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

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Ch. Seventeen, Gale Forces

With Endurance frozen fast in the pack ice of the Weddell sea, Ernest Shackleton has many decisions to make. 

He orders Chippy McNish, the carpenter, to partition a lower deck into cubicles that will hold bunks for two men each, thus affording the men some measure of privacy.  It does not go unnoticed by the men that the officers and Shackleton himself are bunked in the coldest part of the ship.

When March arrives, it is obvious to all that they will spend the austral winter marooned in ice.  Shackleton orders a one-man watch during the 8 PM to 8 AM hours so the men can sleep uninterrupted by the usual shorter watches.   Sunday nights are a songfest, always ending with a toast to “sweethearts and wives,” followed by the usual, “may they never meet.”

The crew celebrating midwinter's in June, 1915.    Perce Blackborow, the stowaway standing at left, has been signed on and assigned steward duties.

Attempts to contact the Falklands by radio fail repeatedly.  No one outside the ship knows where it is.  To make matters worse, Endurance was supposed to have returned to Argentina by now after dropping off the expedition team and their supplies.  Now, stuck in ice, Endurance slowly drifts northwest and farther from land as the pack ice slowly, slowly rotates in the Weddell  Sea.

The dogs are unloaded onto the ice and snow doghouses called “dogloos” constructed for them.   The two pigs are quartered on the ice in “pigloos.”

Sledge dogs and their "dogloos."

In May the sun disappears below the horizon.  By June there is constant darkness except for a couple hours of twilight at noon, and moonlight.

Unloading the dogs.

The ice turns angry.  Monstrous chunks of ice six feet thick and more begin piling atop each other, crushing everything in their path.   Shackleton order thee dogs and equipment on the ice back onto the ship.  

A gale blows up and hourly watches are set.  Endurance is not unaffected by the pressure of the ice.  A large berg damages the rudder and sternpost and water flows into the ship.  A coffer dam is built to stem the flooding, but only slows it.

Endurance creaks and groans and shakes like a toy at the pressure of the ice, and her beams start to buckle.  The winds shriek and howl and push the pack ice even more.

Shackleton turns to the ship's captain and says, "The ship can't live in this, Skipper.  "...It is only a matter of time. ...What the ice gets, the ice keeps."*

      All photos by Frank Hurley and 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
* From "Endurance" by Caroline Alexander


The seas are angry as we leave Stanley in the Falkland Islands.  Large waves crash against shores and white caps chalk the roiled water.  Things get even dicier when we leave the protection of East Falkland island.

Now we’re in the Scotia Sea, heading southeast towards South Georgia Island, one of the most remote places in the world, and set right in the path of the most contentious water found anywhere.  The notorious winds that funnel through Drake Passage between the tip of the South American continent and the Antarctic Peninsula are free to scream around the globe with no  large land masses in their way, and thus they cause all manner of trouble.  The west side of South Georgia is but a bump in their path.

The weather forecast doesn’t look good.  In fact, it looks downright horrendous, and it’s a good thing I didn’t see the print out until the day after the storm.  I might have opted to stay in Stanley.

This forecast is for the next day--November 10.  The Falklands are the brown blob at 10 o'clock; South Georgia is the tiny line at 3 o;clock.

Most of us are ready for the heavy  seas.   We accessorize with little beige patches of scopolamine, carefully following  packaging directions and applying behind the ear.  For me, they work.  I suffer not even a hint of motion sickness.   Not so for others.

Just a few of the instruments and controls on the bridge.

The wheel.  Yes, it's still used, even with all the computerized controls.

We have almost 900 miles to go in these seas and the waves build as the evening goes on.   In a briefing by the captain, we are told that sounds of “smashing and banging” are normal, and not to worry.  

Gully in the Captain's seat.  The tall gentleman in the white shirt is Captain Hårvik.
Kathy in control.

During days at sea, each boat group is invited to make a visit to the bridge.  There, Captain Hårvik points out all the various instruments and controls, and tells us about the ship.
The Fram has four main engines with 2700 HP each, with each using almost  400 liters of marine gas oil, a less-polluting fuel that conforms to high standards required for travel in the Antarctic.  Usually, the ship operates with two engines running, with one or two others brought on for difficult conditions or safer running at sea.

Maximum speed with two engines is 13 knots.  A third engine boosts speed to 15 knots, and with the fourth on line, a speed of 16.5 knots can be obtained in good conditions.  Why not run all four?  Because each engine consumes almost 400 liters of fuel an hour and running them provides little additional speed for the amount of fuel consumed.  Those extra engines are held in reserve for difficult sea conditions, or for safer sailing or manuvering.

Rather than typical screw propellers, the Fram is propelled by two Rolls Royce Azipull POD propellers installed at the stern.  Each can be rotated 360 degrees and do double-duty as stern thrusters to move the ship sideways, or turn it completely around in place when also using the bow thrusters.

Fram has a bulbous bow which reduces drag as the ship moves through water.  It also increases fuel efficiency, speed, range, and stability.  Bouyancy of the bow is improved, which lessens pitching in rough seas.  This photo was taken in Stanley Harbour.

But the information I liked  best was that the Fram is equipped with a stabilizer fin on each side of the vessel amidships.    The retractable fins are gyroscopically controlled, fully adjustable according to sea conditions, and are very helpful in reducing side-to-side rolling of the ship.

The captain says the seas today are “rough to very rough,” a nautical designation used to describe waves from 2.5 to 6 meters high.  I do the math:  6 to 19 foot waves.

We rock and roll (and pitch and slide) over and through waves as the Fram sails the next day.  The beds in our cabin are situated so that our heads are against the hull and our feet towards the middle of the ship.  When the ship rolls to port, I slide an inch or so in that direction and when it rolls to starboard, I slide back up.

I wonder how Jim and Jan are doing in their mini-suite across the beam on the same deck as our cabin.  Their bed is positioned so their heads are aft and their feet forward.  This would seem to indicate that when I'm sliding back and forth, they are rolling side to side.

"Smashing and banging are normal."   I'm holding the camera on a handrail, so it moves with the ship rather than being held level which would show how much the ship is moving in the waves.

The larger elevator car at right is locked open and out of service  during rough seas.  The smaller car at right is operational.

No going out on deck to get storm photos.  Even if you could get the door open in these winds, you'd probably be blown overboard.

The next day I joke that I have road rash from all the sliding.

At dinner that evening, the ship pitches and rolls and heels and shudders as I chase my soup around its bowl.


  1. I must be a wimp. I'm glad I'm here in Florida. I sure enjoy living your trip from my chair and laptop. You're the best, Gully.

  2. What a ride that must have been .. rough to very rough seas .. up to 19-foot waves .. eeeeyowieee .. hold on ..

  3. Did you know that you can create short urls with Shortest and earn money for every click on your short urls.