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RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary - 25 June 2000

Pipeline survey, part three of the history of Shackleton.

Date: Sunday June 25, 2000

Position at 0800 UTC +1
Latitude 57°29′ North
Longitude 001°16′ West

Current weather: Overcast and dull
Wind: NNW, 25 Knots
Sea state: Moderate
Air temperature: 9.7°C

RRS Ernest Shackleton arrived at Peterhead, on the east coast of Scotland, on Sunday 18th June at about 1900 BST. This was to be a very short visit to offload some equipment used during the previous few days, to close a valve at the Harding Platform, and that would not be required for the remainder of the pipeline survey.

At 2300 the ship was ready to depart and at 2340 we sailed from Peterhead.

The first section of survey work was to be centered around the St Fergus Oil Terminal, which is just to the north of Peterhead, and once that was completed we moved to the south of Peterhead to the Cruden Bay area, where pipes from the Forties Field come ashore. This second pipeline will be surveyed for some 160 km, at about a speed of 1km/hour.

Areas in which the vessel will be working for the next few weeks
Areas in which the vessel will be working for the next few weeks

This diagram shows the areas in which the vessel will be working for the next few weeks and is a guide to the pipeline routes that we will be surveying.

The nature of survey work is such that it means there is very little to report. Once the ROV is in the water and our Dynamic Positioning System is on ‘Follow Target’ mode, whereby it follows a transponder that is attached to the ROV, all we have to do is sit back and move slowly along the pipeline.

The ROV is fitted with three cameras for monitoring the pipeline and a couple for watching where it is going. The three survey cameras are mounted such that they give a clear view of the pipe from overhead and also one view from each side of the pipe, which also enables them to see underneath the pipe should it be suspended above the seabed.

Also fitted to the ROV is a pipetracker, which uses electromagnetic fields to detect the location of the pipe when it is buried.

The Bridge has a monitor fitted that allows us to watch one of the video cameras on the ROV, normally the overhead camera is selected, and it is amazing to see just what wildlife there is to be seen, so much so that we invested in a book on marine life in the North Sea to enable us to identify just what we were seeing. Amongst some of the sightings so far are:

  • Pollack, common near to the shore and frequently caught by sea-anglers and up to 130cm in length, weighing up to 12kg.
  • Clusters of Starfish.
  • Sea Anemones
  • Clusters of Hermit Crabs
  • Tubas
  • and many other things that we have not been able to identify, due to our guide to fishes only having fishes and nothing else in. This means a shopping trip next time we get to port to resolve this problem!

What is Pipeline Inspection?

In order to answer this question, Simon Allen (Senior Surveyor onboard), has provided me with a host of information and this will be given over the next few weeks, starting this week with an introduction to the pipeline itself.

The Pipeline Defined

A pipeline is like your first car. When it is new you service it regularly and gradually develop a feel for what is likely to go wrong. Once it is not a new car anymore, you know you should keep the servicing regular, but you have a feel for what goes wrong and servicing periods get a little longer and a little more specific. Once into old age a car can be kept going, but the cost of keeping it on the road goes up until eventually it is more economically feasible, or less of a risk on the longer journeys to replace it with a new one.

The thought processes used by you in deciding when and what you do to your car are much the same as the thought processes employed by a company in deciding when to inspect and repair a pipeline. However as individuals we have probably all broken down at some time and wished that we had  serviced the car more regularly. The environmental and other risks involved with a pipeline failure are far greater than arriving home late and therefore the oil companies and field operators use every tool at their disposal to inspect, assess and rectify any risk to their pipelines.

Regulations exist that govern the inspection, repair and maintenance of pipelines, these are the Pipelines Safety Regulations 1996 (SI1996/825), which have three main objectives.

  • To apply a common approach to the control of risks from pipelines, both onshore and offshore.
  • To replace existing pipeline safety regimes (comprising of legislation from a number of origins) with a single goal-setting group of regulations reflecting the general policy of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
  • To separate the safety regime from the authorisation procedures operated currently by the DTI.

These regulations have moved away from the old ”prescriptive“ style and allow the operators more flexibility in the way they approach pipeline inspection. Using trend analysis and risk assessment techniques operators are able to present their own recommendations for the long term inspection of a pipeline.  In seeking to improve efficiency, and as always, cut costs the operators are looking to the Inspection Companies and Integrity Managers for innovation and totally managed services, although innovation in itself is not popular without the prospect of cost savings.

When considering subsea pipelines, we are not considering just the section that lies on the seabed but the whole pipeline system from the pig catcher on the platform to the pig catcher on land or on a different platform.

The pipeline system
The pipeline system

This pipeline system can be broken down into four discrete areas each with it own optimum inspection strategy.

  1. The Sea line.
  2. Platform Riser.
  3. Spoolpiece between the riser and the main sealine.
  4. The Landfall.

There may be other structures along the pipeline that are considered as part of the system such as Sub Sea Intervention Valves (SSIV) or Tee-Pieces for other pipelines, these will only be covered by this paper in passing.

The Sea Line

The sea line section of the pipeline represents the largest section and the highest inspection cost. This is normally inspected by a combination of acoustic (general imaging) and visual survey. A Major Oil Company could easily have 2000+ km of sea line to inspect within the North Sea. This section of pipe can be at risk from anchors, trawl gear, munitions, instability, wave action, corrosion and upheaval buckling. The level and type of risk is dependent on the pipeline, its contents and location, and the inspection regime is tailored to suit. This generally has the following pattern. General Imaging (GI) survey usually annually or bi-annually followed by Visual (GVI) inspection of any areas of concern highlighted by the GI survey. The visual inspection may be performed in conjunction with Cathodic Protection (CP) monitoring surveys which are normally performed at a greater interval.

The Riser

The riser forms the link between the production facility above the surface and the pipeline on the seabed. The riser in passing through the splash zone is subject to massive changing forces and its condition can deteriorate rapidly if left unchecked. The primary method of inspection is visual, although other non destructive testing (NDT) methods are used in areas of concern. Complete inspection of the riser is difficult to achieve, requiring the use of three distinct surveys. On the platform and above the splashzone, a rope access team can be used. In the splashzone either divers or remote camera deployment tools are used. From the surface down to the seabed an eyeball ROV is most commonly used.

The Spoolpiece

The spoolpiece is the connection between the flange on the end of the pipeline and the flange at the base of the riser on the platform. GI survey provides very little useful information on this section of the pipeline. ROV visual inspection is the usual method, performed either using an eyeball ROV or a work class ROV dependent on whether it is surveyed in conjunction with the riser or in conjunction with the sealine.

The Landfall

The Landfall is the area where the pipe comes ashore, the length of this section is dependent on the local bathymetry, it is an area of shallow water and where wave energy reaches to the seabed and causes significant disturbances. The pipe can therefore be subject to large changing forces resulting in the seabed features and the position of the pipe with respect to the seabed constantly changing. This area therefore requires regular survey.

In coastal areas strong currents, rapidly drying sandbanks and large tidal ranges are also prevalent. A large number of pipelines come ashore at Bacton and St Fergus, and typical diurnal peak tidal flows are shown below. When considering a typical survey speed of 4 knots, a peak current in excess of 2 knots proves to be something of a problem and requires additional planning.

Currents in landfall areas
Currents in landfall areas
Currents in landfall areas
Currents in landfall areas

Normally these areas are surveyed by small boat carrying a multitude of hull mounted sensors. It is in these areas that the benefits of modern survey methods such as swathe bathymetry and RTK GPS have shown real benefits.

In other landfall areas such as Grutwick in the Shetland Isles the problems are a little different. The water here shallows very quickly and visibility of the pipe (both acoustically and visually) is restricted by kelp. Here traditional diving techniques are still employed.


This generalised pipeline system endeavours to describe those components commonly  found, it does not attempt to describe the unusual, or innovative, which are becoming more common.

The work carried out by the Charterers is continuous throughout the 24 hour period, being split into twelve hour shifts.

It is the job of On-line Survey to ensure that they know exactly where both the ship and the ROV is at any given time, and to also advise the ROV of possible known obstructions and when joints or anodes are coming up on the pipeline. The ROV operators have the task of flying the ROV (it is after all like flying an aircraft as they have to contend with up and down as well as left/right and forward and back). This is a job that requires high levels of concentration and there are three ‘pilots’ on watch at any one time, taking turns at flying the ROV.

The ROV Shack, with Robert Atkinson flying the ROV
The ROV Shack, with Robert Atkinson flying the ROV
The Online Survey Room
The Online Survey Room

The Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914–1917

In Shackleton’s own words, “After the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen who, by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeyings — the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea”.

When Shackleton returned from the Nimrod Expedition, on which an attempt was made to plant the British flag on the South Pole, attention was turned towards the crossing of the continent as Shackleton felt certain that either Amundsen or Scott would succeed where he had failed, just 97 miles from his goal.

Shackleton felt that the first crossing of the Antarctic Continent, from sea to sea via the Pole, apart from its historic value, would be a journey of great scientific importance. The distance would be roughly 1800 miles, and the first half of this, from the Weddell Sea to the Pole, would be over unexplored territory. Shackleton intended on taking continuous magnetic observations as the glaciologist and geologist studied ice formations and the mountains of Victoria Land. While the Trans-continental party worked its way across the continent, other scientific parties would operate from the base on the Weddell Sea. One sledging party would travel towards Graham Land, making observations and collecting geological specimens while another party would travel eastward toward Enderby Land conducting the same types of studies. A third party would remain at the base to study the fauna of the land and sea and the meteorological conditions. From the Ross Sea base in McMurdo Sound, another party would push southward to await the arrival of the Trans-continental party at the top of the Beardmore Glacier. Two ships were required for the expedition. The Endurance would be used to transport the Trans-continental party to the Weddell Sea and would afterwards explore the shores of the coastline. She was constructed at Sandefjord by the famous Norwegian builder, Christensen. She was barquentine rigged and had triple-expansion engines which gave her a speed under steam of 9 to 10 knots. Some 350 tons, she was built of selected pine, oak and greenheart. Fully equipped, she cost the Expedition £14,000. The Autora, the ship used to take out the Ross Sea Party, was purchased from Douglas Mawson. She was very similar to the Terra Nova of Scott’s expedition.

Preparations were started in the middle of 1913 but no public announcement was made until January 13, 1914. After the announcement, Shackleton was flooded with applications from eager members of the community to join the adventure. Nearly 5,000 applications were received from which 56 men were picked. In March, the promised financial help fell through so Shackleton immediately set about appealing for help. The funds were raised to complete the purchases with the largest contributors being the late Sir James Caird (£24,000), the British Government (£10,000) and the Royal Geographical Society (£1,000). Most of the Public Schools of England and Scotland helped the Expedition to purchase the dog teams — each dog was named after a school that contributed. The Aurora was purchased and Mackintosh was sent to Australia to take charge of her.

In this chapter, you will read of the most incredible, in my opinion, adventure of this era. What makes it even more remarkable is the fact that all men from the Trans-continental party made it back alive. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the Ross Sea Party, whose story will be told in the next chapter.

Ernest Shackleton Part 3

The Endurance Expedition - The Transcontinental Party
Shackleton's Expedition (1914)
Shackleton's Expedition (1914)

Towards the end of July all was ready when suddenly the war clouds darkened over Europe. Arrangements had been made for the Endurance to proceed to Cowes to be inspected by His Majesty on the Monday of Cowes week. But on the Friday before, Shackleton received a message saying the King would not be able to go. They sailed from London on Friday, August 1, 1914, and anchored off Southend all Saturday. On Sunday afternoon Shackleton took the ship off Margate and on Monday morning Shackleton went ashore and read in the morning paper the order for general mobilization. Shackleton immediately returned to the ship, gathered all hands, and told them of his intention to telegram the Admiralty offering the ships, stores and services to the country in the event of war breaking out. It was requested that in the declaration of war, the Expedition would be considered a single unit as there were enough trained men among them to man a destroyer. Within an hour after sending the telegram, Shackleton received a wire from the Admiralty saying “Proceed”. Within two hours, another arrived from Winston Churchill in which he thanked them for their offer but desired that the Expedition go on. The Endurance sailed on to Plymouth and on Tuesday the King sent for Shackleton and handed him the Union Jack to carry on the Expedition. That night, at midnight, war broke out. On the following Saturday, August 8, the Endurance sailed from Plymouth.

The voyage out to Buenos Aires was uneventful and on October 26 they sailed from that port for South Georgia. For a month, final preparations were made for the assault. According to many, the war would be over within six months so when it came time to leave for the south, they left with no regrets.

The Leader

Shackleton wrote, “I had decided to leave South Georgia about December 5, and in intervals of final preparation scanned again the plans for the voyage to winter quarters. What welcome was the Weddell Sea preparing for us? The whaling captains at South Georgia were generously ready to share with me their knowledge of the waters in which they pursued their trade, and, while confirming earlier information as to the extreme severity of the ice conditions in this sector of the Antarctic, they were able to give advice that was worth attention… I knew that the ice had come far north that season, and, after listening to the suggestions of the whaling captains, had decided to steer to the South Sandwich Group, round Ultima Thule, and work as far to the eastward as the fifteenth meridian west longitude before pushing south. The whalers emphasized the difficulty of getting through the ice in the neighbourhood of the South Sandwich Group. They told me they had often seen the floes come right up to the Group in the summer-time, and they thought the Expedition would have to push through heavy pack in order to reach the Weddell Sea. Probably the best time to get into the Weddell Sea would be the end of February or the beginning of March. The whalers had gone right round the South Sandwich Group and they were familiar with the conditions. The predictions they made had induced me to take the deck-load of coal, for if we had to fight our way through to Coats’ Land we would need every ton of fuel the ship could carry. I hoped that by first moving to the east as far as the fifteenth meridian west we would be able to go south through looser ice, pick up Coats’ Land and finally reach Vahsel Bay, where Filchner made his attempt at landing in 1912. Two considerations were occupying my mind at this juncture. I was anxious for certain reasons to winter the Endurance in the Weddell Sea, but the difficulty of finding a safe harbour might be very great. If no safe harbour could be found, the ship must winter at South Georgia. It seemed to me hopeless now to think of making the journey across the continent in the first summer, as the season was far advanced and the ice conditions were likely to prove unfavourable. In view of the possibility of wintering the ship in the ice, we took extra clothing from the stores at the various stations in South Georgia”. The day of departure arrived. The order was given to heave anchor at 8:45 a.m. on December 5, 1914 and the last link with civilization was broken. The morning was dull and overcast, with occasional gusts of snow and sleet. The long days of preparation were over and the adventure lay ahead.

The Endurance left under steam and sail to the south-east. The course was laid to clear them of the coastline of South Georgia and then south of South Thule, Sandwich Group. On December 6, they passed two bergs, several growlers and numerous lumps of ice. Fifteen miles north of Sanders Island, the Endurance was confronted by a belt of heavy pack-ice, half a mile broad extending north and south. The noon latitude had been 57°26′ S which left Shackleton uneasy finding pack-ice so far north. This first encounter was only a portent of things to come. The situation became dangerous that night as they pushed into the pack in the hope of reaching open water beyond. Unfortunately, they found themselves after dark in a pool which grew smaller and smaller. The ice ground against the ship in a heavy swell as Shackleton and Worsley remained on deck all night in an attempt to dodge the pack. It was early in the morning before the Endurance was able to get clear. They went east to find better ice and five hours later succeeded in rounding the pack. Sails were once again set. Shackleton wrote of the ice, “As the pack gets closer the congested areas grow larger and the parts are jammed harder until it becomes ‘closer pack’… where the parts do not fit closely there is, of course, open water, which freezes over in a few hours after giving off volumes of ‘frost smoke’. In obedience to renewed pressure this young ice ‘rafts’, thus forming double thicknesses of a toffee-like consistency… the opposing edges of heavy floes rear up in slow and almost silent conflict till high ‘hedgerows’ are formed round each part of the puzzle… All through the winter the drifting pack changes — grows by freezing, thickens by rafting and corrugates by pressure”.

By early January they had shifted only a few miles further south. Frustration of the crewmembers was relieved on January 5 as a football game was played on the ice. Everyone was having fun until the ship’s captain, Frank Worsley, fell through rotten ice and had to be rescued. Another perceived problem was the killer whales. Spotting a seal, the creatures would dive to great depths and then smash through the ice, seizing the seal in it’s mouth. The expedition found a hole 25 feet in diameter that had been created by a killer whale. As photographer Frank Hurley took a dog team over the thin ice, he would hear whales blowing behind him. He would quickly dash for solid, thick ice with “No need to shout ‘mush’ and swing the lash. The whip of terror had cracked over their heads and they flew before it. The whales behind… broke through the thin ice as though it were tissue paper, and, I fancy, were so staggered by the strange sight that met their eyes, that for a moment they hesitated. Had they gone ahead and attacked us in front, our chances of escape would have been slim indeed… Never in my life have I looked upon more loathsome creatures”.


By the 19th of January, the Endurance was solidly frozen in. Their position was 76°34′ S, longitude, 31°30′W. A sounding was taken which found them in 312 fathoms, finding mud, sand and pebbles. “Icebergs hang upside down in the sky; the land appears as layers of silvery or golden cloud. Cloud-banks look like land, icebergs masquerade as islands…”. The ship was now drifting southwest with the floes. The ship’s rudder became dangerously jammed on the 21st from the heavy ice which had to be cut away with ice-chisels constructed from heavy pieces of iron with 6-foot wooden handles.

Endurance stuck in ice
Endurance stuck in ice

Just before midnight on January 24, a crack developed in the ice some five yards wide and a mile long, only fifty yards ahead of the ship. The crack widened to a quarter of a mile by 10 a.m. on the 25th, and for three hours Shackleton tried to force the ship into the opening with engines at full speed ahead and all sails set. The only result was a clearing of the ice from the rudder. Later in the day, Crean and two other men were chipping away at a large chunk of ice that had lodged under the ship when suddenly the ice broke away, shooting upward and overturning, pinning Crean between the ice and the handle of an ll-foot iron pincher. He only suffered from some bad bruises but the thick iron bar fared worse… it had been bent against him to an angle of 45°.

The days that followed were uneventful. On the 27th, Shackleton decided to put the fires out. They had been burning coal at the rate of a half a ton each day in order to keep steam in the boilers. With only 67 tons remaining, representing 33 day’s steaming, no more could be afforded as they remained stuck in the ice. Land was sighted to the east and south when the horizon was clear. By the 31st, the ship had drifted eight miles to the west. James and Hudson rigged the wireless in the hope of hearing the monthly transmission from the Falkland Islands. Nothing was heard. The sun, which had been above the horizon for two months, set at midnight on February 17th. On the 22nd the Endurance reached the farthest south point of her drift, touching the 77th parallel of latitude in longitude 35°W. The summer was gone. Temperatures fell to −10°F at 2 a.m. on February 22. Shackleton wrote, “I could not doubt now that the Endurance was confined for the winter… The seals were disappearing and the birds were leaving us. The land showed still in fair weather on the distant horizon, but it was beyond our reach now, and regrets for havens that lay behind us were vain. ‘We must wait for the spring, which may bring us better fortune. If I had guessed a month ago that the ice would grip us here, I would have established our base at one of the landing places at the great glacier. But there seemed no reason to anticipate then that the fates would prove unkind… My chief anxiety is the drift. Where will the vagrant winds and currents carry the ship during the long winter months that are ahead of us? We will go west, no doubt, but how far? And will it be possible to break out of the pack early in the spring and reach Vahsel Bay or some other suitable landing-place? These are momentous questions for us’”. On February 24 ship routine ceased… the Endurance became the winter quarters.

The “Ritz”, as they called their new winter quarters, was firmly caught between gigantic floes which could crush her easily. Shackleton ordered the sides of the ship cleared so that nothing would prevent her from rising above the ice as it pressed in against her sides. The men continued to take out their frustrations on the ice as football and hockey games were regularly played. On May 1 they said goodbye to the sun and the 70-day Antarctic winter night began. Oddly, on May 8 the sun rose at 11 a.m. and set 40 minutes later, rose again at 1:10 p.m. and set 10 minutes later. The navigation officer, who had announced its final disappearance a week earlier, had to explain to his jeering friends that it was not a mistake, it was a refraction of 2° more than normal. They celebrated Empire Day, May 24, singing patriotic songs. On June 15 Frank Wild, second-in-command, started his favorite team of dogs (a 6 to 4 favorite) in the first ever Antarctic Derby. With five teams competing, Wild’s team, pulling 910 pounds, or 130 pounds per dog, covered the 700-yard race with a winning time of 2 minutes and 16 seconds. All 28 men had a bet and winnings were paid in chocolate and cigarettes.

A bi-weekly performance, cleaning the Ritz
A bi-weekly performance, cleaning the Ritz

Beautiful sunrise glows on the horizon came early in July. At midnight on the 11th, the temperature was −23°F. The most severe blizzard experienced to date in the the Weddell Sea swept down upon them on the evening of the 13th. By morning, the kennels to the windward side of the ship were buried under five feet of snow. By evening, the wind reached 70 miles per hour and the ship trembled under the attack. At least a 100 tons of snow piled up against the bow and port sides. Pressure from the ice increasingly became a cause for concern. Distant rumblings and the appearance of formidable ice ridges gradually approached the ship. Shackleton wrote, “The ice is rafting up to a height of 10 or 15 ft. in places, the opposing floes are moving against one another at the rate of about 200 yds. per hour. The noise resembles the roar of heavy, distant surf. Standing on the stirring ice one can imagine it is disturbed by the breathing and tossing of a mighty giant below”. By the middle of September they were running out of fresh meat for the dogs. The seals and penguins had disappeared altogether and it had been nearly five months since a seal had been killed. The men got an Emperor penguin on the 23rd. On the following day Wild, Hurley, Macklin and McIlroy took their teams to the Stained Berg, about seven miles west of the ship, and on their way back got a female crab-eater, which they killed and skinned. They climbed the berg and at an elevation of 110 feet could see no land. By the end of September, the roar of the pressure grew louder with areas of disturbance rapidly approaching the ship.

The beginning of the end.
The beginning of the end.

Sunday, October 23rd, marked the beginning of the end. Their position was 69°11′ S, longitude 51°5′ W. At 6:45 p.m. the ship sustained heavy pressure in a dangerous position. The Endurance groaned as her starboard quarter was forced against the floe, twisting the stern-post and buckling the planking. She immediately began to leak. The bilge pumps were started at 8 p.m. and by morning the leak was being kept in check. Then came Wednesday, October 27. Shackleton wrote, “The position was lat. 69°5′ S, long. 51°30′ W. The temperature was −8.5° Fahr., a gentle southerly breeze was blowing and the sun shone in a clear sky. After long months of ceaseless anxiety and strain, after times when hope beat high and times when the outlook was black indeed, 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. The task is to reach land with all the members of the Expedition. It is hard to write what I feel”. She had drifted for at least 1186 miles and were 346 miles from Paulet Island, the nearest point where there was any possibility of finding food and shelter. A small hut was built there by Otto Nordenskjöld’s Swedish expedition in 1902 and was filled with stores left by an Argentine relief ship. Shackleton knew of these stores because he was the person who purchased the stores in London on behalf of the Argentine Government.

The End
The End

Shackleton ordered the boats, gear, provisions and sledges lowered to the floe. The Endurance had been locked in the ice for 281 days. The 28 men pitched five tents 100 yards from the ship but were forced to move when a pressure ridge started to split the ice beneath them. “Ocean Camp” was established on a thick, heavy floe about a mile and a half from the wreck. On November 21, 1915, the Endurance raised its stern and slipped beneath the ice, coming to rest at the bottom of the Weddell Sea. The ice was rotting around them so on December 20, Shackleton decided to abandon Ocean Camp and march westward to reduce the distance to Paulet Island. Christmas was celebrated on December 22 with their last good meal for eight months. Two of the boats were now man-hauled, in relays, from Ocean Camp: the James Caird and Dudley Docker, with the Stancomb Wills being left behind. If their ice floe disintegrated, the 28 men would jam into the two boats, each measuring 20 feet in length, to be at the mercy of the Weddell Sea. On December 29, with the ice too cracked to carry them, they set up camp on a solid floe, but it cracked during the night as well. They shifted to a strong, old floe, surrounded by ice too soft to sledge over, but with not enough open water to launch the boats. Adrift on their new “home”, they crossed the Antarctic Circle on New Year’s Eve. Shackleton wrote, “Thus, after a year’s incessant battle with the ice, we had returned… to almost the same latitude we had left with such high hopes and aspirations twelve months previously; but under what different conditions now! Our ship crushed and lost and we ourselves drifting on a piece of ice at the mercy of the winds”. Meanwhile, Wild returned to Ocean Camp to retrieve the Stancomb Wills.

The ice disintegrated to the point where they were forced into the boats on April 9. The floe split directly beneath them and two hours later the channels opened wide enough for them to throw their stores aboard the boats and cast off for a three-mile stretch of open water a short distance away. The Dudley Docker got caught between two ice floes but the James Caird was able to pull her free. By evening they had retreated to a new floe and once again hauled up the boats, pitched tents and lit the blubber stove.

The next day the boats were pushed into the water and by 11 a.m. they had reached a stretch of open water. On April 12, Shackleton discovered that instead of making good progress to the west, they had actually drifted 30 miles to the east. Elephant Island, in the South Shetlands, appeared to them in the north-northwest. A gale suddenly came up and separated the Dudley Docker from the others. She made for a narrow rocky beach and to their delight, the others were soon sighted making for the same area. Shackleton, in the Stancomb Wills, was the first to land. When all were ashore, the men were running around the beach as if they'd just discovered a keg of rum… they simply were ecstatic from touching land for the first time in 16 months.

Landing at Elephant Island
Landing at Elephant Island

They knew they couldn’t camp here for long so Wild, Marsten, Crean, Vincent and McCarthy left the next morning in the Stancomb Wills to locate a safe camping area. By nightfall, the men still had not returned which, once again, brought much anxiety to Shackleton and the others. At 8 p.m. they heard a hail in the distance. They couldn’t see anything at first but out of the darkness like a ghost came the boat and men. They had located a nice, sandy spit about 7 miles west of them. After a lengthy struggle, the new camp was set up at the spit which they named Cape Wild… it was April 17, 1916. Shackleton wrote, “As we clustered round the blubber stove, with the acrid smoke blowing in our faces, we were quite a cheerful company… Life was not so bad. We ate our evening meal while the snow drifted down from the surface of the glacier and our chilled bodies grew warm”. At 2 a.m. Shackleton felt a wave come up under his tent so they quickly relocated to a group of high rocks at the end of the spit. For the next week, Shackleton planned his dangerous voyage to South Georgia, 800 miles distant. As the question remained concerning their rescue, the whaling station on South Georgia seemed the only answer. The ocean south of Cape Horn in the middle of May was known to be the most storm-swept area of water in the world. The men would have to face these conditions in a small, open boat for an anticipated month’s voyage to South Georgia. Although Wild wanted to go, Shackleton refused as he wanted Wild to hold the party together on Elephant Island until the rescue. If by spring they hadn't returned, Wild was to lead the men to Deception Island. On Easter Monday, April 24, the men launched the Stancomb Wills and loaded her with stores, gear and ballast which would be transferred to the James Caird when the heavier boat was launched. The ballast consisted of bags made from blankets and filled with sand. Some 250 pounds of ice was gathered to supply fresh drinking water. As for instruments, they had a sextant, aneroid, prismatic compass, anchor, some charts and a pair of binoculars. As the James Caird was launched, the swell suddenly increased causing many to get soaked to the waist… a serious matter in that climate. When the James Caird was afloat in the surf, she nearly capsized before the men could steer her clear of the rocks as Vincent and the carpenter were tossed into the water. This was terrible luck as it would be very difficult to get their clothes dried once underway. But soon they were free from the heavy surf and rocks. The Stancomb Wills came alongside, transferred her load, and headed back to the shore for the next load. This time she had to be beached and, as a consequence, the sea lapped right up over the stern. The boat had to be overturned to dump the water out before she could be reloaded… all were soaked to the skin. By midday, the James Caird was ready for the voyage. The crew of the Stancomb Wills shook hands with those in the James Caird, exchanging their last good wishes as the boats bumped together and then the James Caird cut loose, setting the jib for the northeast. Shackleton, along with Worsley, Crean, McNeish, McCarthy and Vincent, began a voyage of a lifetime.

The departure was celebrated on Elephant Island with a two-week blizzard Wild decided to make a hut from the two remaining boats and scraps of old tent fabric. Parallel stone walls were erected to support the boats which were laid side by side. Tent fabric and sail material was stretched over the upturned hulls to keep the rain and snow out while tent canvas was used for the walls. A blubber stove was set up and the second engineer, A. Kerr, made a tin chimney out of biscuit case linings. Celluloid windows were constructed with panes from a photograph case. Water was always a problem. As the temperature rose to just above freezing, drainage was nearly nonexistent within the structure… one day they bailed out 160 gallons of water. Midwinter’s Day was celebrated on June 22 with a drink made from hot water, ginger, sugar and a teaspoon of methylated spirits. At Saturday night concerts, Hussey would play his banjo as the men sang vulgar songs about each other. By the beginning of August, food was starting to become in short supply. They dug up old seal bones and stewed them in sea water along with seaweed, which they found “very tasty”. The last of the methylated spirits was drank on August 12 and from that date forward their toasting was done with hot water and ginger. The surgeons, McIlroy and Macklin, amputated the frostbitten toes of Blackborrow’s feet by the light of the blubber stove.

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: More pipeline surveying. Helicopter due on Thursday morning for change of Charterer personnel.

June 25, 2000