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Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance
The James Caird Sets Sail
November 8, 1999
By Kelly Tyler

Location: King Haakon Bay, South Georgia Wind: 12 knots, NNW
Latitude: 54 degrees 09'S Air Temp: 42°F
Longitude: 37 degrees 19'W Water Temp: 40°F
The 20-foot boat had never looked big; she appeared to have shrunk in some mysterious way when I viewed her in the light of our new undertaking.
        —Ernest Shackleton
The James Caird has set sail again, and she is as seaworthy as her namesake in the fractious waters of the Southern Ocean. In the past week of filming, skipper Bob Wallace, along with Chad Burtt and Nick Lewis, have sailed her in Cumberland Bay and beyond, into the open ocean. There have been beautiful days, gliding through the sunlit aquamarine sea with ease; then suddenly, storm-tossed waters dip her into steep troughs. Through it all, a boat follows with an IMAX camera and cinematographer Reed Smoot in her wake, or documentary cinematographer Sandy Sissel harnessed to the decking of the boat itself.

Brash ice The James Caird negotiates brash ice calved from icebergs in King Haakon Bay.
Two days ago, both film crews stood expectantly on the rocky strand of a hidden cove near Cape Rosa, in King Haakon Bay. They awaited the arrival of the James Caird, recreating the moment when Shackleton reached safe haven with his five companions after their 800-mile boat journey. A few others have built and sailed Caird replicas, but this was to be the first to sail King Haakon since Shackleton and his men sought safe harbor here in 1916. It's rare for ships of any kind to stray there because, says Wallace, "King Haakon Bay is a wild place. The mountains and winds here make their own weather, and it changes so suddenly. And it's filled with ice." His words rang true as we ventured into the bay in zodiacs, threading through alleys of looming icebergs. When tons of ice suddenly calved from a berg just ahead of us, we quickly pulled away from the rough chop generated by the collapse and listened warily to the ice stresses all around.

Wallace was confident that the Caird was ready, because he built her. After months of scrutinizing diaries and photographs and visiting the first James Caird in a museum, he began construction in a Uruguayan boatyard last month with Andy Fletcher and Stuart Hoagland. They were not only building the Caird, but the other two boats, the Dudley Docker and Janet Stancomb Wills as well, so-named for financial backers of Shackleton. According to Wallace, "We used traditional plank-on-frame construction, a technique that's been around for centuries. The shape of the boat is also traditional—it's like a whaler, which was meant to be fast in the water." A flurry of modifications took place the morning of the sail in King Haakon Bay: Pauline Carr, one of only two permanent residents on South Georgia, noticed a problem. She recalled Frank Worsley writing that the boat was rowed in at the last moment, to steady her. After confirming this fact in his book, Fletcher fitted historically accurate oarlocks to the boat.

Caird at sea The James Caird replica sails in Cumberland Bay.
The only question looming in Wallace's mind as the Caird was craned into the water for the first time was if there was enough ballast, necessary to keep the boat from capsizing easily. Shackleton's account of the expedition, South, wasn't entirely clear on the amount used, but Wallace estimated 2,700-3,000 pounds. He ultimately settled on 2,600-2,900 pounds, because more may damage the boat as it is craned out of the water and brought back on board the Shuleykin daily. On that day of shooting, as the film crew waited in the cove, the boat was well ballasted. Mike Sharp, Carl d'Entremont, and Stuart MacFarlane joined the crew, rounding out the six-man party on Shackleton's great journey.

We waited watchfully. Then, in a moment, the Caird was there, gliding into the cove. It was an unreal sight, a moment materialized from another time. The men on the boat seemed also transfigured, seeing this place described by Shackleton with new eyes.

Caird arrival The James Caird arrives in the cove at Cape Rosa.
After filming was done, Wallace and Burtt decided to sail the Caird back to the Shuleykin, and I went with them. The boat was like a graceful seabird, yielding easily to the curving tumult of the waves. She responded to the wind, heeling lightly and springing steady once again. I could also imagine her flung about according to more capricious whims of the Antarctic seas, and shuddered to think of it. Burtt raised the sails as naturally as he would in the familiar waters of his native South Africa. Wallace was in reverie, at home in the iced Antarctic seas at the tiller of Shackleton's small boat.

"You have to remember that it was largely skill that got them here." Wallace said. "Shackleton and Worsley, especially, were very experienced seaman—awe-inspiring, in fact. But luck was often with them."

Tyler on Caird Kelly Tyler and shipwright Bob Wallace sail aboard the James Caird replica.
But Shackleton and Worsley knew the limits of their skill. They knew the men were so debilitated by their harrowing journey that they couldn't muster the strength to sail another 150 miles to the inhabited north side of South Georgia. They loaded the Caird and sailed east to the end of the sound, and set up a camp for McNeish, McCarthy, and Vincent with the upturned boat. It is here that Shackleton set off for undiscovered country. The day after the Caird filming, we followed them.

Kelly Tyler is Online Producer for NOVA.

Question of the Day
Your ship is sinking. The commander of the expedition allows each crewmember to take two pounds of personal items each, in addition to essential clothing. What do you take with you?

    Previous Questions

Answer to November 5 Question of the Day:
You're not feeling so well. You have a burning sensation in your eyes. What's wrong?

Snowblindness. It's a good idea to wear high ultraviolet A and B blocking sunglasses or goggles in the Antarctic that also protect your peripheral vision. And use some high SPF sun cream while you're at it!

Sound of the Day
Sounds from within the cavern in which Shackleton and his five companions sheltered after reaching South Georgia:
    RealAudio: 28.8 | ISDN | Get RealPlayer software

View Expedition Maps


Survival Training (October 19, 1999)
The James Caird Embarks (October 21, 1999)
The Roaring Forties (October 23, 1999)
Crossing the Convergence (October 24, 1999)
Arriving in South Georgia (October 27, 1999)
Grytviken (October 28, 1999)
Antarctic Kit: Dressing for Survival (October 31, 1999)
Stromness (November 1, 1999)
Kingdom of Blizzards (November 3, 1999)
King Haakon Bay (November 5, 1999)
The James Caird Sets Sail (November 8, 1999)
Glacier Traverse (November 10, 1999)
Elephant Island (November 11, 1999)
Erebus and Terror Gulf (November 12, 1999)
The Weddell Sea (November 15, 1999)
Visions of Endurance (November 18, 1999)
Return to Elephant Island (November 20, 1999)
Lost at Sea (November 21, 1999)
The End of the Quest (November 24, 1999)
Bound for South Georgia (April 7, 2000)
Return to King Haakon (April 10, 2000)
Farewell to Peggotty Camp (April 12, 2000)
Climbing South Georgia (April 13, 2000)
Stromness Revisited (April 15, 2000)
Reflections on Endurance (April 18, 2000)

Photos: (1-3) Kelly Tyler; (4) Rob Meyer.

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