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Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance
Bound for South Georgia
And now, like myself, they long to go again. They want to feel the wild calling them and the silent wastes of the frozen south.
        —Ernest Shackleton
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.

Caird replica 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 considered impassable.

Reinhold Messner
Reinhold Messner

Conrad Anker Conrad Anker

Stephen Venables Stephen Venables

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.

Kelly Tyler is Online Producer for NOVA.
With reporting from Nick Lewis.

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: (1,2) Kelly Tyler; (4) ©1999 Liesl Clark; (5) ©1999 Mike Banks.

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