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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Nineteen, Damage Report

Ernest Shackleton and the men of the Endurance are exhausted after trying to save their ship from the crushing ice.  Now, gathered on what appears to be a stable floe about 300 feet from the wreck,  they draw lots for sleeping bags.

There are only 18 warm fur bags and the rest are wool.  In yet another of those peculiar circumstances that does not go unnoticed by the seamen, neither Shackleton nor any of the ship’s officers draw a fur bag.  They turn in, lying on groundsheets that are not waterproof, and listen to the grinding of the ice and booming and pistol shot noises when cracks open in the pack ice.

Three times during the night, cracks open in the ice beneath them and they have to pick up their tents, sleeping bags and ground cloths and move to another spot.  Shackleton stays awake all night, watching the ice and the ship’s flickering light.  A noise comes from the ship, a rending of her beams, and the light disappears.

More supplies are salvaged from the ship in the early dawn.  Then the men are assembled and Shackleton informs them that in a few days they will begin a march to an island 200 miles northwest where a stocked emergency hut is located.

Then he tells the men that they are allowed to take only two pounds of personal belongings, in addition to new winter clothing and a pound of tobacco.  Few exceptions are made.  Shackleton himself discards a handful of gold coins, his gold watch, silver brushes, and dressing cases.   He tears the personally inscribed flyleaf  out of a Bible presented to him by Queen Elizabeth, as well as a few other pages, and tosses the rest of the book on the growing pile of belongings.

The day of the march arrives.  Crean is required to shoot three of the puppies and the ship’s mascot cat, Mrs. Chippy, as it was deemed they could not survive what lay ahead.  A friendly adult dog never broken to harness but a favorite pet, also is killed.

Nov. 8, 1915.  Frank Wild and the wreckage of Endurance.

After three days of back-breaking work, hip-deep snow, monstrous pressures ridges and chunks of ice, they gain but a mile and three quarters.

Facing reality, Shackleton orders the men to pitch camp.  They will try to wait, hoping the ice will break up so they can launch the three life boats they are dragging with them.  Thus, Ocean Camp is established on a large and solid floe.

 Endurance is just a mile and a half away with the tip of her mast and funnel visible over the horizon.

Ocean Camp

Black and white photos 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


Damage Report:

I wake to a gently rocking ship and look out the heavily salt-stained window.  All is calm, all is bright.   We are in the lee of South Georgia Island.

Before entering the dining room for breakfast, I hear the dining room staff was called out of bed at 4 AM to catch flying dishes.

This position map shows the location of the Fram after leaving South Georgia Island.  Notice the sharp southward turn above the island during the worst of the storm.  That's when all the fun began.

I sit with Jim and Jan at breakfast.  There are a couple scratches on Jim’s brow.  “I got thrown under the desk,” he says, “and I couldn’t get out because I was tangled up in the bed clothes.”  He goes to his room to get his iPad with the photos he took.

“The closet emptied itself,” says Jan.

Jim and Jan's suite before the storm.  Jim Thurston photo

Jim landed under the desk, tangled in bed clothes.  Jim Thurston photo

We hear rumors of many people thrown out of bed by that stupendous roll after 1 AM.  A lady who was thrown out of bed broke a collarbone, we hear, but are never able to verify. 

After the battle with the bathroom door.
An older woman has two black eyes and five stitches on the bridge of her nose.  I see her a couple days later and she tells me disjointed tale and says she can’t remember much of it.   We later hear she has diabetes and may have fainted, as she does later in the trip.

Another lady has a set-to with her bathroom door.  She got up to close the swinging door, fell and the door banged her in the face.  The  hinge was broken and the wildly-swinging door hit her again as she tried to stand.  

 This I verify and ask permission to take a photo.

The self-emptying closet in Jim and Jan's suite.  Jim Thurston photo

Shortly after 9 AM, as usual, the captain gives the daily briefing.   We passed through a violent storm last night,” he says, “in high seas.”   Waves were 14 to 16 meters high, and “some that were phenomenal.   Winds were more than 55 mph.  (Bold face words are all nautical terms used to describe very specific levels of waves and storms.)

Again, I do the math.  Fourteen to 16 meters is 46 to 53 feet.

I smile at the captain’s use of the word “phenomenal.”  He has been very professional and almost aloof with the passengers thus far, and I find such a descriptive word out of character.  Later, I do some research and find that “phenomenal” is a nautical word describing a wave category OVER 14 meters..

I try to imagine such a wave and am really, really glad that it was night and I was snug in my bed when all that was going on, rather than awake and watching it all.

Jim and Jan's suite before the storm.  Jim Thurston photo
And after.  Jim Thurston photo
 A couple days later, I have an opportunity to speak to the captain.  Some passengers think he said 40 to 50 meter waves.  I think a 50 meter wave would have us swimming with the penguins, so I want to clear that up.

“No, no,” he says.  “One-four, one-four, four-teen.”  He repeats this several times.
“This is my reckoning, you understand.  But, when I have to bend over and look up to see the top of the wave…”   He doesn’t finish the sentence, but stares off across the dining room.  I think I see something in his eyes that looks a lot like awe.   


UFOs during the storm in the cabin I shared with Kathy. 

Breakfast cereal containers tied down.  
This artificial plant's pot was broken. 

Now, though, all is well—except for the slightly injured and bruised.  And out the
window, Fortuna Bay awaits.

Penguins and seals along the beach, reindeer in the grassy areas--those white animals

Vantage Travel chart


  1. What an tale of high adventure on HIGH PHENOMENAL SEAS .. I guess there was a 'seamstress' aboard that could stitch five stitches! I sit here amazed at this writing .. and in the photos I see (so far) NO 'spring chickens' among the paying passengers .. I salute all of those who had the guts to undertake the trip .. I wonder IF I were able to do a 'little poll' the day after the storm just how many would have taken the trip IF they had known what was coming .. since this is after all a program-of-honesty .. HONESTLY I DO NOT THINK THAT I MYSELF WOULD DO SO .. I hope you do NOT encounter the Catabatic Winds that roar across the lands down there .. I am MOVED by this trip of yours ..

  2. I'm way behind, but am reading every word. Think I bit my tongue on this one.

  3. I'm glad you survived the storm with no scrapes or bruises.