"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Twenty-eight, War and Strikes--Racing against Time

“We were like men arisen from the dead to a world gone mad.”

So wrote Ernest Shackleton in his account of the Trans Imperial Antarctic Expedition misadventures, referring to World War I.  He and his men had been completely cut off from civilization for almost two years by the time Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean crossed the mountains and glaciers of South Georgia Island and found refuge at Stromness Whaling Station.  They were astonished to hear the war still raged.

Station manager Sorlie gives Shackleton news of the war as he takes Shackleton in a motor-launch to a nearby harbor in search of a ship to rescue the men left on Elephant Island.  With the unheard of slaughter in Britain, Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa, the world has no stomach for survival stories and there is little interest in Great Britain in helping Shackleton.

On South Georgia, however, the opposite is true and Shackleton obtains the use of the Southern Sky, a large whaling ship.  Passage to England for McNish, McCarthy, and Vincent is arranged, and three days after arriving in Stromness, he, Worsley, Crean, and a volunteer crew set out for Elephant Island. 

One hundred miles from Elephant Island, they encounter ice.  They sail for another forty miles before the steel-hulled ship is brought to a halt.  They skirt the pack, trying to find passage through it, but when they run low on coal, they must turn the ship northeast to the Falkland Islands.

In the Falklands, Shackleton is able to cable England, and though news of his survival creates a sensation, the Admiralty is unable to provide a relief ship, but it does request assistance from other countries not engaged in the war.

In June, Uruguay sends a small survey ship and crew, free of charge.  It, too, cannot penetrate the pack ice and returns to South America.

In July, an oak schooner attempts a rescue, and also fails.

Shackleton is distraught.  His thick wavy brown hair turns gray and deep lines scourge his face.  He cables the British Admiralty again and is rebuffed.   He is dumbfounded.  The Norwegians and South Americans have offered all the help they can provide, but Shackleton’s own country appears unsympathetic to the plight of the men on Elephant Island.

On August 25, Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean set out on the Yelcho, a small steel-hulled tug loaned by the Chilean government, complete with crew.  This little ship is not suited for the task ahead.

At noon on Elephant Island, Frank Wild is serving a lunch of boiled seal backbone when one of the men runs up to the hut and says a ship is nearing the island.  Macklin runs to a makeshift flagpole and raises his Burberry jacket as high as he can, which is only halfway.

On the Yelcho, Shackleton eyes the island with his binoculars, and his heart sinks when he sees the jacket at half mast.   One man lost, Shackleton believes, means failure.  He strains to count the figures onshore and realizes there are 22.

The Yelcho arrives to save the men on Elephant Island.

Worsley is standing next to Shackleton and he too sees the half mast signal, but when Shackleton announces his 22-man count, “his face show(ed) more emotion than I have ever known it to show before….   It sounds trite, but years literally seemed to drop from him as he stood before us.”

A half mile from the island, the tug launches a boat.  When it is within earshot of the island, the men shout in unison,  “All well!”

An hour later, all the men are off the island and the Yelcho heads back to Chile.  They are hailed as heroes throughout the countries there.  They had left England on August 1, 1914, aboard the Endurance.  It is now August 30, 1916.

Shackleton spent the last three months and sailed on four different ships in his quest to rescue the men.  All the able men are anxious to get back to England and volunteer their services to the war effort, so Shackleton arranges passage.

He writes a letter to his wife, saying, “I have done it.  Damn the Admiralty…  Not a life lost and we have been through hell.”

The rescue on Elephant Island

Frank Hurley photographs courtesy of:
South with Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917
The Photographs of Frank Hurley
Book Creation Services, Ltd., London, 2001
ISBN 1-932302-04-2  


We travel through the inland passage of the Antarctic Peninsula, heading north to the Drake Passage and onward towards South America.  I am almost asleep when the ship suddenly rolls to one side as strong winds hit it broadside. 

Up to now, this part of the voyage had been calm.  I wonder if we have just encountered the katabatic winds for which Antarctica is notorious.

By the time I’m awake enough to really think about it and figure out what direction I’m facing, the seas are calm again.  No katabatic winds, I decide, probably just a spot between islands that was open to westerlies from the Pacific.

The next day, we are in Drake Passage heading for the Beagle Channel.  We will pass just east of Cape Horn.  All of this bodes foul weather and the deadly Cape Horn rollers, those 60 foot waves that have claimed many ships, but the day is almost sunny with just a thin overcast.

 Drake Passage in a good mood.

However, we are in a race.  Right now there are five ships running at full speed, heading for Ushuaia, up the Beagle Channel.  The transportation strike begins at midnight the night of Nov. 19 and lasts until midnight the night of the 20th.  

 Capt. Hårvik is anxious to reach Ushuaia before the strike begins so the ship can be refueled and provisioned for its next trip, which originally was scheduled to leave Ushuaia on the 20th, the day we disembarked.  Waiting until the day after the strike would mean a long, long delay because of all the other vessels lined up.

 The halfway point in Drake Passage.

So, we go bouncing over moderate seas in the Drake Passage for two days, a little bumpier than it would have been at normal speed.  Those who travel this part of the globe have two descriptive terms for the Drake Passage:   Drake Lake and Drake Shake.  We are somewhere in between, but weighted towards Drake Lake.

 Below:  these trees in the Beagle Channel show the direction of the prevailing winds.

Mid-way up the Beagle Channel, we pass the ship we had encountered in the Neumayer Channel.

 The snowman is feeling the effects of our northward journey.

Out ETA for the town of Ushuaia at this increased speed is 5 p.m., Monday, Nov. 19.  At that exact time, the hawser ropes of the Fram are wrapped around the Samson cleats on the pier in the southernmost city in the worldUshuaia, Argentina.  Forklifts immediately begin loading supplies onto the Fram.

Soon the ship we encountered in the Neumayer Passage in Antarctica ties up across the pier from us.

 There's that ship we saw in Antarctica.

We won’t disembark tonight.  The passengers who would have boarded tomorrow can’t get here until the day after the strike because the airlines aren’t flying.  Thus, we will spend (and I use the word in all its meanings) all day tomorrow in this town and sleep aboard the Fram one more night.   


Ushuaia considers itself the capital of the Malvinas, known to everyone else as the Falkland Islands.

  1. The photo bomber in Ushuaia.

 I hope no one was planning on taking the snowman home as a souvenir.

Entering the Beagle Channel.

Position chart in the Beagle Channel.

This  post has picked up some annoying formatting from somewhere.  I can't get rid of it.  If I delete this 2nd snowman photo, it deletes ALL the photos, so enjoy another photo of a melting snowman.


  1. I howl .. I mean I absolutely HOWL !!.. when I see YOU are dumbfounded by Blogspot yourself .. the first clue for me was when I saw the 'tiny' writing .. well I just 'jacked up' my text to 150% .. and could read your post OK .. Blogspot .. Word .. they ALL HAVE LIVES OF THEIR OWN ME THINKS .. Patti and I were on our way South to Louisiana and Texas blissfully unaware of your trip details back in November .. in 1993 I had a trip planned to Argentina and in 1993 there was a transportation strike that caused me to cancel my trip and I have never gotten the 'calling' to try to return .. what never changes down there never changes .. what a joy your posts are .. Smiles from Cap and from Patti ..

  2. I can NOT stop laughing at your issue with the formatting .. my sides are splitting !! .. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR MAKING MY DAY !! And here I have been thinking .. it-is-me-alone with these dumbfounding issues ..well I have found out how to avoid the double posting of my comments .. I press publish and exit the site .. close my browser .. and then come back .. it seems to be working .. what a HOWL !!

  3. Haven't had the double-posting problem, Cap, but apparently you've discovered the right voodoo. The problem I was having came from copying the credit info for the Frank Hurley photos. The formatting kept duplicating itself in the main body of the text. For some reason, it even affected the photos.

  4. Love It ALL .. just Love It ALL .. I have always heard the Antarctic South looks much like the Arctic North .. and that the Patagonia area looks very much like your Moose Pass and South Alaska .. with the dark greens and browns .. and from your photos .. this sure seems to 'prove out' as true ..

  5. I've been having trouble posting photos to my blog as well. It's stressing me out. Instead of enjoying my blog I'm beginning to avoid it!!! That's not good, not good at all!!!

  6. Well, I'm breathing a sigh of relief that you are on solid ground! I've enjoyed your dual stories and because of them, now appreciate the extreme difficulties of Shackleton's quest and what an amazing man he was. What stunning photos you have of a seemingly inhabitable part of our planet. Thank you for taking me along on this daring journey!