And now, like myself, they long to go again.
They want to feel the wild calling them and the silent wastes of the
Two days ago, the Akademik Shuleykin sat at the dock in Montevideo. So
much is familiar from our fall expedition: the ship and its Russian crew, the
Uruguayan customs problems that delay the ship in port two days, the balmy
weather that contrasts so sharply with the ship's next port of call. Yet much
is different: The ship is filled with new faces, and half as many in number. It
is an impressive team, focused on a formidable mission; of the 25 film and
logistics crew, 20 are veteran mountaineers or polar guides. And there is a
sharp sense of urgency as the ship sets course due south for the subantarctic
island of South Georgia, with legendary mountaineers Reinhold Messner, Conrad
Anker and Stephen Venables aboard.
A replica of the James Caird sails off the coast of South Georgia with crew playing Shackleton, Crean and Worsley.
Just six months ago, the NOVA film crew set out from Montevideo on our first
expedition aboard the Shuleykin, to begin filming on a NOVA program and
a large-format film about Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton's
Endurance expedition, along with White Mountain Films. In 1914,
Shackleton sailed south with a crew of 27 men, determined to be the first to
cross the Antarctic continent. But before land was even sighted, the wooden
ship was crushed in pack ice and sank to the fathomless depths of the Weddell
Sea. For months, the castaways clung to survival on the floes, finally rowing
three lifeboats through treacherous waters to Elephant Island. But their
hopes were dashed when they realized ships never passed this remote island.
With some of his men near death and others skirting on the edge of sanity, Shackleton gambled
all on a voyage that inspires awe in the hearts of seamen to this day, sailing
800 miles through the storm-tossed Drake Passage in a 21-foot boat, nearly
capsizing under a mammoth 100-foot roller. Sixteen days later, he and five men
beat through a hurricane to land on South Georgia Island. But their incredible
odyssey was not over: to reach help at a whaling settlement on the north coast,
Shackleton, Frank Worsley, and Tom Crean would have to climb the forbidding
mountains and glaciers of the island's interior. Until that day, it was
In October and November, the NOVA film crew retraced the first legs of
Shackleton's route, from South Georgia to the Weddell Sea and Elephant Island,
as replicas of the James Caird, the Dudley Docker and the
Stancomb Wills sailed for the camera in the pack ice and heavy swell of
Antarctic waters. Now the large-format film crew has returned to document
Shackleton's final trial—the crossing of South Georgia—by three of the world's
most distinguished mountaineers.
Winter is approaching in the southern hemisphere, but aboard the Akademik
Shuleykin today, the warm golden breeze belies the coming frost.
Grey-mantled albatrosses coast on the thermals, while schools of flying fish
breach the ruffled waters in ecstatic leaps. This Indian summer is fleeting; by
the weekend, the ship will cross the Antarctic Convergence into another
season. Until then, we won't know what the changeable Antarctic weather holds
in store for the climbers. As night falls, the ship continues on its determined
course at 15 knots. The sea is calm, with a low, even swell. But soon the ship will
slip beyond the shelter of the Argentine coast and into the open water of the
Drake Passage. If the passage is an easy one, the Shuleykin will arrive
in South Georgia Sunday night.
Check back in the days to come for audio dispatches from Messner, Anker and
Venables before and during their historic journey.