left. That day they traveled 16 miles over “the worst surfaces and most dangerous crevasses we have ever encountered”. On February 13 they reached the depot with “Chinaman’s” carcass, which “tasted splendid”. They found the Bluff depot on February 23. When spotted, Shackleton wrote, “It seemed to be quite close and the flags were waving and dancing as though to say ‘Come, here I am, come and feed. After months of want and hunger, we suddenly found ourselves able to have meals fit for the gods, and with appetites the gods might have envied“. By this time Marshall was suffering badly from dysentery. On February 27 Shackleton decided to leave Marshall and Adams behind while he and Wild took off for Hut Point. When they arrived, they found a letter telling them that the Nimrod had picked up the magnetic pole party and would shelter near the glacier tongue until February 26. It was now February 28. After a bad night, they burned the magnetic hut and shortly thereafter the Nimrod appeared. By 11 am they were on board and three hours later Shackleton led a rescue party for Marshall and Adams. At 1 am on March 4, all were safe on board the Nimrod; they had walked 1700 miles.

The winter season was approaching. McMurdo Sound was already white and choked with the freezing sea. As Mackay put it, “So the end of the business is that (we are) homeward bound, bumping our way through this season’s ice, which is the form of pantiles, some three or four inches thick. I have left a great many things behind that I am very sorry to lose”.Hut

As the Nimrod sailed past Cape Royds, Shackleton wrote that, “we all turned out to give three cheers and to take a last look at the place where we had spent so many happy days. The hut was not exactly a palatial residence… but, on the other hand it had been our home for a year that would always live in our memories… We watched the little hut fade away in the distance with feelings almost of sadness, and there were few men aboard who did not cherish a hope that some day they would once more live strenuous days under the shadow of mighty Erebus”.

With special thanks to Gary Pierson, Webmaster of South-Pole.com for allowing me to use this information from his site. More to follow in the coming weeks.

Forthcoming events: Further survey work throughout the North Sea. Port call to Peterhead.

All being well I will write a further update next weekend which I would hope to have completed for Monday 26th June 2000.

MEPG
June 18, 2000