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

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Two

Manning the Ship

Late winter, 1914.

 An unemployed sailor wanders the docks of Plymouth, England.  He talks to fellow mariners, shopkeeps, and visits the pubs, all in search of employment.  Finally, a barkeep tells him of a ship captain looking for crew.

The barkeep reaches behind the pint glasses on the back bar.  He pulls out a sheet of wrinkled paper and hands it to the sailor who smooths the printed page and scans it.  At the bottom of the page in bold letters, he finds it:


Men wanted for hazardous journey.  Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.  Honour and recognition in event of success.”

__ernest ShAckleton

“Shackleton, aye.  Heerd o’ ‘im.  Where’s ‘e off to now?”

“South Pole, don’t ya know?  Where all them fellas go nowadays.”

“Crikey!  South Pole.  But there’s been fellas there already.  Scott and that Norwegian fella, the one that bamboozled Scott.”

“Aye.  Amundsen.  Wily bastard, he were.  But now this Shackleton, he’s gonna go anyway and walk across it.”

“Walk across the South Pole?”

“Nae, nae, nae.  Not jest the South Pole.  The whole bloody Antarctic!”

(Now, wouldn't it be grand if that advertisement actually had appeared?  Alas, it seems to be part of the legend surrounding Shackleton, because no evidence of such a publication has ever come to light.  Nonetheless, we are dealing in legends and so it remains in this imaginative tale.)


I wasn’t looking for a job.  I was just cleaning out my spam e-mail account when the words “Shackleton’s Antarctica:  An exclusively charted voyage” caught my eye just before my finger clicked “delete.”

I am a Shackleton junkie, totally in thrall with the legend that surrounds this man of the sea, so I read on.  It was from Vantage Travel, a tour company I knew from a previous voyage through the waterways of Russia from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  

Long story short, I signed up.  As did my frequent travel companion Kathy, who now lives in Palm Springs, California.   She has wanted to go to Antarctica since childhood, and as this itinerary included South Georgia Island, she was in.

That's my friend Kathy, looking at you.

I thought I had everything ready for my trip, but my last week at home was a disaster of one thing after another breaking and confounding me.  It seemed my careful planning was hexed.  A pump went bad on my heating system, the battery in my truck went kaput, my loaded Kindle broke, and my alarm clock wouldn't ring.   

A lot of dollars and frazzled nerves later, I thought I was ready to leave.  I'd have a couple  peaceful days to relax and try to keep Pablo Parrot fooled before I took him to the parrot-sitter's.

My plan was to drive into Anchorage Sunday afternoon, spend the night at a friend's, who would then drop me off at the airport Monday morning.  Before that could happen, though, I spent a frantic Friday afternoon during which I tried to reach my primary care physician for a last minute prescription for that seasick patch and a quick 72 mile drive into Seward to pick up said prescription.  I thought it was an over-the-counter drug I could buy when I got to Anchorage.  It isn't.

I almost fainted when the price of the patches was more than $200.  Surprisingly, my prescription insurance picked up all but an $80 co-pay.   Finally, armed with medication and a handful of receipts for all the last-minute problems, I departed Anchorage and spent the night in Los Angeles.

I met Kathy at the LA airport late  the next morning, and a few hours later, we were sitting in the Dallas-Ft. Worth terminal as the sun went down.   

Sunset, Dallas-Ft. Worth airport.

Then we boarded an American Airlines Boeing 777, and settled in for an over-night flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  We were off to follow in the footsteps of Shackleton, or in his wake, to be more precise, because much of this journey would be by sea.

(The photograph of the Endurance reproduced above is one of expedition photographer Frank Hurley's incredible photographs from the Shackleton expedition.)


  1. My webmaster .. you inspire me to keep-on-with-the-keeping-on of my own .. smiles .. cap and patti ..

  2. I'm sitting on the edge of my stool, excited about all you have written and will continue to share about your latest adventure.

    Thanks a million, Gully.

    P.S. I love that you set the stage by going back in history.

  3. Can't wait, when's chapter 3?

  4. Perfect reading during a lull in trade show business... I can log off between chapters and save valuable mbps on the costly Verizon hotspot.