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Preview — Endurance by Alfred Lansing
“I do not think I have ever had such a horrible sickening sensation of fear as I had whilst in the hold of that breaking ship.”
The date was October 27, 1915. The name of the ship was Endurance.
For scientific leadership give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.
This, then, was the man who developed the idea of crossing the Antarctic continent—on foot.
Fortitudine vincimus—“By endurance we conquer.”
all these arrangements, there was one basic assumption—that Shackleton would survive.
He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.
was now light twenty-four hours a day; the sun disappeared only briefly near midnight, leaving prolonged, magnificent twilight.
regarded an order as something to be obeyed without question.
May the Lord help you to do your duty & guide you through all the dangers by land and sea. May you see the Works of the Lord & all His Wonders in the deep.
Nevertheless, there was a remarkable absence of discouragement. All the men were in a state of dazed fatigue, and nobody paused to reflect on the terrible consequences of losing their ship.
There was even a trace of mild exhilaration in their attitude. At least, they had a clear-cut task ahead of them. The nine months of indecision, of speculation about what might happen, of aimless drifting with the pack were over. Now they simply had to get themselves out, however appallingly difficult that might be.
After he had spoken, he reached under his parka and took out a gold cigarette case and several gold sovereigns and threw them into the snow at his feet.
those that burdened themselves with equipment to meet every contingency had fared much worse than those that had sacrificed total preparedness for speed.
On the eve of setting out, Shackleton wrote: “I pray God I can manage to get the whole party safe to civilization.”
And yet they had adjusted with surprisingly little trouble to their new life, and most of them were quite sincerely happy. The adaptability of the human creature is such that they actually had to remind themselves on occasion of their desperate circumstances.
Whatever happened, January would mark the point of no return.
Though he was virtually fearless in the physical sense, he suffered an almost pathological dread of losing control of the situation. In part, this attitude grew out of a consuming sense of responsibility. He felt he had gotten them into their situation, and it was his responsibility to get them out. As a consequence, he was intensely watchful for potential troublemakers who might nibble away at the unity of the group.
The days now were considerably longer than the nights, with the sun setting about 9 P.M., and rising again near three o’clock in the morning.
He would usually reply in a hurt tone of voice, “Now, really, you shouldn’t say things like that.”
The will to survive soon dispelled any hesitancy to obtain food by any means.
“She’s going, boys!” he shouted, and dashed up the lookout tower. A moment later all hands were out of the tents and scrambling to gain a vantage point. They watched in silence.
Shackleton that night noted simply in his diary that the Endurance was gone, and added: “I cannot write about it.”
Their position was 68°38½´ South, 52°28´ West—a place where no man had ever been before, nor could they conceive that any man would ever want to be again.
She had brought them nearly halfway around the globe, or, as Worsley put it, “ . . . carried us so far and so well and then put forth the bravest fight that ever a ship had fought before yielding to the remorseless pack.” Now she was gone.
the reaction was largely a sentimental one, as after the passing of an old friend who had been on the verge of death for a long time.
“I read somewhere that all a man needs to be happy is a full stomach and warmth, and I begin to think it is nearly true. No worries, no trains, no letters to answer, no collars to wear—but I wonder which of us would not jump at the chance to change it all tomorrow!”
In some ways they had come to know themselves better. In this lonely world of ice and emptiness, they had achieved at least a limited kind of contentment. They had been tested and found not wanting.
Of all their enemies—the cold, the ice, the sea—he feared none more than demoralization. On December 19, he wrote in his diary: “Am thinking of starting off for the west.”
Sir Ernest Shackleton—“Never the lowered banner, never the last endeavour.” (Royal Geographic Society)
Finally, Shackleton wrote: “The last day of the old year: May the new one bring us good fortune, a safe deliverance from this anxious time & all good things to those we love so far away.”
But Shackleton was not an ordinary individual. He was a man who believed completely in his own invincibility, and to whom defeat was a reflection of personal inadequacy.
However, on April 5, Worsley obtained a position—and it showed that they were headed straight for the open sea.
It was a tide rip, a phenomenon of current thrown up from the ocean floor which had caught a mass of ice and was propelling it forward at about 3 knots.
Ironically, here was the moment they had dreamed of ever since the days at Ocean Camp—but the reality was vastly different from the dream.
A moment later, all thought of trying to signal the Caird was forgotten as the Docker suddenly lurched violently in the grip of a fierce tide rip.
During these past days he had exhibited an almost phenomenal ability, both as a navigator and in the demanding skill of handling a small boat.
There was no great joy in that moment. Only a feeling of astonishment which soon gave way to a sense of tremendous relief.
A moment later they were chewing and sucking greedily, and the delicious water was running down their throats.
By some incredible coincidence, the Docker’s inability to find a suitable place to land had reunited her with the rest of the party.
For the first time in 497 days they were on land. Solid, unsinkable, immovable, blessed land.
Finally the food was ready, and they ate. It was neither breakfast nor lunch nor dinner. It was one long intermittent meal.
“Turned in and slept, as we had never slept before, absolute dead dreamless sleep, oblivious of wet sleeping bags, lulled by the croaking of the penguins.”
I have every confidence in you and always have had, May God prosper your work and your life. You can convey my love to my people and say I tried my best.
Both groups knew they might never see one another again.
Through one means or another, they kept their spirits up—mostly by building dreams.
“Every morning,” Macklin wrote on June 6, “I go to the top of the hill, and in spite of everything I cannot help hoping to see a ship coming along to our relief.”
Optimism it is, and if not overdone, it is a fine thing.
August 6 (Hurley): “It would be ideal weather for the ship to arrive.”
Unlike the land, where courage and the simple will to endure can often see a man through, the struggle against the sea is an act of physical combat, and there is no escape. It is a battle against a tireless enemy in which man never actually wins; the most that he can hope for is not to be defeated.