I've read a great deal about Shackleton, and if ever there was a man who epitomised "grace under pressure," it was him. Unflaggingly respected by his men, he was a superb leader, if only in the way that he kept up morale and hope, truly making everyone believe that they would make it. Known to his close friends as "Shackles," it was his force of personality that save him and his men time and again.

He never gave up. Not when his first two attempts to reach the South Pole failed. Not when his ship was crushed by the sheet ice. Not when he and his men spent months floating on an ice floe, or when they sailed to Elephant Island. Or when he and three other men had to cross the South Atlantic in an open boat, through 40 foot waves, to crash land on South Georgia Island, only to cross 40 miles overland through an uncharted mountain range. Bascially, he was a badass, and the best kind -- a good, decent guy who always looked out for his people.

Great Books on Shackleton and the British Trans-Antarctic Expedition:

"Endurance" by Alfred Lansing. I swear it's one of the best pieces of non-fiction you'll ever read.

"South" by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Shackles' own account -- really gripping.

"Shackleton's Boat Journey" by Frank Worsley. The best sailing book I've ever read. The adventure inside the adventure. If you like reading about the sea, this is for you.

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was born in Kilkea House, County Kildare, Ireland on February 15, 1874. In 1890, he joined the British Merchant Navy. In 1901, he signed up under Robert Falcon Scott's National Antarctic Expedition, which was unsuccessful in reaching the South Pole, but whetted Shackleton's appetite for adventure.

In 1908, in an effort to be the first to reach the South Pole, he led his own expedition on the Nimrod. The Nimrod came within 100 miles of the Pole - the furthest south to date - but had to turn back, due to supply shortages and worsening health of the crew. Roald Amundsen's successful journey to the South Pole in 1911 made that goal unachieveable, so Shackleton set out on a new goal: to be the first to cross the continent.

So begins Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure. On November 5, 1914, the Endurance arrives at Grytviken on South Georgia Island, crewed by 28 men who had been selected from the 5,000 who had responded to the advertisement:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success. —Ernest Shackleton.

And so began what was one of the most spectacular adventuring journeys in the history of mankind. Nearly two years later, the entire crew (sans sled dogs) safely returns, never having set foot on Antarctica. The Endurance had been trapped in ice one month into the journey, and was abandoned 10 months later when crushed and sunk. Camping on an iceflow, and then rowing in lifeboats, most of the crew was left on Elephant Island while 6 men sailed the James Caird (a recommisioned lifeboat) back to South Georgia Island - only to land on the wrong coast, necessitating a 30 mile, 36-hour climb across an uncharted glacial mountain to civilization.

In 1921, Shackleton led the ship Quest to Antarctica, but suffered a heart attack and died on January 5, 1922. He is buried at Grytviken.

Ernest Shackleton named his ship, the Endurance, from his family motto, Fortitudine Vincimus. I don't know Latin, but to all my research it translates to "He who endures, conquers."

The RRS Ernest Shackleton is also the name of one of the icebreakers run by the BAS, (Bristish Antarctic Survey) to transport scientists and technicians to the various bases around Antarctica, as well as for running supplies to the various Antarctic Islands.

The ship was built in Bergen, Norway, in 1995 and named the Polar Queen, but was bought in 1999 by the BAS and had her named changed in honour of the famous British explorer. She can normally be found cruising around the Antarctic from October to May (Late Antarctic Spring - Autumn) dropping off supplies, and will be located in Grimsby in the UK from May untll October when she once again returns South.

In 2001, rather embarrassingly, the Ernest Shackleton became trapped in the ice on her way to the Halley Ice Station. Her faliure to reach the ice station meant that many scientists were prevented from carrying out their work, and also those with scheduled trips out to Antarctica had to postponed until the next year. It goes to show the immense power of the ice floes around the Southern Continent, and that we are still at the mercy of the elements, just as Shackleton was, despite our more modern equipment and vehicles.


For more information about the ship see:
http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/Living/Transport/Ships/RRS_Ernest_Shackleton.html

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