3 Apr 2018

3 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Six: South Georgia - Homage To The Boss, Tom Crean & Frank Wild

One of the benefits of St Andrews Bay from the previous Post, is the site is around a two hours journey to our next location of Grytviken.
Grytviken: Grytviken is the Western end of the bay labelled King Edward Point in red. St Andrews Bay is in the bottom right corner of the map
St Andrews Bay: We left in good sunshine. It was good to have this number of zodiacs on the Plancius. Having travelled on a ship with just three then having more was also good news
Arriving into Grytviken: Two hours later, the weather was clearly on the change as we arrived at Grytviken with low cloud & the likelihood of rain. This quickly changed into steady cold rain & poor light for the rest of the day. The weather in South Georgia can turn very rapidly from nice conditions to a combination of rain, sleet, snow & strong winds. Fortunately, we missed the snow, but got to experience the 50 mph winds before we left the island
Grytviken is one of the regular landing sites for expedition ships to South Georgia due to the it being the last resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton is one of the legendary names of Antarctic exploration, as well as, being equally well known for one of the most amazing survival stories. I first heard the story about 30 years ago & for many years have wanted to visit South Georgia & visit Shackleton's grave. Finally, it was going to happen today. I was looking forward to the afternoon: the rain & cold weather were not going to ruin the day. Somehow, black & white photos seem more appropriate for this Post. I don't think it is possible to not travel to South Georgia & not appreciate the history of South Georgia & Antarctica, however, given some of the odd non-wildlife punters on the Plancius, perhaps that's still wishful thinking on my behalf.
The cemetery at Grytviken: The cemetery is set on the hillside to the left of the whaling station
We were ferried across to a landing site close to the cemetery: Unfortunately, by this time it was pelting down with rain. A few Antarctic Fur Seals were unfazed by the rain
Shackleton's grave
Shackleton's grave: On the reverse of the tombstone the words of poet Robert Browning have been added: ' I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost  for his life's set prize'
Phil Hansbro paying a tribute to Shackleton: It a tradition to have a tot of whiskey, toast Shackleton & then to pour the last bit on his grave. His men generally referred to his as 'The Boss'
Tribute plaque: 1923 El Yacht Club Argentino Enero 1923 (The Argentinian Yacht Club Jan 1923)
Tribute plaque: Guardia Nacional Sir Ernest Shackleton Febrero 1923 (The Argentinian National Guard Feb 1923) & a more recent bottle of Red Label
At the graveside: A place I've wanted to visit for many years
For those not familiar with Shackleton's story, here is a brief resume. Ernest Henry Shackleton was born on 15 Feb 1874 to Anglo-Irish parents in Kilkea, County Kildare, Ireland. He was raised in London after his parents moved when he was a young boy. He joined the merchant navy at the age of 16 & had become a master mariner by the age of 24. In 1901, he joined Robert Scott as third officer on the 1901-03 Discovery Expedition. On this expedition, Scott, Shackleton & Edward Wilson reached closer to the South Pole than anybody had previous achieved by reaching 82 degrees South. Shackleton was seriously ill towards the end of the trip & was sent home to recover. As often the case with these expeditions, it seems that a clash of personalities between Shackleton & Scott was also involved in the decision to send him home.
Shackleton's bust: This & the other pictures of the Expedition were taken in the excellent museum at Grytviken
Shackleton hadn't given up with his polar plans & in 1907 he started planning to return to the Pole. He eventually raised the finances from wealthy sponsors, but he wasn't getting a lot of support as he wasn't the establishment figure (that was Scott). However, in Feb 1907 he presented the plans to the Royal Geographical Society to reach both the Geographic & Magnetic South Poles: the Geographic South Pole being the big goal. In Jan 1908, he sailed on the Nimrod from Lyttelton Harbour in New Zealand for the ice pack. Originally, the plan was to find a new base away from Scott's base in McMurdo Sound, but eventually, the expedition ended up setting up a base 24 miles from Scott's base, as they had been unable to find another safe anchorage. In Jan 1909, he led the party South to reach the Geographic South Pole. Bad weather resulted in him having to turn back at 88 degrees South, only 97 nautical miles short of the Pole. On of their achievements was being the first people to travel on the South Polar plateau. They turned back at this point as Shackleton was very aware that they had insufficient food & just enough time to make it back to the base camp safely before the Nimrod was planned to depart. Had they carried on they might have made it to the South Pole, but would surely have died on the return journey (as happened with Scott on his subsequent 1911 Expedition). The Nimrod Expedition undertook a number of other scientific & polar projects, including being the first to climb Mount Erebus, the most active of the Antarctic volcanos, while other members of his party, Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson & Alistair Mackay, reached the Magnetic South Pole.
Shackleton's photo in the Grytviken museum
In 1911, Roald Amundsen & then Robert Scott both succeeded in reaching the South Pole. Unfortunately, Scott's party failed to make it back to their base camp & their bodies remain in Antarctica. One of Scott's party who ultimately didn't get included in the final journey to the Pole was Tom Crean, although he was one of the eight men on the ice doing all the preparatory work of laying food dumps & accompanied Scott & party to within 150 miles of the Pole. At that point, Crean along with two others, Bill Lashly & Lt Tom Evans, were told to return to the base camp 750 miles away. They were within 100 miles of the base camp, when Evans finally was unable to walk due to the impacts of scurvy. Lashly & Crean continued to drag the sledge now carrying Evans as well to within 35 miles, when they agreed that they were unable to drag the sledge any further. Crean volunteered to walk the final 35 miles with no more than a few biscuits to base camp. He only just made it as a blizzard arrived. There were only two men at the base camp, but that included the doctor. After ensuring Crean was going to be OK & waiting for the blizzard to lighten, the doc took a dog sledge party back for Lashly & Evans. Without the amazing effort from Crean, they would have quickly died. The following summer, Crean was part of the party who travelled back along the route & discovered Scott's final camp.
Tom Crean: With the four Huskie puppies that were born on the ice & which he adopted. All the expedition dogs were eventually killed for food once it was clear that the original crossing of Antarctica was going to be possible (taken in the Grytviken museum)
Back to Shackleton. Following the conquest of the Pole, Shackleton raised the funds for another expedition, the 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, to the South Pole, with the aim of being the first team to cross Antarctica. They departed at the start of Aug 1914 with Shackleton commanding the Endurance & Aeneas Mackintosh commanding the second ship, the Aurora, that was to establish the base camp to welcome them on the Ross Sea side of Antarctica. They stopped at South Georgia where they heard that the ice was particularly bad that season from the whalers. Undeterred Shackleton carried onto & arrived at the ice pack on 5 Dec 1914 in the Weddell Sea. On 19 Jan 1915, the Endurance became trapped in the ice & in late Feb, Shackleton gave the order to set up a winter base on the ice.
The Endurance trapped in the ice at night: Carefully positioned flares were used to light the Endurance. The quality of the images in amazing considering they were taken using heavy glass plates & very primitive knowledge of photography compared to modern standards. There was a special exhibition of some of the expedition photos & the negatives in the post office building. Unfortunately, the lighting in the museum doesn't do the photo justice
The negative of the same photo
The Endurance trapped in the ice at night: This is actually a negative of the Endurance with 20 flashes set off to light the ship for the photo
The Endurance trapped at night: My poorly angled photograph of the original image. Another reason the expedition is so well known is Shackleton took Australian photographer Frank Hurley along to photograph the ship. The subsequent sale of the photos of the expedition to the media was planned to help fund the expedition. Before the Endurance sank, Hurley had moved his photos onto the ice. In preparation for taking to the lifeboats, Hurley was told to select 150 of the glass plates with his best photos to take with them. Shackleton still knew the importance of these photos, should they survive. The photos have remained to this day as a stunning memorial to the expedition & to the photographic expertise of  Hurley. Another example of where Shackleton was very ahead of his time: today we expect photographic diaries of any trip
The Endurance trapped in the ice: Another negative of the endurance trapped in the ice
Negative of the Endurance trapped in the ice
The corresponding printed photo 
The ship remained trapped through the Antarctic winter & on 24 Oct 1915, they discovered water was pouring into the Endurance. Additional food & supplies were moved onto the ice & on 21 Nov 1915, the Endurance finally sank below the ice. The next two months were spent on a large ice floe hoping it would drift 250 miles towards Paulet Island (where they knew there was a food & stores cache). When that didn't happen, Shackleton ordered the men to move their three lifeboats across the ice. But their progress was very limited. This attempt to drag the lifeboats was abandoned & they set up another camp on another ice floe, with the hope of drifting towards Paulet Island again. This floe reached within 60 miles, but impassable ice stopped them getting closer. On 9 Apr 1916, their ice floe broke in half & they took to the lifeboats. After five days at sea, the exhausted men managed to safely land the lifeboats on Elephant Island which was the first solid ground they had stood on since leaving South Georgia.
An artist's impression of life within one of the two remaining lifeboats on Elephant Island. Despite the presence of Seals & Penguins for food, the daily life must have been incredibly hard, especially without the knowledge of whether Shackleton boat had made it to South Georgia or they had perished in the attempt
Elephant Island was a very inhospitable island & well away from any shipping or whaling routes. Shackleton ordered the strongest of the three lifeboats, the 6 metre long James Caird, to be strengthened & converted to attempt a crossing of the 720 nautical miles back to South Georgia.
The museum houses a replica of the James Caird: This provides a real example of how tough the voyage across the open seas must have been, having crossed some of them in relatively good conditions in a modern, comfortable 90 metre Expedition ship. Josh Beck provides useful a size comparison
The James Caird: Although most of the boat's top was wood & canvas covered, it still had a partial open top. On one morning in the voyage, the crew awoke to find six inches of ice from sea spray on the boat which threatened to capsize her. On another occasion, a giant wave appeared which threatened to sink her & it took the men over an hour of bailing to get the water out afterwards. This water polluted the only drinking water on the boat, thus making life even more difficult
Shackleton chose five of his crew to accompany him on this journey: Frank Worsley, the Endurance's captain, Tom Cream (who was on his third polar trip), two strong sailors John Vincent & Timothy McCarthy, as well as, Harry McNish, the ship's carpenter. They left on 24 Apr 1916 & after 15 days of a horrendous time at sea, they sighted the South coast of South Georgia. At this point, hurricane force winds stopped any attempt at landing, but they did manage to get ashore the following day, but on the unoccupied South coast. The men were too weak to be able to relaunch the lifeboat in an attempt to sail around to one of the whaling stations on the North coast. Shackleton decided that the best option was to attempt to cross the mountains & locate one of the whaling stations. They had no suitable climbing equipment as that had been abandoned on the Endurance. After making makeshift snow boots & taking a single carpenter's adze & a short rope, Shackleton, Worsley & Crean set on on 18 May 1916. After 36 hours of constant climbing, walking & false descents (before having to climb up again), the three exhausted men finally reached the whaling station at Stromness on 20 May 1916. This was a journey of 32 miles & the first known crossing of South Georgia. After being fed & washed, they were all put to bed to rest, while a boat was sent to collect Vincent, McCarthy & McNish.
The route across South Georgia
Shackleton then started plans to rescue his men on Elephant Island. He had left 21 men on the island under the command of Frank Wild, his second-in-command for the Expedition. After three failed attempts due to sea ice, he finally succeeded in reaching them on the Chilean government's tug, the Yelcho on 30 Aug 1916. After 4.5 months stranded on Elephant Island, all the men were successfully rescued.

Shackleton then travelled onto New Zealand as his other ship, the Aurora had been blown out from its anchorage in McMurdo Sound & had been unable to pick up the Ross Sea party who remained stranded at their land base. Eventually, he led the Aurora back South to rescue the stranded men. They rescued all but three, including Mackintosh, who had died.

It is this amazing story of survival against the elements of Antarctica & the Southern Oceans & safe rescue of all the Endurance's crew that Shackleton will remain known for many centuries to come. However, his expeditions did help to expand the scientific knowledge of the barely known Antarctica in these early days of exploration. But although Shackleton is the most well known of this generation of polar explorers, the more I read of the others early explorers, the more I realise the amazing people who accompanies Shackleton & Scott on these early expeditions.
Tom Crean monument: This stands is a small park in Annascaul to commemorate Tom Crean who was another great name of early South Polar Exploration
By chance I stayed in the small Irish village of Annascaul in Aug 16 following the Irish Royal Tern twitch. This was the village where Tom Crean was born & where he ended up running a pub, the South Pole Inn, after his three polar expeditions. Further information on Tom Crean's equally amazing life can be found on my Blog Post on Tom Crean.
The South Pole Inn: The pub run for many years by Tom Crean after his three Antarctic expeditions: Scott's 1901-03 & 1911-13 Expeditions & Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance Expedition
In Sep 1921 Shackleton set off on his final Expedition to the South Pole in which he planned to circumnavigate Antarctica on a ship called the Quest. On 5 Jan 1922 he suffered a fatal heart attack the day after arriving in South Georgia. He died at the young age of 47. His body was returned to Montevideo, Uruguay. After contacting his wife Emile Shackleton, she asked for his body to be buried in South Georgia as he through more of the South Atlantic than he ever did of Britain. He was buried on 5 Mar 1922 in Gryfviken cemetery.
Frank Wild: He was one of only two men to be on five of these early Polar expeditions: the other was Ernest Joyce
Frank Wild's story is also very impressive. He travelled on five expeditions to the South Pole in total: Scott's 1901-03 Expedition, Shackleton's 1907-09 Nimrod Expedition, Mawson's 1911 Aurora Expedition where he was in charge of the land base on the ice, Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance Expedition (as second-in-command) & finally he was second-in-command on Shackleton's final 1921-22 Expedition. After the final expedition, he moved in South Africa where he had a run of jobs before working on a gold mine. He died on 19 Aug 1939 at the age of 66. After his ashes were traced to a cemetery near Johannesburg, they were exhumed & reburied to the right hand side of Shackleton's grave on 27 Nov 11 to signify that he was Shackleton's right hand man on Shackleton's expeditions.
Frank Wild's memorial: The gravestone says ' Frank Wild 18 April 1873 19 August 1939 Shackleton's Right Hand Man'. It is just visible in the photos of Shackleton's grave in the photos at the start of this Post