The story of Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated journey to the Antarctic in a well known one amongst adventurers and exploration history buffs. In 1914, the Irish explorer set out for the frozen continent with the goal of becoming the first to cross its frigid expanse. But thanks to an unusually set of circumstances, he and his crew found themselves frozen in place by thick pack ice.
Eventually, that ice would crush their ship, sending it to the bottom of the ocean, and strand them in the Antarctic. The following 18 months would lead to one of the most grueling survival stories ever told, eventually resulting in the rescue of the crew without the loss of a single man. In the decades since, Shackleton’s story has grown to almost mythic proportions, recounted countless times around campfires, in remote cabins, and over drinks at local pubs the world over.
This tale from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration still resonates with many today. So much so that a new expedition is being planned for 2022 that will send a team in search of the Endurance — Shackleton’s lost ship. Presumably, the vessel still sits at the bottom of the ocean where it sank more than a century ago. And what secrets it still holds remains to be seen.
In Search of Endurance
This new expedition to the Antarctic is being organized and funded by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, an organization that is dedicated to preserving the memory of rich sailing history of its namesake islands. As the FMHT points out, before the construction of the Panama Canal, ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans routinely had to brave the Drake Passage and round Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. Even today, this stretch of water is considered one of the most turbulent and dangerous in the world.
Shackleton is also a part of the Trust’s long and storied history, having stopped in the Falklands—and of course South Georgia Island—on several of his journeys to the Antarctic. As such, the FMHT has applied for a charter to go in search of Endurance with the goal of traveling to the Weddell Sea in February of 2022. Thats where the ship sank back on November 21, 1915, slipping beneath the ice and into history.
The FMHT has indicated that it will work with South Africa’s Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries when conducted this expedition. The plan is to charter the South African research and supply ship SA Agulhas II for the voyage. At the moment, the finishing touches are being put on that agreement, with everything expected to fall into place soon.
After Shackleton and his men were rescued from the Southern Ocean in 1916, they returned home to England. Most, including Shackleton himself, went off to fight in World War I, which was just beginning when they left, but still raged on after their return. When that bloody conflict was finally over, Shackleton returned to his first love however, organizing an expedition to the Antarctic. This time, his goals was to become the first to circumnavigate the continent and in 1921 he set sail once again.
But as fate would have it, the explorer would never reach his destination. While en route, he suffered a heart attack and on January 5, 1922 he would die on South Georgia. His grieving men buried him there and visitors to that remote and stunningly beautiful place frequently make the pilgrimage to his grave.
January of 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the explorer’s death, making it a fitting time to go in search of Shackleton’s lost ship. February marks one of the best times to sail the Southern Ocean as well, when the waters are calmer and the weather more stable than at other times of the year.
Dubbed Endurance22, the expedition is set to depart from Cape Town in early February of next year. From there, the SA Agulhas II will make its way south to the Antarctic to begin its search. The mission will be led by British polar explorer Dr John Shears, who led a similar search back in 2019. He’ll be joined by a crew of more than 50 that will include Mensun Bound—a maritime archaeologist from the Falklands—and Richard Garriott, a British-born American who is currently president of The Explorers Club.
The team doesn’t expect to have a difficult time reaching the location of where the Endurance went down. The exact spot was recorded by Frank Worsley, the ship’s captain on Shackleton’s fateful expedition. The biggest challenge will be to navigate through the Antarctic ice, which remains fairly thick in certain areas of the Weddell Sea. If the ice doesn’t prevent the SA Agulhas II from reaching Worsley’s coordinates, the crew will dispatch two teams onto the ice itself to drill holes in the surface as a way to conduct their search.
Once onsite, the Endurance22 crew will use a variety of high tech devices to search for—and hopefully find—the missing ship. That will include special sonar, high-definition cameras, and autonomous submersible vehicles. The belief is that thanks to the cold waters of the Southern Ocean the wreckage of the Endurance will be relatively well preserved and not covered in sediment.
Preserving History and the Environment
The goal of the Endurance22 expedition is to locate the missing vessel, observe its location, and examine its condition. The Endurance itself holds very little in the way of cargo, as Shackleton and his men offloaded everything they could use before it went down. The plan is to leave it mostly undisturbed, simply recording its current state for historical purposes.
The same holds true for the fragile environment in and around the Antarctic. The team will go to great lengths to have very little impact on the water or ice of the Weddell Sea. At this point, we all know the impact that climate change is having there and efforts are being made to make sure any human interaction will not further exasperate an already delicate situation.
With a little luck, in a few months time we may get our first look at the Endurance. I’m sure there are more than a few fans of Shackleton and his story that are eager to see what this crew discovers. We’ll be following along closely and hopefully we’ll have updates to share early next year.
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