Recreating Ernest Shackleton’s rescue, trench foot and all
A team has recreated Shackleton’s Antarctic rescue mission of 1916, right down to period equipment and food. The only modern touches were the safety equipment and melting glaciers
The rescue team in a scene from Discovery’s ‘Shackleton: Death or Glory’
‘Spooning” or snuggling up with fellow crew to keep warm in the soaking, suffocating confines of a seven-metre (22.5ft) boat, while being tossed about in a 52-hour-long Antarctic storm, would test the mettle of most. There were times the six men who underwent this discomfort for the sake of “historical authenticity” must have questioned their choice.
Earlier this year, British-Australian environmental scientist Tim Jarvis attempted to recreate one of the most famous rescue expeditions: Ernest Shackleton’s bringing to safety of his 27 men after their ship the Endurance was crushed in pack ice in 1915, as they tried to cross the Antarctic peninsula.
At least Jarvis didn’t have to word an advertisement like that penned by Shackleton to recruit his accomplices. “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success,” the original ad had read. When the Endurance was crushed, some 15 months into Shackleton’s voyage, the “Boss”, as the Kildare man was known, needed a plan.
With five of them, including fellow Irishmen Tom Crean and Tim McCarthy, Shackleton set out on an 1,300km lifeboat trip to the island of South Georgia, where he knew there would be help. After more than two weeks of wind, gale, storm and sea, and some incredible navigation by Endurance captain Frank Worsley, the six landed on South Georgia. More than four months later, Shackleton arrived back on Elephant Island to rescue his 22 stranded companions and bring them all home.
There have been several attempts to recreate the voyage – including the Irish South Arís expedition of 1997, led by sailor Paddy Barry and mountaineer Frank Nugent. The Irish group was forced to abandon the sea voyage when the replica lifeboat capsized three times in a row in storms. They completed the land traverse.
Period equipment and food
Jarvis studied these previous experiences before his attempt, which would use period equipment such as wool and gabardine, and food such as biscuits and pemmican, a concentrated mixture of fat and protein.
While Jarvis and company did have a motorised support vessel shadowing them, there would be “no guarantee of rescue” if something happened at night in the Southern Ocean.
Jarvis left his wife Elizabeth at home with two small children. His oldest son had not even been born when he began planning the project. His accomplices were round-world racing sailor Nick Bubb, Royal Marine mountain leader Barry Gray, navigator and round-world sailor Paul Larsen, Royal Navy petty officer Seb Coulthard, and mountaineer and Arctic explorer -cum-cameraman Ed Wardle.
“Our one concession to safety, apart from lifejackets and lines – which we didn’t use – and the support vessel, was an automatic identification system tracker, which would prevent us from being run down by another ship,” he says. “That was all that Elizabeth had to follow on a screen to know that we were still alive.”
The group had tried coating their woollen and gabardine gear in animal fat – as the original expedition had done – but it made no difference, once the first wave of many came over the small boat.