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334 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 2018
Cheered on by a crowd of engineers, carpenters, blacksmiths, clerks and their families, the stout, broad-hulled warship they had been building for the past two years slides, stern first, down the slipway at Pembroke Dockyard. The cheers rise to a roar as she strikes the waters of Milford Haven. She bounces, bobs and shakes herself like a newborn waterfowl. Her name is Erebus.
When I made a journey to the Antarctic Peninsula in 2014 the sight of a single whale was enough to bring everyone out on deck, reaching for cameras and binoculars. Sometimes, if you were very lucky, two or three would surface. Watching them was both compulsive and strangely soothing. Of all God's creatures, they seem the least prone to hurrying. Their lives seem to be the human equivalent of taking very long baths. When they did move, it was a performance of beauty and grace, of great weight moved with minimum effort. And there can surely be no better final bow than the languid, quietly powerful rise, flick and fall of the fluke. I like to think that those aboard Erebus drew similar comfort from the whales' company on the long and increasingly hazardous journey south.
The sternboard manoeuvre that Ross and his crew executed in the most dire and dangerous situation would have been a great gamble at any time. It was this almighty risk, rather than the Almighty himself, that saved the lives of his men.
"never again, in the annals of the sea, would a ship, under sail alone, come close to matching what she [Erebus] and Terror had achieved."