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

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Eighteen, Two Ships and the Sea

The early days of spring in the Antarctic give hope to the men that Endurance might soon be freed from the icy prison that has held her for so many months.  Indeed, gale winds drive the piled ice away from her on October 11, 1915, and she floats free on an even keel for the first time in nine months.

Endurance makes a hundred yards ahead before the ice again closes and pins her.  She is tossed about the next few days as the ice squeezes and releases.  Dogs and stores on decks are tangled in howling heaps.  The ship lists one way and the next and returns to even, all according to the whims of the ice.

The men thaw the bilge pump and strain to keep ahead of water leaking in through the damaged sternpost.  All hands put to gathering everything possible in preparation for abandoning the damaged ship.

The violent shifting of ice shoves Endurance upwards and she heels over.

“A band of eight emperor penguins solemnly (approaches), an unusually large number to be traveling together.  Intently regarding the ship for some moments, they (throw) back their heads and (emit) an eerie, soulful cry.”  Captain Worsley writes in his journal, “I must confess that I have never, either before or since, heard them make any sound similar to the sinister wailings they moaned that day.  I cannot explain the incident.”*

The pressure of the ice is too much.   Endurance screams and moans as if human as her beams splinter and the deck planks break and the keel is ripped out.   Shackleton gives the order to abandon ship.

The ship's emergency light is accidentally switched on and it flickers on and off as if saying farewell.

Endurance’is lost to the unrelenting ice on her maiden voyage. 

 Marooned on the ever-shifting and breaking ice are 28 men, some 60 dogs, and all the stores and equipment that could be off-loaded.  They are 250 miles from land and 500 miles from the nearest civilization, though no one else knows their location or their critical situation.

It is 8 degrees below zero, October 27, 1915.

The red line ends where Endurance is imprisoned in the ice of the Weddell Sea.  The white line indicates how far Endurance drifted in the pack ice before she is crushed and abandoned on her maiden journey.

*from "The Endurance" by Caroline Alexander

All black and white images by Frank Hurley 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

I can’t open my cabin door.  The ship is heeled over to port and the door opens the opposite direction--into the cabin.  I hang onto the door handle until the ship rolls back to starboard and thenready or notI’m propelled into the cabin and land on my bed, which is where I was heading before I was hung up on that roller.

 For me, it’s the safest place on the ship in this storm.  I reach for the book I’m reading, “Rounding the Horn,” by Dallas Murphy.  Fittingly, he writes about Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego, and the early explorers.  And shipwrecks.

I find it fascinating and hard to put down, which is a good thing because I’ll be spending much of today in bed to avoid falling down stairs and bouncing into walls.  I learn a new way of walking up the stairs.  When facing fore and the bow rises, I hold still and wait until the ship reaches the pivot point and the stern begins to rise, then I run like hell.  Sometimes I make it all the way up in one wave.

As for descending, the stairs are just narrow enough that I can hold the handrails on each side.  It's all too easy to get thrown down the stairs, so hanging on is necessary.

Incredibly, the storm gets worse.  Kathy walks past the Deck Four reception desk and hears a woman ask, “Do you have straps to keep people in their beds?”

We are nearing South Georgia, but Captain Hårvik holds the Fram north in deeper water to avoid the worst of the storm and where the waves don't build as high, unlike shallower waters.  We are now in gale to high gale force winds of 55 mph and still the largest waves rise up to 50 feet and more.  Northwesterly winds batter the Fram.

Staying far out to sea during the storm.  That's South Georgia Island below the ship.  That blue line is the Antarctic Convergence, where the warmer waters of the Atlantic meet a band of cold water around the Antarctic continent.

The lunch crowd is sparse and there is no soup for lunch today because it’s too dangerous for hot liquids.    I go up to Deck Seven and the observation lounge at the bow.   I see waves splashing as high as Deck Five.

(In the above video,  I am holding the camera firmly on the tabletop.  This has a tendency to minimize the ship's motion, so watch how the sea level changes out the window.)

Dinner time and there are UFO’s in the dining room.   Tableware slides off despite the non-slip material placed over the tablecloths.  The stemmed glassware has disappeared in favor of sturdy tumblers.  There is no soup course tonight.

Non-slip tablecloth cover and no stemware tonight.

Suddenly the ship heels sharply to port.  I grab the table edge to keep from being catapulted  across the aisle.   Passengers a few tables aft aren’t so lucky.  Chairs fall over.  A woman is “gashed” (her words) when her chair and others topple into the aisle.

“This is crazy,” I say as I watch people struggling to stay upright.   My foot is out in the aisle for balance but I bring it back so I don't accidentally trip any of the servers.  

“Absolutely crazy.”  I get up to go to my room, but curiosity turns me around before I leave the dining room.  Leaning against the small reception desk there, I hold the camera firmly on the counter and start the video. 

(Again, the camera is balanced on a flat surface so it moves with the ship.  Imagine the movement if I had tried to hold it flat and level.)

After watching for a while, I go back to the table and have dinner.  Tonight it is duck breast with orange sauce, red cabbage, asparagus, and the ubiquitous potato.   A massive wave crashes into the windows next to us and every one of us pulls back and says, "Ohhh."  Water line on this ship is Deck One.  We're at Deck Four and that wave reached up to Deck Five.

Roast duck with orange sauce, red cabbage, potato and asparagus.

We have two mandatory assignments today if we want to get off the ship in South Georgia tomorrow and roll is taken.  One is a briefing regarding biosecurity checks and the second is to take the clothing we intend to wear when we land to Deck Two and have it vacuumed for invasive plant species.

Safer to sit on the floor for our mandatory biosafety briefing before landing on South Georgia Island.

A tiny, tiny seed of tussock grass from the Falklands is found in a pocket of my jacket, no doubt carried there when I frequently stuck my smaller camera out of the rain.

And then, I bounce like a ball in a pinball machine to Deck Six and go to bed.  The ship rolls and I wait for it to roll back, counting the seconds.  I slide up and down in bed.  UFOs fall off shelves and roll around the floor.  Kathy and I batten down heavier stuff like books and water bottles.

The storm gets worse.   Shortly after 1 AM, the captain decides he must turn southward and then it gets really fun.  I sleep through much of this (!!!), but there is at least one tremendous wave that surely wakes everyone on the ship.  This time my feet slide far enough to reach the partition at the end of my bed.  

 This time, I think, she’s not coming back.  I count long seconds...  She does.

This is not a 1000-foot cruise liner.  This plucky ship is 114 meters long with a 20.2 meter beam, and a gross tonnage of only 11,647 tonnes.  She is small, maneuverable, and built for these waters.

More UFOs fly around our room.  Kathy starts to get up to retrieve them and I tell her to stay in bed.  They’ll still be there in the morning and they aren’t dangerous if they roll around.

I go back to sleep.  I think the scopolamine patches have a soporific effect but I am amazed that I am able to sleep, though I wake up occasionally when there’s a particularly loud noise or a violent roll.  Once the Fram rights herself, I go back to sleep.

I also find it curious that while I am “aware of danger,” I am not worried or afraid.  


  1. I just love how responsive and aware you are. Who else besides you figured how to go to and and fro with the storm?


  2. and this from a lady that gets seasick tied to the dock ?? Pretty plucky. One of the fun (?) things about being at sea. B & B

  3. As I read along I think of Patti .. I don't think anytime soon she will be asking me .. "When are WE going to take the trip Jeanne took?" .. with my recent post today .. I talk of the enormous risk that falls are for senior citizens .. a fall is literally a life-or-death proposition .. and I am reading of the ship and you all aboard 'bouncing around' in and out of your bunks .. avoiding UFOs .. I sigh thinking .. oh-my .. the penguins ARE CUTE BUT ..

  4. Great word, "soporific." Sure am enjoying my comfy, on-dry-ground, armchair tour.

  5. Killer video from observation deck! I especially like .34 on it....