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Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance

April 1 #1 To see this portion of the diary in the original, click the image above.
Diary of a Survivor
11 April 1916

Snow set in during the night; the wind increased and so did the swell.

The floe we were on appeared to be a piece of an old ice foot (ice formed during the winter and attached to the shore). It was very thick averaging 3 ft. above water and probably 20 ft. or so below, but in spite of this it proved to be very rotten being in process of disintegration by rotting and the action of the waves. We had noticed, before getting on to it that it was much eroded at the water level and that in places the water was making inroads into it and as we hauled the boats up on it the edges crumbled away rather more than usual under their weight but we had paid little heed to it. In size and shape it was approximately circular and about 20 yards across.

Shortly after 5 a.m. a piece 8 yards square broke clean out of the face leaving a small gulf ominously near to one of our provision stacks and we had to hurriedly turn out in the dark and shift the cases.

The gap was also uncomfortably near to the side of one of the tents, but the occupants decided to chance it and sleep on, as we all needed every scrap of rest we could get.

A little later the carpenter, who was on watch, happened to be standing on one corner of the floe which broke off with him on it so that for a time he was marooned, but fortunately he had previously called the next watchman and when the latter came out to take his watch he retrieved the carpenter by throwing him a line whereby they drew the two parts of the floe together until it was possible to jump the crack between them.

"Our position began to look anything but satisfactory."
All night long the floe had been drifting towards the rest of the pack and before dawn, not only had it become part of the pack-edge but it was rapidly being included in the pack itself. By 7 a.m. we were so surrounded by broken pack that we were cut off from the edge of the pack by at least 100 yds of intervening ice. Our position began to look anything but satisfactory, but there was no alternative but to await events. There was now a huge swell running.

The whole pack was undulating in a vast series of crests and troughs with a distance of over 100 yds between the summits of succeeding waves. Now we formed the top of the wave and the next minute we were in a deep valley with mighty undulations rising some 12 ft or so on either side of us. It was a wonderfully impressive, awe-inspiring sight to thus see the whole ice covered ocean in motion.

We waited and waited, hour by hour, watching the wonderful conflict of the elements, at times unmindful of our desperate position, spell-bound by the imposing majesty of the spectacle.

Meanwhile the storm was raging and our little floe was gradually getting smaller and smaller, the edges being ground away by the attrition of the surrounding floes and "growlers."

At first, the pack was "close" i.e. there were practically no interstices between the floes which composed it. Gradually it became loose until at last there seemed to be a reasonable chance of our getting the boats through the intervening belt and so reach open water. We took it.

April 1 #2 To see this portion of the diary in the original, click the image above.
The intermittent snow-squalls began to get less frequent. In a lull of the storm we launched and loaded the boats with the utmost despatch, and got them clear of the small channel beside the flow just in the nick of time to see the two floes forming the side of our late haven come together with a splitting, pulverising crash; but we were safe and in a very few minutes had navigated through the hundred yard belt of floes and were again in open water.

Whilst loading the boats, Sir Ernest had as narrow a shave as ever he had of an impromptu ducking. The edge of the floe [gave] way right underneath him, but several of us were close by and pulled him up before he had quite disappeared below the edge to the floe. It was to his advantage that he had his back to the water for he was in a position somewhat to retard his fall, an advantage of which he was not slow to avail himself. There was time for neither condolences nor congratulations and treating it as an ordinary, every day occurrence he merely expedited proceedings with redoubled energy.

We were glad enough to see the last of that floe for it was all the while rapidly becoming untenable. At 9 a.m., seas were every now and again washing right on to its surface in such a menacing way that we deemed it expedient to shift the boats and all the provisions on to the very thickest part of it.

Still it had at first been hospitable enough and had after all afforded us a night of comparative shelter rather than a night of terror.

Only one untoward occurrence took place in getting away, which might have been fraught with serious consequences. In launching the "Caird" she tipped over on her side owing to the height of the snow bank at the only place where the water permitted us to launch her and to our not having time to cut a proper launching slip, as we had been careful to do on previous occasions. She partly filled with water before she righted herself, but a few minutes and strenuous work by bailing soon saw her clear again ready to receive [sic] her complement of 9 men and stores.

It was nearly 1 p.m. by the time that we were clear of the turmoil of ice.

About 6 p.m. we were compelled to shove off and after an hour or two of paddling about came up to a piece of heavy old floe under the lee of which we lay for the remainder of the night. It was very dark, bitterly cold and a driving sleet added to our discomfort.

"A large school of killer whales surrounded us like fat bulls of Basan.""
We took watches on the oars all through the night, those not on watch huddling together as best they could in the stern for mutual warmth, cheering each other up or squabbling for the favoured positions according as the primitiveness or the refinement of their natures asserted itself.

An unexpected horror was added to our already sufficient discomforts by the presence of a large school of killer whales, which surrounded us on every side like fat bulls of Basan.

Their blood-curdling blast, now coming from the distant darkness, now right alongside the boat, seemed to bring one face to face with "the great leviathan" and every now and again we could see their sinister black forms diving like submarines beneath our frail boats.

These deadly creatures, more rapacious than sharks, and the largest carnivourous animal that has ever lived, would have made short work of a boat's crew had they chanced to upset us, for they chase seals and swallow them whole, as many as eleven seals having been found in the stomach of a single killer.

Whether their unwelcome attentions were prompted by the curiousity or not it is impossible to say, but it is certain that for several hours each one of us was expecting every moment to become the "joint" at a whale's banquet.

April 1 note To see this portion of the diary in the original, click the image above.
Again, we owe to providence the fact that they did not molest us and that we, therefore, escaped scot free from another of the many dangers that beset the path of those who go down to the Antarctic seas in ships.

That they were killer whales we were certain by their short length, their white throats, which we occasionally saw, and by their unmistakable dorsal fins.

It was indeed a miserably spent night, with sea-sickness added to the other horrors for some. The sleet covered us at times half an inch deep, and the keen wind pierced us through and through.

Our Burberry suits were our greatest protection in preventing the penetration of the wind, but eventually even they got wet through with the continued driving sleet, and never was a poor shipwrecked crew more thankful than when dawn at last broke on us.

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