Ernest Henry Shackleton
South! The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-1917; Includes both text and audio files
South! The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-1917; Includes both text and audio files
Ernest Henry Shackleton
Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton
INTO THE WEDDELL SEA
I decided to leave South Georgia about December 5, and in the intervals of final preparation scanned again the plans for the voyage to winter quarters. What welcome was the Weddell Sea preparing for us? The whaling captains at South Georgia were generously ready to share with me their knowledge of the waters in which they pursued their trade, and, while confirming earlier information as to the extreme severity of the ice conditions in this sector of the Antarctic, they were able to give advice that was worth attention.
It will be convenient to state here briefly some of the considerations that weighed with me at that time and in the weeks that followed. I knew that the ice had come far north that season and, after listening to the suggestions of the whaling captains, had decided to steer to the South Sandwich Group, round Ultima Thule, and work as far to the eastward as the fifteenth meridian west longitude before pushing south. The whalers emphasized the difficulty of getting through the ice in the neighbourhood of the South Sandwich Group. They told me they had often seen the floes come right up to the group in the summer-time, and they thought the Expedition would have to push through heavy pack in order to reach the Weddell Sea. Probably the best time to get into the Weddell Sea would be the end of February or the beginning of March. The whalers had gone right round the South Sandwich Group and they were familiar with the conditions. The predictions they made induced me to take the deck-load of coal, for if we had to fight our way through to Coats’ Land we would need every ton of fuel the ship could carry.
I hoped that by first moving to the east as far as the fifteenth meridian west we would be able to go south through looser ice, pick up Coats’ Land and finally reach Vahsel Bay, where Filchner made his attempt at landing in 1912. Two considerations were occupying my mind at this juncture. I was anxious for certain reasons to winter the Endurance in the Weddell Sea, but the difficulty of finding a safe harbour might be very great. If no safe harbour could be found, the ship must winter at South Georgia. It seemed to me hopeless now to think of making the journey across the continent in the first summer, as the season was far advanced and the ice conditions were likely to prove unfavourable. In view of the possibility of wintering the ship in the ice, we took extra clothing from the stores at the various stations in South Georgia.
The other question that was giving me anxious thought was the size of the shore party. If the ship had to go out during the winter, or if she broke away from winter quarters, it would be preferable to have only a small, carefully selected party of men ashore after the hut had been built and the stores landed. These men could proceed to lay out depots by man-haulage and make short journeys with the dogs, training them for the long early march in the following spring. The majority of the scientific men would live aboard the ship, where they could do their work under good conditions. They would be able to make short journeys if required, using the Endurance as a base. All these plans were based on an expectation that the finding of winter quarters was likely to be difficult. If a really safe base could be established on the continent, I would adhere to the original programme of sending one party to the south, one to the west round the head of the Weddell Sea towards Graham Land, and one to the east towards Enderby Land.
We had worked out details of distances, courses, stores required, and so forth. Our sledging ration, the result of experience as well as close study, was perfect. The dogs gave promise, after training, of being able to cover fifteen to twenty miles a day with loaded sledges. The trans-continental journey, at this rate, should be completed in 120 days unless some unforeseen obstacle intervened. We longed keenly for the day when we could begin this march, the last great adventure in the history of South Polar exploration, but a knowledge of the obstacles that lay between us and our starting-point served as a curb on impatience. Everything depended upon the landing. If we could land at Filchner’s base there was no reason why a band of experienced men should not winter there in safety. But the Weddell Sea was notoriously inhospitable and already we knew that its sternest face was turned toward us. All the conditions in the Weddell Sea are unfavourable from the navigator’s point of view. The winds are comparatively light, and consequently new ice can form even in the summer-time. The absence of strong winds has the additional effect of allowing the ice to accumulate in masses, undisturbed. Then great quantities of ice sweep along the coast from the east under the influence of the prevailing current, and fill up the bight of the Weddell Sea as they move north in a great semicircle. Some of this ice doubtless describes almost a complete circle, and is held up eventually, in bad seasons, against the South Sandwich Islands. The strong currents, pressing the ice masses against the coasts, create heavier pressure than is found in any other part of the Antarctic. This pressure must be at least as severe as the pressure experienced in the congested North Polar basin, and I am inclined to think that a comparison would be to the advantage of the Arctic. All these considerations naturally had a bearing upon our immediate problem, the penetration of the pack and the finding of a safe harbour on the continental coast.
The day of departure arrived. I gave the order to heave anchor at 8.45 a.m. on December 5, 1914, and the clanking of the windlass broke for us the last link with civilization. The morning was dull and overcast, with occasional gusts of snow and sleet, but hearts were light aboard the Endurance. The long days of preparation were over and the adventure lay ahead.
We had hoped that some steamer from the north would bring news of war and perhaps letters from home before our departure. A ship did arrive on the evening of the 4th, but she carried no letters, and nothing useful in the way of information could be gleaned from her. The captain and crew were all stoutly pro-German, and the “news” they had to give took the unsatisfying form of accounts of British and French reverses. We would have been glad to have had the latest tidings from a friendlier source. A year and a half later we were to learn that the Harpoon, the steamer which tends the Grytviken station, had arrived with mail for us not more than two hours after the Endurance had proceeded down the coast.
The bows of the Endurance were turned to the south, and the good ship dipped to the south-westerly swell. Misty rain fell during the forenoon, but the weather cleared later in the day, and we had a good view of the coast of South Georgia as we moved under steam and sail to the south-east. The course was laid to carry us clear of the island and then south of South Thule, Sandwich Group. The wind freshened during the day, and all square sail was set, with the foresail reefed in order to give the look-out a clear view ahead; for we did not wish to risk contact with a “growler,” one of those treacherous fragments of ice that float with surface awash. The ship was very steady in the quarterly sea, but certainly did not look as neat and trim as she had done when leaving the shores of England four months earlier. We had filled up with coal at Grytviken, and this extra fuel was stored on deck, where it impeded movement considerably. The carpenter had built a false deck, extending from the poop-deck to the chart-room. We had also taken aboard a ton of whale-meat for the dogs. The big chunks of meat were hung up in the rigging, out of reach but not out of sight of the dogs, and as the Endurance rolled and pitched, they watched with wolfish eyes for a windfall.
I was greatly pleased with the dogs, which were tethered about the ship in the most comfortable positions we could find for them. They were in excellent condition, and I felt that the Expedition had the right tractive-power. They were big, sturdy animals, chosen for endurance and strength, and if they were as keen to pull our sledges as they were now to fight one another all would be well. The men in charge of the dogs were doing their work enthusiastically, and the eagerness they showed to study the natures and habits of their charges gave promise of efficient handling and good work later on.
During December 6 the Endurance made good progress on a south-easterly course. The northerly breeze had freshened during the night and had brought up a high following sea. The weather was hazy, and we passed two bergs, several growlers, and numerous lumps of ice. Staff and crew were settling down to the routine. Bird life was plentiful, and we noticed Cape pigeons, whale-birds, terns, mollymauks, nellies, sooty, and wandering albatrosses in the neighbourhood of the ship. The course was laid for the passage between Sanders Island and Candlemas Volcano. December 7 brought the first check. At six o’clock that morning the sea, which had been green in colour all the previous day, changed suddenly to a deep indigo. The ship was behaving well in a rough sea, and some members of the scientific staff were transferring to the bunkers the coal we had stowed on deck. Sanders Island and Candlemas were sighted early in the afternoon, and the Endurance passed between them at 6 p.m. Worsley’s observations indicated that Sanders Island was, roughly, three miles east and five miles north of the charted position. Large numbers of bergs, mostly tabular in form, lay to the west of the islands, and we noticed that many of them were yellow with diatoms. One berg had large patches of red-brown soil down its sides. The presence of so many bergs was ominous, and immediately after passing between the islands we encountered stream-ice. All sail was taken in and we proceeded slowly under steam. Two hours later, fifteen miles north-east of Sanders Island, the Endurance was confronted by a belt of heavy pack-ice, half a mile broad and extending north and south. There was clear water beyond, but the heavy south-westerly swell made the pack impenetrable in our neighbourhood. This was disconcerting. The noon latitude had been 57° 26´ S., and I had not expected to find pack-ice nearly so far north, though the whalers had reported pack-ice right up to South Thule.
The situation became dangerous that night. We pushed into the pack in the hope of reaching open water beyond, and found ourselves after dark in a pool which was growing smaller and smaller. The ice was grinding around the ship in the heavy swell, and I watched with some anxiety for any indication of a change of wind to the east, since a breeze from that quarter would have driven us towards the land. Worsley and I were on deck all night, dodging the pack. At 3 a.m. we ran south, taking advantage of some openings that had appeared, but met heavy rafted pack-ice, evidently old; some of it had been subjected to severe pressure. Then we steamed north-west and saw open water to the north-east. I put the Endurance’s head for the opening, and, steaming at full speed, we got clear. Then we went east in the hope of getting better ice, and five hours later, after some dodging, we rounded the pack and were able to set sail once more. This initial tussle with the pack had been exciting at times. Pieces of ice and bergs of all sizes were heaving and jostling against each other in the heavy south-westerly swell. In spite of all our care the Endurance struck large lumps stem on, but the engines were stopped in time and no harm was done. The scene and sounds throughout the day were very fine. The swell was dashing against the sides of huge bergs and leaping right to the top of their icy cliffs. Sanders Island lay to the south, with a few rocky faces peering through the misty, swirling clouds that swathed it most of the time, the booming of the sea running into ice-caverns, the swishing break of the swell on the loose pack, and the graceful bowing and undulating of the inner pack to the steeply rolling swell, which here was robbed of its break by the masses of ice to windward.
We skirted the northern edge of the pack in clear weather with a light south-westerly breeze and an overcast sky. The bergs were numerous. During the morning of December 9 an easterly breeze brought hazy weather with snow, and at 4.30 p.m. we encountered the edge of pack-ice in lat. 58° 27´ S., long. 22° 08´ W. It was one-year-old ice interspersed with older pack, all heavily snow-covered and lying west-south-west to east-north-east. We entered the pack at 5 p.m., but could not make progress, and cleared it again at 7.40 p.m. Then we steered east-north-east and spent the rest of the night rounding the pack. During the day we had seen adelie and ringed penguins, also several humpback and finner whales. An ice-blink to the westward indicated the presence of pack in that direction. After rounding the pack we steered S. 40° E., and at noon on the 10th had reached lat. 58° 28´ S., long. 20° 28´ W. Observations showed the compass variation to be 1½° less than the chart recorded. I kept the Endurance on the course till midnight, when we entered loose open ice about ninety miles south-east of our noon position. This ice proved to fringe the pack, and progress became slow. There was a long easterly swell with a light northerly breeze, and the weather was clear and fine. Numerous bergs lay outside the pack.
The Endurance steamed through loose open ice till 8 a.m. on the 11th, when we entered the pack in lat. 59° 46´ S., long. 18° 22´ W. We could have gone farther east, but the pack extended far in that direction, and an effort to circle it might have involved a lot of northing. I did not wish to lose the benefit of the original southing. The extra miles would not have mattered to a ship with larger coal capacity than the Endurance possessed, but we could not afford to sacrifice miles unnecessarily. The pack was loose and did not present great difficulties at this stage. The foresail was set in order to take advantage of the northerly breeze. The ship was in contact with the ice occasionally and received some heavy blows. Once or twice she was brought up all standing against solid pieces, but no harm was done. The chief concern was to protect the propeller and rudder. If a collision seemed to be inevitable the officer in charge would order “slow” or “half speed” with the engines, and put the helm over so as to strike floe a glancing blow. Then the helm would be put over towards the ice with the object of throwing the propeller clear of it, and the ship would forge ahead again. Worsley, Wild, and I, with three officers, kept three watches while we were working through the pack, so that we had two officers on deck all the time. The carpenter had rigged a six-foot wooden semaphore on the bridge to enable the navigating officer to give the seamen or scientists at the wheel the direction and the exact amount of helm required. This device saved time, as well as the effort of shouting. We were pushing through this loose pack all day, and the view from the crow’s-nest gave no promise of improved conditions ahead. A Weddell seal and a crab-eater seal were noticed on the floes, but we did not pause to secure fresh meat. It was important that we should make progress towards our goal as rapidly as possible, and there was reason to fear that we should have plenty of time to spare later on if the ice conditions continued to increase in severity.
On the morning of December 12 we were working through loose pack which later became thick in places. The sky was overcast and light snow was falling. I had all square sail set at 7 a.m. in order to take advantage of the northerly breeze, but it had to come in again five hours later when the wind hauled round to the west. The noon position was lat. 60° 26´ S., long. 17° 58´ W., and the run for the twenty-four hours had been only 33 miles. The ice was still badly congested, and we were pushing through narrow leads and occasional openings with the floes often close abeam on either side. Antarctic, snow and stormy petrels, fulmars, white-rumped terns, and adelies were around us. The quaint little penguins found the ship a cause of much apparent excitement and provided a lot of amusement aboard. One of the standing jokes was that all the adelies on the floe seemed to know Clark, and when he was at the wheel rushed along as fast as their legs could carry them, yelling out “Clark! Clark!” and apparently very indignant and perturbed that he never waited for them or even answered them.
We found several good leads to the south in the evening, and continued to work southward throughout the night and the following day. The pack extended in all directions as far as the eye could reach. The noon observation showed the run for the twenty-four hours to be 54 miles, a satisfactory result under the conditions. Wild shot a young Ross seal on the floe, and we manoeuvred the ship alongside. Hudson jumped down, bent a line on to the seal, and the pair of them were hauled up. The seal was 4 ft. 9 in. long and weighed about ninety pounds. He was a young male and proved very good eating, but when dressed and minus the blubber made little more than a square meal for our twenty-eight men, with a few scraps for our breakfast and tea. The stomach contained only amphipods about an inch long, allied to those found in the whales at Grytviken.
The conditions became harder on December 14. There was a misty haze, and occasional falls of snow. A few bergs were in sight. The pack was denser than it had been on the previous days. Older ice was intermingled with the young ice, and our progress became slower. The propeller received several blows in the early morning, but no damage was done. A platform was rigged under the jib-boom in order that Hurley might secure some kinematograph pictures of the ship breaking through the ice. The young ice did not present difficulties to the Endurance, which was able to smash a way through, but the lumps of older ice were more formidable obstacles, and conning the ship was a task requiring close attention. The most careful navigation could not prevent an occasional bump against ice too thick to be broken or pushed aside. The southerly breeze strengthened to a moderate south-westerly gale during the afternoon, and at 8 p.m. we hove to, stem against a floe, it being impossible to proceed without serious risk of damage to rudder or propeller. I was interested to notice that, although we had been steaming through the pack for three days, the north-westerly swell still held with us. It added to the difficulties of navigation in the lanes, since the ice was constantly in movement.
The Endurance remained against the floe for the next twenty-four hours, when the gale moderated. The pack extended to the horizon in all directions and was broken by innumerable narrow lanes. Many bergs were in sight, and they appeared to be travelling through the pack in a south-westerly direction under the current influence. Probably the pack itself was moving north-east with the gale. Clark put down a net in search of specimens, and at two fathoms it was carried south-west by the current and fouled the propeller. He lost the net, two leads, and a line. Ten bergs drove to the south through the pack during the twenty-four hours. The noon position was 61° 31´ S., long. 18° 12´ W. The gale had moderated at 8 p.m., and we made five miles to the south before midnight and then we stopped at the end of a long lead, waiting till the weather cleared. It was during this short run that the captain, with semaphore hard-a-port, shouted to the scientist at the wheel: “Why in Paradise don’t you port!” The answer came in indignant tones: “I am blowing my nose.”
The Endurance made some progress on the following day. Long leads of open water ran towards the south-west, and the ship smashed at full speed through occasional areas of young ice till brought up with a heavy thud against a section of older floe. Worsley was out on the jib-boom end for a few minutes while Wild was conning the ship, and he came back with a glowing account of a novel sensation. The boom was swinging high and low and from side to side, while the massive bows of the ship smashed through the ice, splitting it across, piling it mass on mass and then shouldering it aside. The air temperature was 37° Fahr., pleasantly warm, and the water temperature 29° Fahr. We continued to advance through fine long leads till 4 a.m. on December 17, when the ice became difficult again. Very large floes of six-months-old ice lay close together. Some of these floes presented a square mile of unbroken surface, and among them were patches of thin ice and several floes of heavy old ice. Many bergs were in sight, and the course became devious. The ship was blocked at one point by a wedge-shaped piece of floe, but we put the ice-anchor through it, towed it astern, and proceeded through the gap. Steering under these conditions required muscle as well as nerve. There was a clatter aft during the afternoon, and Hussey, who was at the wheel, explained that “The wheel spun round and threw me over the top of it!” The noon position was lat. 62° 13´ S., long. 18° 53´ W., and the run for the preceding twenty-four hours had been 32 miles in a south-westerly direction. We saw three blue whales during the day and one emperor penguin, a 58-lb. bird, which was added to the larder.
The morning of December 18 found the Endurance proceeding amongst large floes with thin ice between them. The leads were few. There was a northerly breeze with occasional snow-flurries. We secured three crab-eater seals—two cows and a bull. The bull was a fine specimen, nearly white all over and 9 ft. 3 in. long; he weighed 600 lbs. Shortly before noon further progress was barred by heavy pack, and we put an ice-anchor on the floe and banked the fires. I had been prepared for evil conditions in the Weddell Sea, but had hoped that in December and January, at any rate, the pack would be loose, even if no open water was to be found. What we were actually encountering was fairly dense pack of a very obstinate character. Pack-ice might be described as a gigantic and interminable jigsaw-puzzle devised by nature. The parts of the puzzle in loose pack have floated slightly apart and become disarranged; at numerous places they have pressed together again; as the pack gets closer the congested areas grow larger and the parts are jammed harder till finally it becomes “close pack,” when the whole of the jigsaw-puzzle becomes jammed to such an extent that with care and labour it can be traversed in every direction on foot. Where the parts do not fit closely there is, of course, open water, which freezes over, in a few hours after giving off volumes of “frost-smoke.” In obedience to renewed pressure this young ice “rafts,” so forming double thicknesses of a toffee-like consistency. Again the opposing edges of heavy floes rear up in slow and almost silent conflict, till high “hedgerows” are formed round each part of the puzzle. At the junction of several floes chaotic areas of piled-up blocks and masses of ice are formed. Sometimes 5-ft. to 6-ft. piles of evenly shaped blocks of ice are seen so neatly laid that it seems impossible for them to be Nature’s work. Again, a winding canyon may be traversed between icy walls 6 ft. to 10 ft. high, or a dome may be formed that under renewed pressure bursts upward like a volcano. All the winter the drifting pack changes—grows by freezing, thickens by rafting, and corrugates by pressure. If, finally, in its drift it impinges on a coast, such as the western shore of the Weddell Sea, terrific pressure is set up and an inferno of ice-blocks, ridges, and hedgerows results, extending possibly for 150 or 200 miles off shore. Sections of pressure ice may drift away subsequently and become embedded in new ice.
I have given this brief explanation here in order that the reader may understand the nature of the ice through which we pushed our way for many hundreds of miles. Another point that may require to be explained was the delay caused by wind while we were in the pack. When a strong breeze or moderate gale was blowing the ship could not safely work through any except young ice, up to about two feet in thickness. As ice of that nature never extended for more than a mile or so, it followed that in a gale in the pack we had always to lie to. The ship was 3 ft. 3 in. down by the stern, and while this saved the propeller and rudder a good deal, it made the Endurance practically unmanageable in close pack when the wind attained a force of six miles an hour from ahead, since the air currents had such a big surface forward to act upon. The pressure of wind on bows and the yards of the foremast would cause the bows to fall away, and in these conditions the ship could not be steered into the narrow lanes and leads through which we had to thread our way. The falling away of the bows, moreover, would tend to bring the stern against the ice, compelling us to stop the engines in order to save the propeller. Then the ship would become unmanageable and drift away, with the possibility of getting excessive sternway on her and so damaging rudder or propeller, the Achilles’ heel of a ship in pack-ice.
While we were waiting for the weather to moderate and the ice to open, I had the Lucas sounding-machine rigged over the rudder-trunk and found the depth to be 2810 fathoms. The bottom sample was lost owing to the line parting 60 fathoms from the end. During the afternoon three adelie penguins approached the ship across the floe while Hussey was discoursing sweet music on the banjo. The solemn-looking little birds appeared to appreciate “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” but they fled in horror when Hussey treated them to a little of the music that comes from Scotland. The shouts of laughter from the ship added to their dismay, and they made off as fast as their short legs would carry them. The pack opened slightly at 6.15 p.m., and we proceeded through lanes for three hours before being forced to anchor to a floe for the night. We fired a Hjort mark harpoon, No. 171, into a blue whale on this day. The conditions did not improve during December 19. A fresh to strong northerly breeze brought haze and snow, and after proceeding for two hours the Endurance was stopped again by heavy floes. It was impossible to manoeuvre the ship in the ice owing to the strong wind, which kept the floes in movement and caused lanes to open and close with dangerous rapidity. The noon observation showed that we had made six miles to the south-east in the previous twenty-four hours. All hands were engaged during the day in rubbing shoots off our potatoes, which were found to be sprouting freely. We remained moored to a floe over the following day, the wind not having moderated; indeed, it freshened to a gale in the afternoon, and the members of the staff and crew took advantage of the pause to enjoy a vigorously contested game of football on the level surface of the floe alongside the ship. Twelve bergs were in sight at this time. The noon position was lat. 62° 42´ S., long. 17° 54´ W., showing that we had drifted about six miles in a north-easterly direction.
Monday, December 21, was beautifully fine, with a gentle west-north-westerly breeze. We made a start at 3 a.m. and proceeded through the pack in a south-westerly direction. At noon we had gained seven miles almost due east, the northerly drift of the pack having continued while the ship was apparently moving to the south. Petrels of several species, penguins, and seals were plentiful, and we saw four small blue whales. At noon we entered a long lead to the southward and passed around and between nine splendid bergs. One mighty specimen was shaped like the Rock of Gibraltar but with steeper cliffs, and another had a natural dock that would have contained the Aquitania. A spur of ice closed the entrance to the huge blue pool. Hurley brought out his kinematograph-camera, in order to make a record of these bergs. Fine long leads running east and south-east among bergs were found during the afternoon, but at midnight the ship was stopped by small, heavy ice-floes, tightly packed against an unbroken plain of ice. The outlook from the mast-head was not encouraging. The big floe was at least 15 miles long and 10 miles wide. The edge could not be seen at the widest part, and the area of the floe must have been not less than 150 square miles. It appeared to be formed of year-old ice, not very thick and with very few hummocks or ridges in it. We thought it must have been formed at sea in very calm weather and drifted up from the south-east. I had never seen such a large area of unbroken ice in the Ross Sea.
We waited with banked fires for the strong easterly breeze to moderate or the pack to open. At 6.30 p.m. on December 22 some lanes opened and we were able to move towards the south again. The following morning found us working slowly through the pack, and the noon observation gave us a gain of 19 miles S. 41° W. for the seventeen and a half hours under steam. Many year-old adelies, three crab-eaters, six sea-leopards, one Weddell and two blue whales were seen. The air temperature, which had been down to 25° Fahr. on December 21, had risen to 34° Fahr. While we were working along leads to the southward in the afternoon, we counted fifteen bergs. Three of these were table-topped, and one was about 70 ft high and 5 miles long. Evidently it had come from a barrier-edge. The ice became heavier but slightly more open, and we had a calm night with fine long leads of open water. The water was so still that new ice was forming on the leads. We had a run of 70 miles to our credit at noon on December 24, the position being lat. 64° 32´ S., long. 17° 17´ W. All the dogs except eight had been named. I do not know who had been responsible for some of the names, which seemed to represent a variety of tastes. They were as follows Rugby, Upton Bristol, Millhill, Songster, Sandy, Mack, Mercury, Wolf, Amundsen, Hercules, Hackenschmidt, Samson, Sammy, Skipper, Caruso, Sub, Ulysses, Spotty, Bosun, Slobbers, Sadie, Sue, Sally, Jasper, Tim, Sweep, Martin, Splitlip, Luke, Saint, Satan, Chips, Stumps, Snapper, Painful, Bob, Snowball, Jerry, Judge, Sooty, Rufus, Sidelights, Simeon, Swanker, Chirgwin, Steamer, Peter, Fluffy, Steward, Slippery, Elliott, Roy, Noel, Shakespeare, Jamie, Bummer, Smuts, Lupoid, Spider, and Sailor. Some of the names, it will be noticed, had a descriptive flavour.
Heavy floes held up the ship from midnight till 6 a.m. on December 25, Christmas Day. Then they opened a little and we made progress till 11.30 a.m., when the leads closed again. We had encountered good leads and workable ice during the early part of the night, and the noon observation showed that our run for the twenty-four hours was the best since we entered the pack a fortnight earlier. We had made 71 miles S. 4° W. The ice held us up till the evening, and then we were able to follow some leads for a couple of hours before the tightly packed floes and the increasing wind compelled a stop. The celebration of Christmas was not forgotten. Grog was served at midnight to all on deck. There was grog again at breakfast, for the benefit of those who had been in their bunks at midnight. Lees had decorated the wardroom with flags and had a little Christmas present for each of us. Some of us had presents from home to open. Later there was a really splendid dinner, consisting of turtle soup, whitebait, jugged hare, Christmas pudding, mince-pies, dates, figs and crystallized fruits, with rum and stout as drinks. In the evening everybody joined in a “sing-song.” Hussey had made a one-stringed violin, on which, in the words of Worsley, he “discoursed quite painlessly.” The wind was increasing to a moderate south-easterly gale and no advance could be made, so we were able to settle down to the enjoyments of the evening.
The weather was still bad on December 26 and 27, and the Endurance remained anchored to a floe. The noon position on the 26th was lat. 65° 43´ S., long. 17° 36´ W. We made another sounding on this day with the Lucas machine and found bottom at 2819 fathoms. The specimen brought up was a terrigenous blue mud (glacial deposit) with some radiolaria. Every one took turns at the work of heaving in, two men working together in ten-minute spells.
Sunday, December 27, was a quiet day aboard. The southerly gale was blowing the snow in clouds off the floe and the temperature had fallen to 23° Fahr. The dogs were having an uncomfortable time in their deck quarters. The wind had moderated by the following morning, but it was squally with snow-flurries, and I did not order a start till 11 p.m. The pack was still close, but the ice was softer and more easily broken. During the pause the carpenter had rigged a small stage over the stern. A man was stationed there to watch the propeller and prevent it striking heavy ice, and the arrangement proved very valuable. It saved the rudder as well as the propeller from many blows.
The high winds that had prevailed for four and a half days gave way to a gentle southerly breeze in the evening of December 29. Owing to the drift we were actually eleven miles farther north than we had been on December 25. But we made fairly good progress on the 30th in fine, clear weather. The ship followed a long lead to the south-east during the afternoon and evening, and at 11 p.m. we crossed the Antarctic Circle. An examination of the horizon disclosed considerable breaks in the vast circle of pack-ice, interspersed with bergs of different sizes. Leads could be traced in various directions, but I looked in vain for an indication of open water. The sun did not set that night, and as it was concealed behind a bank of clouds we had a glow of crimson and gold to the southward, with delicate pale green reflections in the water of the lanes to the south-east.
The ship had a serious encounter with the ice on the morning of December 31. We were stopped first by floes closing around us, and then about noon the Endurance got jammed between two floes heading east-north-east. The pressure heeled the ship over six degrees while we were getting an ice-anchor on to the floe in order to heave astern and thus assist the engines, which were running at full speed. The effort was successful. Immediately afterwards, at the spot where the Endurance had been held, slabs of ice 50 ft. by 15 ft. and 4 ft. thick were forced ten or twelve feet up on the lee floe at an angle of 45°. The pressure was severe, and we were not sorry to have the ship out of its reach. The noon position was lat. 66° 47´ S., long. 15° 52´ W., and the run for the preceding twenty-four hours was 51 miles S. 29° E.
“Since noon the character of the pack has improved,” wrote Worsley on this day. “Though the leads are short, the floes are rotten and easily broken through if a good place is selected with care and judgment. In many cases we find large sheets of young ice through which the ship cuts for a mile or two miles at a stretch. I have been conning and working the ship from the crow’s-nest and find it much the best place, as from there one can see ahead and work out the course beforehand, and can also guard the rudder and propeller, the most vulnerable parts of a ship in the ice. At midnight, as I was sitting in the ‘tub’ I heard a clamorous noise down on the deck, with ringing of bells, and realized that it was the New Year.” Worsley came down from his lofty seat and met Wild, Hudson, and myself on the bridge, where we shook hands and wished one another a happy and successful New Year. Since entering the pack on December 11 we had come 480 miles, through loose and close pack-ice. We had pushed and fought the little ship through, and she had stood the test well, though the propeller had received some shrewd blows against hard ice and the vessel had been driven against the floe until she had fairly mounted up on it and slid back rolling heavily from side to side. The rolling had been more frequently caused by the operation of cracking through thickish young ice, where the crack had taken a sinuous course. The ship, in attempting to follow it, struck first one bilge and then the other, causing her to roll six or seven degrees. Our advance through the pack had been in a S. 10° E. direction, and I estimated that the total steaming distance had exceeded 700 miles. The first 100 miles had been through loose pack, but the greatest hindrances had been three moderate south-westerly gales, two lasting for three days each and one for four and a half days. The last 250 miles had been through close pack alternating with fine long leads and stretches of open water.
During the weeks we spent manoeuvring to the south through the tortuous mazes of the pack it was necessary often to split floes by driving the ship against them. This form of attack was effective against ice up to three feet in thickness, and the process is interesting enough to be worth describing briefly. When the way was barred by a floe of moderate thickness we would drive the ship at half speed against it, stopping the engines just before the impact. At the first blow the Endurance would cut a V-shaped nick in the face of the floe, the slope of her cutwater often causing her bows to rise till nearly clear of the water, when she would slide backwards, rolling slightly. Watching carefully that loose lumps of ice did not damage the propeller, we would reverse the engines and back the ship off 200 to 300 yds. She would then be driven full speed into the V, taking care to hit the centre accurately. The operation would be repeated until a short dock was cut, into which the ship, acting as a large wedge, was driven. At about the fourth attempt, if it was to succeed at all, the floe would yield. A black, sinuous line, as though pen-drawn on white paper, would appear ahead, broadening as the eye traced it back to the ship. Presently it would be broad enough to receive her, and we would forge ahead. Under the bows and alongside, great slabs of ice were being turned over and slid back on the floe, or driven down and under the ice or ship. In thus way the Endurance would split a 2-ft. to 3-ft. floe a square mile in extent. Occasionally the floe, although cracked across, would be so held by other floes that it would refuse to open wide, and so gradually would bring the ship to a standstill. We would then go astern for some distance and again drive her full speed into the crack, till finally the floe would yield to the repeated onslaughts.
The first day of the New Year (January 1, 1915) was cloudy, with a gentle northerly breeze and occasional snow-squalls. The condition of the pack improved in the evening, and after 8 p.m. we forged ahead rapidly through brittle young ice, easily broken by the ship. A few hours later a moderate gale came up from the east, with continuous snow. After 4 a.m. on the 2nd we got into thick old pack-ice, showing signs of heavy pressure. It was much hummocked, but large areas of open water and long leads to the south-west continued until noon. The position then was lat. 69° 49´ S., long. 15° 42´ W., and the run for the twenty-four hours had been 124 miles S. 3° W. This was cheering.
The heavy pack blocked the way south after midday. It would have been almost impossible to have pushed the ship into the ice, and in any case the gale would have made such a proceeding highly dangerous. So we dodged along to the west and north, looking for a suitable opening towards the south. The good run had given me hope of sighting the land on the following day, and the delay was annoying. I was growing anxious to reach land on account of the dogs, which had not been able to get exercise for four weeks, and were becoming run down. We passed at least two hundred bergs during the day, and we noticed also large masses of hummocky bay-ice and ice-foot. One floe of bay-ice had black earth upon it, apparently basaltic in origin, and there was a large berg with a broad band of yellowish brown right through it. The stain may have been volcanic dust. Many of the bergs had quaint shapes. There was one that exactly resembled a large two-funnel liner, complete in silhouette except for smoke. Later in the day we found an opening in the pack and made 9 miles to the south-west, but at 2 a.m. on January 3 the lead ended in hummocky ice, impossible to penetrate. A moderate easterly gale had come up with snow-squalls, and we could not get a clear view in any direction. The hummocky ice did not offer a suitable anchorage for the ship, and we were compelled to dodge up and down for ten hours before we were able to make fast to a small floe under the lee of a berg 120 ft. high. The berg broke the wind and saved us drifting fast to leeward. The position was lat. 69° 59´ S., long. 17° 31´ W. We made a move again at 7 p.m., when we took in the ice-anchor and proceeded south, and at 10 p.m. we passed a small berg that the ship had nearly touched twelve hours previously. Obviously we were not making much headway. Several of the bergs passed during this day were of solid blue ice, indicating true glacier origin.
By midnight of the 3rd we had made 11 miles to the south, and then came to a full stop in weather so thick with snow that we could not learn if the leads and lanes were worth entering. The ice was hummocky, but, fortunately, the gale was decreasing, and after we had scanned all the leads and pools within our reach we turned back to the north-east. Two sperm and two large blue whales were sighted, the first we had seen for 260 miles. We saw also petrels, numerous adelies, emperors, crab-eaters, and sea-leopards. The clearer weather of the morning showed us that the pack was solid and impassable from the south-east to the south-west, and at 10 a.m. on the 4th we again passed within five yards of the small berg that we had passed twice on the previous day. We had been steaming and dodging about over an area of twenty square miles for fifty hours, trying to find an opening to the south, south-east, or south-west, but all the leads ran north, north-east, or north-west. It was as though the spirits of the Antarctic were pointing us to the backward track—the track we were determined not to follow. Our desire was to make easting as well as southing so as to reach the land, if possible, east of Ross’s farthest South and well east of Coats’ Land. This was more important as the prevailing winds appeared to be to easterly, and every mile of easting would count. In the afternoon we went west in some open water, and by 4 p.m. we were making west-south-west with more water opening up ahead. The sun was shining brightly, over three degrees high at midnight, and we were able to maintain this direction in fine weather till the following noon. The position then was lat. 70° 28´ S., long. 20° 16´ W., and the run had been 62 miles S. 62° W. At 8 a.m. there had been open water from north round by west to south-west, but impenetrable pack to the south and east. At 3 p.m. the way to the south-west and west-north-west was absolutely blocked, and as we experienced a set to the west, I did not feel justified in burning more of the reduced stock of coal to go west or north. I took the ship back over our course for four miles, to a point where some looser pack gave faint promise of a way through; but, after battling for three hours with very heavy hummocked ice and making four miles to the south, we were brought up by huge blocks and floes of very old pack. Further effort seemed useless at that time, and I gave the order to bank fires after we had moored the Endurance to a solid floe. The weather was clear, and some enthusiastic football-players had a game on the floe until, about midnight, Worsley dropped through a hole in rotten ice while retrieving the ball. He had to be retrieved himself.
Solid pack still barred the way to the south on the following morning (January 6). There was some open water north of the floe, but as the day was calm and I did not wish to use coal in a possibly vain search for an opening to the southward, I kept the ship moored to the floe. This pause in good weather gave an opportunity to exercise the dogs, which were taken on to the floe by the men in charge of them. The excitement of the animals was intense. Several managed to get into the water, and the muzzles they were wearing did not prevent some hot fights. Two dogs which had contrived to slip their muzzles fought themselves into an icy pool and were hauled out still locked in a grapple. However, men and dogs enjoyed the exercise. A sounding gave a depth of 2400 fathoms, with a blue mud bottom. The wind freshened from the west early the next morning, and we started to skirt the northern edge of the solid pack in an easterly direction under sail. We had cleared the close pack by noon, but the outlook to the south gave small promise of useful progress, and I was anxious now to make easting. We went north-east under sail, and after making thirty-nine miles passed a peculiar berg that we had been abreast of sixty hours earlier. Killer-whales were becoming active around us, and I had to exercise caution in allowing any one to leave the ship. These beasts have a habit of locating a resting seal by looking over the edge of a floe and then striking through the ice from below in search of a meal; they would not distinguish between seal and man.
The noon position on January 8 was lat. 70° 0´ S., long. 19° 09´ W. We had made 66 miles in a north-easterly direction during the preceding twenty-four hours. The course during the afternoon was east-south-east through loose pack and open water, with deep hummocky floes to the south. Several leads to the south came in view, but we held on the easterly course. The floes were becoming looser, and there were indications of open water ahead. The ship passed not fewer than five hundred bergs that day, some of them very large. A dark water-sky extended from east to south-south-east on the following morning, and the Endurance, working through loose pack at half speed, reached open water just before noon. A rampart berg 150 ft. high and a quarter of a mile long lay at the edge of the loose pack, and we sailed over a projecting foot of this berg into rolling ocean, stretching to the horizon. The sea extended from a little to the west of south, round by east to north-north-east, and its welcome promise was supported by a deep water-sky to the south. I laid a course south by east in an endeavour to get south and east of Ross’s farthest south (lat. 71° 30´ S.).
We kept the open water for a hundred miles, passing many bergs but encountering no pack. Two very large whales, probably blue whales, came up close to the ship, and we saw spouts in all directions. Open water inside the pack in that latitude might have the appeal of sanctuary to the whales, which are harried by man farther north. The run southward in blue water, with a path clear ahead and the miles falling away behind us, was a joyful experience after the long struggle through the ice-lanes. But, like other good things, our spell of free movement had to end. The Endurance encountered the ice again at 1 a.m. on the 10th. Loose pack stretched to east and south, with open water to the west and a good watersky. It consisted partly of heavy hummocky ice showing evidence of great pressure, but contained also many thick, flat floes evidently formed in some sheltered bay and never subjected to pressure or to much motion. The swirl of the ship’s wash brought diatomaceous scum from the sides of this ice. The water became thick with diatoms at 9 a.m., and I ordered a cast to be made. No bottom was found at 210 fathoms. The Endurance continued to advance southward through loose pack that morning. We saw the spouts of numerous whales and noticed some hundreds of crab-eaters lying on the floes. White-rumped terns, Antarctic petrels and snow petrels were numerous, and there was a colony of adelies on a low berg. A few killer-whales, with their characteristic high dorsal fin, also came in view. The noon position was lat. 72° 02´ S., long. 16° 07´ W., and the run for the twenty-four hours had been 136 miles S. 6° E.
We were now in the vicinity of the land discovered by Dr. W. S. Bruce, leader of the Scotia Expedition, in 1904, and named by him Coats’ Land. Dr. Bruce encountered an ice-barrier in lat. 72° 18´ S., long. 10° W., stretching from north-east to south-west. He followed the barrier-edge to the south-west for 150 miles and reached lat. 74° 1´ S., long. 22° W. He saw no naked rock, but his description of rising slopes of snow and ice, with shoaling water off the barrier-wall, indicated clearly the presence of land. It was up those slopes, at a point as far south as possible, that I planned to begin the march across the Antarctic continent. All hands were watching now for the coast described by Dr. Bruce, and at 5 p.m. the look-out reported an appearance of land to the south-south-east. We could see a gentle snow-slope rising to a height of about one thousand feet. It seemed to be an island or a peninsula with a sound on its south side, and the position of its most northerly point was about 72° 34´ S., 16° 40´ W. The Endurance was passing through heavy loose pack, and shortly before midnight she broke into a lead of open sea along a barrier-edge. A sounding within one cable’s length of the barrier-edge gave no bottom with 210 fathoms of line. The barrier was 70 ft. high, with cliffs of about 40 ft. The Scotia must have passed this point when pushing to Bruce’s farthest south on March 6, 1904, and I knew from the narrative of that voyage, as well as from our own observation, that the coast trended away to the south-west. The lead of open water continued along the barrier-edge, and we pushed forward without delay.
An easterly breeze brought cloud and falls of snow during the morning of January 11. The barrier trended south-west by south, and we skirted it for fifty miles until 11 am. The cliffs in the morning were 20 ft. high, and by noon they had increased to 110 and 115 ft. The brow apparently rose 20 to 30 ft. higher. We were forced away from the barrier once for three hours by a line of very heavy pack-ice. Otherwise there was open water along the edge, with high loose pack to the west and north-west. We noticed a seal bobbing up and down in an apparent effort to swallow a long silvery fish that projected at least eighteen inches from its mouth. The noon position was lat. 73° 13´ S., long. 20° 43´ W., and a sounding then gave 155 fathoms at a distance of a mile from the barrier. The bottom consisted of large igneous pebbles. The weather then became thick, and I held away to the westward, where the sky had given indications of open water, until 7 p.m., when we laid the ship alongside a floe in loose pack. Heavy snow was falling, and I was anxious lest the westerly wind should bring the pack hard against the coast and jam the ship. The Nimrod had a narrow escape from a misadventure of this kind in the Ross Sea early in 1908.
We made a start again at 5 a.m. the next morning (January 12) in overcast weather with mist and snow-showers, and four hours later broke through loose pack-ice into open water. The view was obscured, but we proceeded to the south-east and had gained 24 miles by noon, when three soundings in lat. 74° 4´ S., long. 22° 48´ W. gave 95, 128, and 103 fathoms, with a bottom of sand, pebbles, and mud. Clark got a good haul of biological specimens in the dredge. The Endurance was now close to what appeared to be the barrier, with a heavy pack-ice foot containing numerous bergs frozen in and possibly aground. The solid ice turned away towards the north-west, and we followed the edge for 48 miles N. 60° W. to clear it.
Now we were beyond the point reached by the Scotia, and the land underlying the ice-sheet we were skirting was new. The northerly trend was unexpected, and I began to suspect that we were really rounding a huge ice-tongue attached to the true barrier-edge and extending northward. Events confirmed this suspicion. We skirted the pack all night, steering north-west; then went west by north till 4 a.m. and round to south-west. The course at 8 a.m. on the 13th was south-south-west. The barrier at midnight was low and distant, and at 8 a.m. there was merely a narrow ice-foot about two hundred yards across separating it from the open water. By noon there was only an occasional shelf of ice-foot. The barrier in one place came with an easy sweep to the sea. We could have landed stores there without difficulty. We made a sounding 400 ft. off the barrier but got no bottom at 676 fathoms. At 4 p.m., still following the barrier to the south-west, we reached a corner and found it receding abruptly to the south-east. Our way was blocked by very heavy pack, and after spending two hours in a vain search for an opening, we moored the Endurance to a floe and banked fires. During that day we passed two schools of seals, swimming fast to the north-west and north-north-east. The animals swam in close order, rising and blowing like porpoises, and we wondered if there was any significance in their journey northward at that time of the year. Several young emperor penguins had been captured and brought aboard on the previous day. Two of them were still alive when the Endurance was brought alongside the floe. They promptly hopped on to the ice, turned round, bowed gracefully three times, and retired to the far side of the floe. There is something curiously human about the manners and movements of these birds. I was concerned about the dogs. They were losing condition and some of them appeared to be ailing. One dog had to be shot on the 12th. We did not move the ship on the 14th. A breeze came from the east in the evening, and under its influence the pack began to work off shore. Before midnight the close ice that had barred our way had opened and left a lane along the foot of the barrier. I decided to wait for the morning, not wishing to risk getting caught between the barrier and the pack in the event of the wind changing. A sounding gave 1357 fathoms, with a bottom of glacial mud. The noon observation showed the position to be lat. 74° 09´ S., long. 27° 16´ W. We cast off at 6 a.m. on the 15th in hazy weather with a north-easterly breeze, and proceeded along the barrier in open water. The course was south-east for sixteen miles, then south-south-east. We now had solid pack to windward, and at 3 p.m. we passed a bight probably ten miles deep and running to the north-east. A similar bight appeared at 6 p.m. These deep cuts strengthened the impression we had already formed that for several days we had been rounding a great mass of ice, at least fifty miles across, stretching out from the coast and possibly destined to float away at some time in the future. The soundings—roughly, 200 fathoms at the landward side and 1300 fathoms at the seaward side—suggested that this mighty projection was afloat. Seals were plentiful. We saw large numbers on the pack and several on low parts of the barrier, where the slope was easy. The ship passed through large schools of seals swimming from the barrier to the pack off shore. The animals were splashing and blowing around the Endurance, and Hurley made a record of this unusual sight with the kinematograph-camera.
The barrier now stretched to the south-west again. Sail was set to a fresh easterly breeze, but at 7 p.m. it had to be furled, the Endurance being held up by pack-ice against the barrier for an hour. We took advantage of the pause to sound and got 268 fathoms with glacial mud and pebbles. Then a small lane appeared ahead. We pushed through at full speed, and by 8.30 p.m. the Endurance was moving southward with sails set in a fine expanse of open water. We continued to skirt the barrier in clear weather. I was watching for possible landing-places, though as a matter of fact I had no intention of landing north of Vahsel Bay, in Luitpold Land, except under pressure of necessity. Every mile gained towards the south meant a mile less sledging when the time came for the overland journey.
Shortly before midnight on the 15th we came abreast of the northern edge of a great glacier or overflow from the inland ice, projecting beyond the barrier into the sea. It was 400 or 500 ft. high, and at its edge was a large mass of thick bay-ice. The bay formed by the northern edge of this glacier would have made an excellent landing-place. A flat ice-foot nearly three feet above sea-level looked like a natural quay. From this ice-foot a snow-slope rose to the top of the barrier. The bay was protected from the south-easterly wind and was open only to the northerly wind, which is rare in those latitudes. A sounding gave 80 fathoms, indicating that the glacier was aground. I named the place Glacier Bay, and had reason later to remember it with regret.
The Endurance steamed along the front of this ice-flow for about seventeen miles. The glacier showed huge crevasses and high pressure ridges, and appeared to run back to ice-covered slopes or hills 1000 or 2000 ft. high. Some bays in its front were filled with smooth ice, dotted with seals and penguins. At 4 a.m. on the 16th we reached the edge of another huge glacial overflow from the ice-sheet. The ice appeared to be coming over low hills and was heavily broken. The cliff-face was 250 to 350 ft. high, and the ice surface two miles inland was probably 2000 ft. high. The cliff-front showed a tide-mark of about 6 ft., proving that it was not afloat. We steamed along the front of this tremendous glacier for 40 miles and then, at 8.30 a.m., we were held up by solid pack-ice, which appeared to be held by stranded bergs. The depth, two cables off the barrier-cliff, was 134 fathoms. No further advance was possible that day, but the noon observation, which gave the position as lat. 76° 27´ S. long. 28° 51´ W., showed that we had gained 124 miles to the south-west during the preceding twenty-four hours. The afternoon was not without incident. The bergs in the neighbourhood were very large, several being over 200 ft. high, and some of them were firmly aground, showing tidemarks. A barrier-berg bearing north-west appeared to be about 25 miles long. We pushed the ship against a small banded berg, from which Wordie secured several large lumps of biotite granite. While the Endurance was being held slow ahead against the berg a loud crack was heard, and the geologist had to scramble aboard at once. The bands on this berg were particularly well defined; they were due to morainic action in the parent glacier. Later in the day the easterly wind increased to a gale. Fragments of floe drifted past at about two knots, and the pack to leeward began to break up fast. A low berg of shallow draught drove down into the grinding pack and, smashing against two larger stranded bergs, pushed them off the bank. The three went away together pell-mell. We took shelter under the lee of a large stranded berg.