Apr

13

 I checked in on Shackleton this morning and his situation is dire. A 12' leopard seal just leaped onto the ice floe and is chasing one of his men to eat. The ice chunk is shrinking by the minute, down from a mile across to 100 yards. Killer whales are rearing their toothy heads all-around, but a 70mph southeastern gale blew their ice sheet 15 miles during the night to within twenty miles of the goal – Antarctica.

The ice cracks and quarters or halves periodically. The men jump to either side, toss across lines, and try to pull themselves back together. There is an unique sailor's condition called 'cross-seas' where the wind is strong opposite the current, causing angry waves to crash from opposite directions and crescendo. The 27 men have been eating dog persimmon, two biscuits apiece, a gob of blubber, and melted snow next to their bodies for five months on the thawing floe, banging into icebergs like a frozen pinball game.

The expedition started on the outbreak day of WWI, with permission to launch from England's Prime Minister H.H. Asquith. Bound for Antarctica, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton planned to cross on foot the last uncharted continent. After battling seas for six weeks through a thousand miles of ice, the Endurance became locked inside an island of ice, and was slowly crushed like a bug in a frozen vice. A skeleton crew escaped with dogs, and sleds, that were eaten and burned for fuel, and their ordeal had barely begun. They retreated to this largest ice flow with three 21-feet springy oak life boats – the James Caird, Dudley Docker, and Stancomb Wills - waiting for the ice to break up.

Shackleton was a true leader by example. He made instant unpopular decisions where all options were detested, and still the men followed. When the ice cracks under their tents during sleep, he heaves them in their sleeping bags out of the glacial water and walks them all night, with the ice cracking from their frozen garments and ice crystals tinkling and falling from them.

After five months on the cube, it began to shatter into open sea, and the fierce Antarctic predators, drawn by the warm currents, drew closer. Shackleton voice called above the beasts' howls, 'Launch the boats!' Will they survive to walk across Antarctica? I don't know, but three-quarters through this book, it's a page burner.

This is an astonishing tale of survival where heroes are born, and their diaries scrutinized by the apt author, Alfred Lansing, whose sea pen is a part Louis L'Amour and a bit Patrick O'Brien. This is considered the definitive, raw, and authentic account of Shackleton's fateful trip.


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