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

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Twenty-seven, Rescue and Relief, but it isn't over yet

Thoralf Sorlie, manager of the Stromness whaling station, opens the door to three bedraggled men.  At first, he does not recognize Ernest Shackleton, gone over a year and a half with no word.  Everyone thinks the worst because Endurance did not return after dropping off the men and supplies for the Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition.

Now before him are three “scarecrows,” hair hanging to their shoulders, unshaven, dressed in filthy, dirty rags they have worn for over a year without laundering.  Their skin is black from exposure to the elements and soot from the blubber stoves.

“Don't you know me?” asks one.  “I am Ernest Shackleton.”

Sorlie immediately invites the men inside and feeds them cakes and tea.  The three are hesitant to sit on the furniture because of their condition.  Sorlie insists, and when they have eaten, shows them where they can bathe and shave.  He orders new clothing brought from the company store.

After the men sit down to a sumptuous meal and eat their fill at Sorlie’s table, Frank Worsley boards a whaler that leaves immediately to pick up the three men on the other side of South Georgia Island.  Shackleton asks about another ship so he can return to Elephant Island and rescue the 22 men left there.

Later than night, Shackleton and  Crean lie in their beds in Sorlie’s home, relishing the unfamiliar warmth and comfort,  and finding sleep impossible.  Outside a sudden snow storm rages, one which certainly would have doomed their trek across the island.

The relief ship reaches Peggoty Camp in King Haakon Bay and a small boat rows ashore to get McCarthy, McNish, and Vincent.  Though delighted to be rescued from under the upturned James Caird shelter, they are disappointed that neither Shackleton nor either of the other two came to get them.

“What do you mean?  What’s the matter with you?” asks Worsley.  “Well, I’m here.”  The three men recognize their companion who left a hairy, dirty ruffian and returned a clean and spruced up man.  The whalers hoist the  James Caird  to the deck of the rescue ship and they set sail for Grytviken to let the magistrate there know the fate of Endurance.

On their arrival in Grytviken, the whalers there jostle for the honor of carrying the James Caird ashore.  These men are accomplished sailors and they inspect this amazing vessel with professional eyes and awe.  

This is the actual James Caird.  It was preserved and is now at Dulwith College in South London.

Later, Shackleton will write in his accounting of the expedition:  When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia.  I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.  
I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, ‘Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.’  Crean confessed to the same idea. 

One feels ‘the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech’ in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.”*

For photos and a remarkable account of a modern trek following Shacklton's route across South Georgia:


And now we head back to Argentina and the end of our trip, but not before a final ethereal journey through the ice of Paradise Bay.   It is aptly named.

The blue parkas we wear, given to us by Hurtigruten, the operator of the Fram, are a single layer of water and windproof fabric, lined with mesh.   If I recall the label correctly, they are made in Norway from polyester.  

 On this slow journey out of the bay where Base Brown is located, I wear the parka over a short-sleeved tee shirt as snow falls softly and then stops altogether.

My friend Kathy lives in a part of California that is so hot they consider it sweater-weather when the temperature falls below a hundred degrees.  Yet, here she is on the bow of the Fram in just a sweatshirt-weight top and jeans.  She said she was completely comfortable in these temperatures a few degrees below freezing.

She lost her fleece jacket early in the trip, so I loaned her mine for the landings in the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica.   I wore a very light pair of silk longjohns under rain pants, a sleeveless tee, a lightweight fleece pullover, and my blue parka.  Only my hands got cold in the Falklands when it was raining sideways and blowing.  Though I am wearing half-gloves in this photo, I took them off after I decided I didn’t need them.

I am sorry to leave this place.  I traveled a long way to see it,  almost 9,000 miles by air, and 3,455 nautical miles by sea.  By the time I get home, I will have flown more than 19,000 miles and sailed 4,149 miles.  That doesn’t count the 200 miles round trip to Anchorage and back.

Leaving Base Brown

I don’t want to leave here, this stunning bay on the Antarctic mainland.  But, the Fram has places to go and new passengers to board so they, too, can experience this exquisite, quiet place.

The Fram moves slowly ahead,  brushing aside the smaller pieces of floating ice with a soft touch, cautiously skirting the larger floes with their unknown mass below waterline.  

A Crabeater seal loafing on a floe.

It raises its head to see what's passing....

Then goes back to sleep.

The tiny row of dots at waterline in the center of the photo is a Chilean research station.

Towards the mouth of the bay, the ice thins and the flat water reflects the image of a mountain perfectly.

Watching and listening through the scuppers to the soft shusshing of the ice.


Once we are out of the bay, it’s time for dinner.  We are now in water mostly clear of ice and the Fram picks up speed.


Captain Hårvik and some of the crew.

There is word from the Three Gauchos about the 24-hour transportation strike called for Tuesday, Nov. 20.  It will have more effect on us than first anticipated, some for the worse, some for the best.  

The Three Gauchos tell us about the transportation strike in Argentina that will affect us.

And, we still have the notorious Drake Passage ahead of us before the Beagle Channel and the southern-most city in the world:  Ushuaia.

Stay tuned.

Our position as we leave the Antarctic Peninsula, on the way home.


  1. Absolutely fascinating; what a great trip; wonderful photos!

  2. The mountain reflected in the sea photo -- wow. This feels like a life-changing trip. Certainly life-enhancing. What memories you must have.