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The Spirit of the “Endurance” exalts Shackleton’s Leadership

The discovery of the ship’s remains shed light on the most unlikely and epic rescue ever.

The Voyage of the Endurance, South (credits: ibiblio.org)

Last March 9th, history was made with the discovery of the submerged carcass of one of the most iconic sunken ships — the Endurance, which had been underwater for more than a century, three kilometers deep in the Weddell Sea, off the coast of Antarctica. If there is a pinnacle of bravery, leadership and divine protection, Ernest Shackleton stands out above all others with his so-called Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, aiming to cross the continent from coast-to-coast through the South Pole. In a nutshell, the story deserves to be told. Again.

It was aboard the Endurance that Shackleton set sail from South Georgia Island, then a Norwegian whaling port, on December 5, 1914, in the late austral spring. But just a few weeks later he found himself sailing between blocks of ice.

“The Weddell Sea Party”

Inevitably, one day away from reaching their destination, the sailboat was stuck in the ice and the crew of 28 men began an odyssey of almost 2 years, fighting loneliness, cold and hunger with a unshakeable attitude, where despair, misfortune, even madness did not extinguish the stoic resilience of Shackleton and his men.

Over ten months, the Endurance’s hull tenaciously resisted the pressure, movement and fragmentation of the glacial Antarctic soil, until it succumbed, sinking definitively in November 1915. Since the departure from Plymouth, it witnessed the first part of the expeditionaries’ historic feat, which was not to fulfill the objective, but to survive the interminable winter, waiting for a help that seemed more and more unlikely.

After 20 months of one of the most dramatic stories of survival, rescuing the crew had an epic, almost unbelievable dimension. All because Shackleton would never give up trying by all means to save his team, which he achieved after an impossible mission over 700 nautical miles, through the most destructive seas on the planet, aboard a 20-foot lifeboat, the James Caird. With only five of his men and after nearly a month in stormy waters, he managed to reach South Georgia and the whaling station of Stromness in search of assistance.

“Launching the James Caird from the shore of Elephant Island, 24 April 1916”

Three months later, when those who remained in the camp were already doubting his return, the Anglo-Irish adventurer appears on the horizon to take them safe to their native England. All twenty-seven, who had left with him two years before, plus a stowaway who had joined them in South Georgia.

Maybe not for long, the Endurance lies in the depths of the frozen Antarctic sea with many stories to tell, embedded in its sturdy wood, not only those that it witnessed during the ten months of communion with those brave sailors, but for all the others that, with its omnipresence, kept those men hopeful of rescue.

The wreckage of the Endurance, recently discovered to be sitting 4 miles deep in the Weddell Sea

Just as the Endurance didn’t make it to the expected harbor, Ernest Shackleton didn’t make it to the South Pole either, suffering a fatal heart attack in South Georgia, en route to a final attempt to achieve immortality. However, his legacy as an intrepid navigator will live on, fascinating countless generations, glorifying him as one of the most inspiring characters in history.

Bibliography: South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition, Sir Ernest Shackleton (The Project Gutenberg eBook, 2004)

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Paulo Sergio Gomes

Paulo Sergio Gomes

Proudest father. Brand-maniac. Disruptive Globetrotter. Unconditional Believer in the power of Love, Integrity and Graceful Joy.