I recently read a book re-telling the account of Ernest Shackleton's extraordinary Antarctic journey. I had previously heard about this incredible story at high school, but it was never fully explained in-depth, as we mainly focused on the Australian hero Sir Douglas Mawson and his trek through unchartered areas.
What caught my interest was the question: how did Shackleton do it?
How, at the turn of the century, without GPS or advanced technology and equipment, did he manage to return all 28 members of his crew safely from the end of the world back home to England?
The crew ate seal meat, lived on an ice floe and survived a dinghy boat journey across the roughest seas to find an island the size of a football stadium to reach any form of civilisation.
I mean, all it takes is a weekend at a camp with drizzly weather for my youth group to call it quits, grumble and complain as they trot off to their perfectly pitched tents, warm jumpers, hot food and plenty of books and card games for entertainment.
Shackleton's main plan was to be the first team to cross the Antarctic continent. To start on one side, cross the South Pole and continue on to the other side.
He gathered a top crew to join the expedition, collected the appropriate funds to purchase the ship Endurance and supply all the necessary equipment and food for the journey.
They set sail to make it to Argentina to begin the journey for the start of the summer months. Large icebergs hindered progress through the Antarctic Circle and after a few weeks the Endurance became wedged between two giant floes—it was going nowhere fast. After a couple of months the ship was crushed and the crew had to spend the next few months camping on the floe.
The change of plan
With the ship crushed, Shackleton turned his sight to a different task: getting home. No longer did he aim to cross the continent, he wanted all 28 men home and safe.
By moving around the floe they hoped the swell would eventually push them close to open sea where they can make a dash across to South Georgia, a tiny speck in the vast South Pacific Ocean. Once they made to open water they rowed for five days straight across stormy, rough seas with waves as high as apartments.
The weather turned for the worst and they were swept off course to Elephant Island. Once there they set up camp and rested up, Shackleton made the decision to take a small team across to South Georgia so they can send a rescue team back for the others.
Journey to South Georgia
The small dinghy they took to South Georgia was the best of the lifeboats they had sailed in from the floe. They covered it with a tarp and started the risky journey. For those that stayed behind the indefinite wait began. Not knowing how long they would spend waiting for a rescue team, or if Shackleton and the small team would survive.
After three days of sailing they made it to the village of Stromness, the small settlement on South Georgia for whalers and fishermen. After a long-deserved shave, wash, fresh clothes and feed they started immediately organising the rescue team for those on Elephant Island. Within three weeks all members were bought safe to Stromness and within a couple of months back home in England.
This is a brief summary of an amazing journey. The book I read is called Endurance, written by Alfred Lansing, and tells the tale in more detail.
It makes me think of how we take simple pleasures like a jumper, or hot food and heaters for granted. It appears we also don't have the same grit and determination like they had—these days a guy attempts to kayak across Bass Straight and when the wind picks up and he calls it a day! Shackleton couldn't give up and when the going got tough he sang songs, ate some seals, rowed like a billy-o and emerged an enduring national hero.
A Bible verse held close by Shackleton during those tough times was this:
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
- Romans chapter 5, verses 3–4
Here's hoping we can have the same endurance and perseverance as we go through the trouble of life with God as our fearless leader.
Christopher Archibald lives in Sydney and is a Youth Leader at New Life Christian Church in Blacktown. A voracious reader, he ploughs through many books in a calendar year, with a bookcase that is constantly being rearranged to accommodate new additions.
Christopher Archibald's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/christopher-archibald.html