Shackletons Boat Journey
by Worsley, Frank Arthur - 1872-1943
pub. by W.W. Norton, NY, 1977 - isbn 0-393-08759-x many other editions bw photos - maps on endpapers and S. Georgia Island - 220 pages.
This is Worsleys narrative of the Shackleton expedition of 1914 - 1917. This edition has an itroduction by Edmund Hillary.
Hillary encapsulates the whole expedition in his introduction, which outlines the whole expedition and effectively sets the scene for the more detailed body of the book. Worsley begins his narrative with the abandonment of the Endurance after it is crushed by the ice. The time spent on the ice is described as is the launching of the three boats James Caird 22ft 6 inches long 6 ft beam (later had sides raised 15 inches) - Stancomb Wills 20 ft 8 inches long 5 ft 6 inches beam 27.5 inches deep from inside of keel to top of gunwale - Dudley Docker 22ft long 6 ft beam depth 3 ft. - Sir Ernest Shackleton captained the Caird, Frank Worsley captained the Docker and Hudson captained the Wills during the group sailing from the edge of the more solid ice flow to Elephant Island. The Wills as the smallest boat was often towed by one of the larger ones as it had difficulty keeping up. It was also most in danger of foundering (sinking by being overwhelmed by wave).
As over a year had passed since the Endurance had last had contact with the outside world (the radio did not work at the distance they were from any civilization), and Elephant Island was not on any normally visited route it was clear that they needed to call for rescue the direct way... by having a smaller group sail to a place where a rescue could be organized. And so, the main part of this narrative begins.
The James Caird was modified by adding a canvas deck, a mizzen mast, and strengthened along the keel with a bit of wood from a sledge. It was heavily ballasted (overly so by Worsleys estimation) to make it more stable. Supplies and a Primus single burner stove were loaded. The crew for the sail to S. Georgia Island included Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley (who was an excellent navigator and was captain of the Endurance , Tom Crean, H. McNeish, Timothy Mccarty (carpenter), (RN Reserve and/or Merchant seamen) and J. Vincent (a North Sea fisherman).
The voyage from Elephant Island to S. Georgia, some 800 miles is described in detail. An encounter with a huge wave (now called a rogue wave) is described in horrifying detail. Living conditions and how they bore the discomfort is also detailed. The genius of the leadership in keeping spirits up and the joking done in extreme circumstances is described.
The harrowing approach and landing on S. Georgia is detailed, as is the first few days of recovery before setting off across the island to the whaling station begun.
Worsley describes hoosh their main foodstuff specially concocted for the expedition by nutrition experts of the day. The word comes from a N. American Indian word for drink but in this case meaning a meal which was thin enough to drink. It consisted of lard, oatmeal, beef protein, vegetable protein, salt and sugar which included enough antiscorbutic so they would not suffer scurvey. It was made into half-pound bricks for a one man meal and had the consistancy of new cheese, was yellow brown in color and when boiled with water was much like thick pea soup. (of all that I have read this is the first and only time that I have seen this staple food fully described).
The final part of the adventure was the crossing of S. Georgia over glaciers and ice fields, as much mountain climbing as hiking for 36 hours. Of the 6 in the Cairds crew the fittest were Shackleton, Worsley and Tom Crean. These 3 crossed from their point of landing in King Haakon Sound across the island to the whaling station at Stromness Bay, often hiking above 4,000 ft elevation.
They were lent a steam whaler the Samson to go around the island and pick up the 3 left with the James Caird , which they also brought back. (A note on how the Caird was returned to England is included).
There were 4 attempts to rescue the 22 men left on Elephant Island. Thick ice turned the first 3 back. It was 4 months from the time they arrive on the island before they were rescued (with the Yelcho a steam ship borrowed from the Chilean government. (previous attempts made by a whaler Southern Sky - an auxiliary schooner the Emma and a Uruguayan government trawler Instituto Pesca, No.1.
The absolutely amazing end of the story is that all who were on the Endurance survived.
This ends the Worsleys narrative. It does not include anything about the other half of the expedition... the adventures of the Aurora which was on the Ross Sea part of what was officially called the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. For the very interesting story of that effort one needs to read South which was written by Shackleton himself (described below).
This book is thoroughly engaging. It is an easier and faster read than Shackletons book. It is more narrative than diary and describes living conditions and details that are not often covered by a diary type story. Read this book. You will discover what - real men - can do, and what they are like when properly selected, and properly led.
Note - Ernest Shackleton did begin to lead another expedition but he died of a heart attack on S. Georgia Island on 5 January 1922 at age 47.
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