South: the story of Shackleton’s last expedition 1914-1917, by Ernest Shackleton

CHAPTER III

Winter Months

The month of March opened with a severe north-easterly gale. Five Weddells and two crab-eaters were shot on the floe during the morning of March 1, and the wind, with fine drifting snow, sprang up while the carcasses were being brought in by sledging parties. The men were compelled to abandon some of the blubber and meat, and they had a struggle to get back to the ship over the rough ice in the teeth of the storm. This gale continued until the 3rd, and all hands were employed clearing out the ’tween-decks, which was to be converted into a living- and dining-room for officers and scientists. The carpenter erected in this room the stove that had been intended for use in the shore hut, and the quarters were made very snug. The dogs appeared indifferent to the blizzard. They emerged occasionally from the drift to shake themselves and bark, but were content most of the time to lie, curled into tight balls, under the snow. One of the old dogs, Saint, died on the night of the 2nd, and the doctors reported that the cause of death was appendicitis.

When the gale cleared we found that the pack had been driven in from the north-east and was now more firmly consolidated than before. A new berg, probably fifteen miles in length, had appeared on the northern horizon. The bergs within our circle of vision had all become familiar objects, and we had names for some of them. Apparently they were all drifting with the pack. The sighting of a new berg was of more than passing interest, since in that comparatively shallow sea it would be possible for a big berg to become stranded. Then the island of ice would be a centre of tremendous pressure and disturbance amid the drifting pack. We had seen something already of the smashing effect of a contest between berg and floe, and had no wish to have the helpless ‘Endurance’ involved in such a battle of giants. During the 3rd the seal meat and blubber was re-stowed on hummocks around the ship. The frozen masses had been sinking into the floe. Ice, though hard and solid to the touch, is never firm against heavy weights. An article left on the floe for any length of time is likely to sink into the surface-ice. Then the salt water will percolate through and the article will become frozen into the body of the floe.

Clear weather followed the gale, and we had a series of mock suns and parhelia. Minus temperatures were the rule, 21 degrees below zero Fahr. being recorded on the 6th. We made mattresses for the dogs by stuffing sacks with straw and rubbish, and most of the animals were glad to receive this furnishing in their kennels. Some of them had suffered through the snow melting with the heat of their bodies and then freezing solid. The scientific members of the expedition were all busy by this time. The meteorologist had got his recording station, containing anemometer, barograph, and thermograph, rigged over the stern. The geologist was making the best of what to him was an unhappy situation; but was not altogether without material. The pebbles found in the penguins were often of considerable interest, and some fragments of rock were brought up from the sea floor with the sounding-lead and the drag-net. On the 7th Wordie and Worsley found some small pebbles, a piece of moss, a perfect bivalve shell, and some dust on a berg fragment, and brought their treasure-trove proudly to the ship. Clark was using the drag-net frequently in the leads and secured good hauls of plankton, with occasional specimens of greater scientific interest. Seals were not plentiful, but our store of meat and blubber grew gradually. All hands ate seal meat with relish and would not have cared to become dependent on the ship’s tinned meat. We preferred the crab-eater to the Weddell, which is a very sluggish beast. The crab-eater seemed cleaner and healthier. The killer-whales were still with us. On the 8th we examined a spot where the floe-ice had been smashed up by a blow from beneath, delivered presumably, by a large whale in search of a breathing-place. The force that, had been exercised was astonishing. Slabs of ice 3 ft. thick, and weighing tons, had been tented upwards over a circular area with a diameter of about 25 ft., and cracks radiated outwards for more than 20 ft.

The quarters in the ’tween-decks were completed by the 10th, and the men took possession of the cubicles that had been built. The largest cubicle contained Macklin, McIlroy, Hurley, and Hussey and it was named “The Billabong.” Clark and Wordie lived opposite in a room called “Auld Reekie.” Next came the abode of “The Nuts” or engineers, followed by “The Sailors’ Rest,” inhabited by Cheetham and McNeish. “The Anchorage” and “The Fumarole” were on the other side. The new quarters became known as “The Ritz,” and meals were served there instead of in the ward room. Breakfast was at 9 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., tea at 4 p.m., and dinner at 6 p.m. Wild, Marston, Crean, and Worsley established themselves in cubicles in the wardroom, and by the middle of the month all hands had settled down to the winter routine. I lived alone aft.

Worsley, Hurley, and Wordie made a journey to a big berg, called by us the Rampart Berg, on the 11th. The distance out was 7 1/2 miles, and the party covered a total distance of about 17 miles. Hurley took some photographs and Wordie came back rejoicing with a little dust and some moss.

“Within a radius of one mile round the berg there is thin young ice, strong enough to march over with care,” wrote Worsley. “The area of dangerous pressure, as regards a ship, does not seem to extend for more than a quarter of a mile from the berg. Here there are cracks and constant slight movement, which becomes exciting to the traveller when he feels a piece of ice gradually upending beneath his feet. Close to the berg the pressure makes all sorts of quaint noises. We heard tapping as from a hammer, grunts, groans and squeaks, electric trams running, birds singing, kettles boiling noisily, and an occasional swish as a large piece of ice, released from pressure, suddenly jumped or turned over. We noticed all sorts of quaint effects, such as huge bubbles or domes of ice, 40 ft. across and 4 or 5 ft. high. Large sinuous pancake-sheets were spread over the floe in places, and in one spot we counted five such sheets, each about 2 1/2 in. thick, imbricated under one another. They look as though made of barley-sugar and are very slippery.”

The noon position on the 14th was lat. 76 degrees 54 minutes S., long. 36 degrees 10 minutes W. The land was visible faintly to the south-east, distant about 36 miles. A few small leads could be seen from the ship, but the ice was firm in our neighbourhood. The drift of the ‘Endurance’ was still towards the north-west.

I had the boilers blown down on the 15th, and the consumption of 2 cwt. of coal per day to keep the boilers from freezing then ceased. The bunkers still contained 52 tons of coal, and the daily consumption in the stoves was about 21 cwt. There would not be much coal left for steaming purposes in the spring, but I anticipated eking out the supply with blubber. A moderate gale from the north-east on the 17th brought fine, penetrating snow. The weather cleared in the evening, and a beautiful crimson sunset held our eyes. At the same time the ice-cliffs of the land were thrown up in the sky by mirage, with an apparent reflection in open water, though the land itself could not be seen definitely. The effect was repeated in an exaggerated form on the following day, when the ice-cliffs were thrown up above the horizon in double and treble parallel lines, some inverted. The mirage was due probably to lanes of open water near the land. The water would be about 30 degrees warmer than the air and would cause warmed strata to ascend. A sounding gave 606 fathoms, with a bottom of glacial mud. Six days later, on the 24th, the depth was 419 fathoms. We were drifting steadily, and the constant movement, coupled with the appearance of lanes near the land, convinced me that we must stay by the ship till she got clear. I had considered the possibility of making a landing across the ice in the spring, but the hazards of such an undertaking would be too great.

The training of the dogs in sledge teams was making progress. The orders used by the drivers were “Mush” (Go on), “Gee” (Right), “Haw” (Left), and “Whoa” (Stop). These are the words that the Canadian drivers long ago adopted; borrowing them originally from England. There were many fights at first, until the dogs learned their positions and their duties, but as days passed drivers and teams became efficient. Each team had its leader, and efficiency depended largely on the willingness and ability of this dog to punish skulking and disobedience. We learned not to interfere unless the disciplinary measures threatened to have a fatal termination. The drivers could sit on the sledge and jog along at ease if they chose. But the prevailing minus temperatures made riding unpopular, and the men preferred usually to run or walk alongside the teams. We were still losing dogs through sickness, due to stomach and intestinal worms.

Dredging for specimens at various depths was one of the duties during these days. The dredge and several hundred fathoms of wire line made a heavy load, far beyond the unaided strength of the scientists. On the 23rd, for example, we put down a 2 ft. dredge and 650 fathoms of wire. The dredge was hove in four hours later and brought much glacial mud, several pebbles and rock fragments, three sponges, some worms, brachiopods, and foraminiferae. The mud was troublesome. It was heavy to lift, and as it froze rapidly when brought to the surface, the recovery of the specimens embedded in it was difficult. A haul made on the 26th brought a prize for the geologist in the form of a lump of sandstone weighing 75 lb., a piece of fossiliferous limestone, a fragment of striated shale, sandstone-grit, and some pebbles. Hauling in the dredge by hand was severe work, and on the 24th we used the Girling tractor-motor, which brought in 500 fathoms of line in thirty minutes, including stops. One stop was due to water having run over the friction gear and frozen. It was a day or two later that we heard a great yell from the floe and found Clark dancing about and shouting Scottish war-cries. He had secured his first complete specimen of an Antarctic fish, apparently a new species.

Mirages were frequent. Barrier-cliffs appeared all around us on the 29th, even in places where we knew there was deep water.

“Bergs and pack are thrown up in the sky and distorted into the most fantastic shapes. They climb, trembling, upwards, spreading out into long lines at different levels, then contract and fall down, leaving nothing but an uncertain, wavering smudge which comes and goes. Presently the smudge swells and grows, taking shape until it presents the perfect inverted reflection of a berg on the horizon, the shadow hovering over the substance. More smudges appear at different points on the horizon. These spread out into long lines till they meet, and we are girdled by lines of shining snow-cliffs, laved at their bases by waters of illusion in which they appear to be faithfully reflected. So the shadows come and go silently, melting away finally as the sun declines to the west. We seem to be drifting helplessly in a strange world of unreality. It is reassuring to feel the ship beneath one’s feet and to look down at the familiar line of kennels and igloos on the solid floe.”

The floe was not so solid as it appeared. We had reminders occasionally that the greedy sea was very close, and that the floe was but a treacherous friend, which might open suddenly beneath us. Towards the end of the month I had our store of seal meat and blubber brought aboard. The depth as recorded by a sounding on the last day of March was 256 fathoms. The continuous shoaling from 606 fathoms in a drift of 39 miles N. 26 degrees W. in thirty days was interesting. The sea shoaled as we went north, either to east or to west, and the fact suggested that the contour-lines ran east and west, roughly. Our total drift between January 19, when the ship was frozen in, and March 31, a period of seventy-one days, had been 95 miles in a N. 80 degrees W. direction. The icebergs around us had not changed their relative positions.

The sun sank lower in the sky, the temperatures became lower, and the ‘Endurance’ felt the grip of the icy hand of winter. Two north-easterly gales in the early part of April assisted to consolidate the pack. The young ice was thickening rapidly, and though leads were visible occasionally from the ship, no opening of a considerable size appeared in our neighbourhood. In the early morning of April 1 we listened again for the wireless signals from Port Stanley. The crew had lashed three 20-ft. rickers to the mast-heads in order to increase the spread of our aerials, but still we failed to hear anything. The rickers had to come down subsequently, since we found that the gear could not carry the accumulating weight of rime. Soundings proved that the sea continued to shoal as the ‘Endurance’ drifted to the north-west. The depth on April 2 was 262 fathoms, with a bottom of glacial mud. Four weeks later a sounding gave 172 fathoms. The presence of grit in the bottom samples towards the end of the month suggested that we were approaching land again.

The month was not uneventful. During the night of the 3rd we heard the ice grinding to the eastward, and in the morning we saw that young ice was rafted 8 to 10 ft. high in places. This was the first murmur of the danger that was to reach menacing proportions in later months. The ice was heard grinding and creaking during the 4th and the ship vibrated slightly. The movement of the floe was sufficiently pronounced to interfere with the magnetic work. I gave orders that accumulations of snow, ice, and rubbish alongside the ‘Endurance’ should be shovelled away, so that in case of pressure there would be no weight against the topsides to check the ship rising above the ice. All hands were busy with pick and shovel during the day, and moved many tons of material. Again, on the 9th, there were signs of pressure. Young ice was piled up to a height of 11 ft. astern of the ship, and the old floe was cracked in places. The movement was not serious, but I realized that it might be the beginning of trouble for the Expedition. We brought certain stores aboard and provided space on deck for the dogs in case they had to be removed from the floe at short notice. We had run a 500-fathom steel wire round the ship, snow-huts, and kennels, with a loop out to the lead ahead, where the dredge was used. This wire was supported on ice-pillars, and it served as a guide in bad weather when the view was obscured by driving snow and a man might have lost himself altogether. I had this wire cut in five places, since otherwise it might have been dragged across our section of the floe with damaging effect in the event of the ice splitting suddenly.

The dogs had been divided into six teams of nine dogs each. Wild, Crean, Macklin, McIlroy, Marston, and Hurley each had charge of a team, and were fully responsible for the exercising, training, and feeding of their own dogs. They called in one of the surgeons when an animal was sick. We were still losing some dogs through worms, and it was unfortunate that the doctor’s had not the proper remedies. Worm-powders were to have been provided by the expert Canadian dog-driver I had engaged before sailing for the south, and when this man did not join the Expedition the matter was overlooked. We had fifty-four dogs and eight pups early in April, but several were ailing, and the number of mature dogs was reduced to fifty by the end of the month. Our store of seal meat amounted now to about 5000 lb., and I calculated that we had enough meat and blubber to feed the dogs for ninety days without trenching upon the sledging rations. The teams were working well, often with heavy loads. The biggest dog was Hercules, who tipped the beam at 86 lb. Samson was 11 lb. lighter, but he justified his name one day by starting off at a smart pace with a sledge carrying 200 lb. of blubber and a driver.

A new berg that was going to give us some cause for anxiety made its appearance on the 14th. It was a big berg, and we noticed as it lay on the north-west horizon that it had a hummocky, crevassed appearance at the east end. During the day this berg increased its apparent altitude and changed its bearing slightly. Evidently it was aground and was holding its position against the drifting pack. A sounding at 11 a.m. gave 197 fathoms, with a hard stony or rocky bottom. During the next twenty-four hours the ‘Endurance’ moved steadily towards the crevassed berg, which doubled its altitude in that time. We could see from the mast-head that the pack was piling and rafting against the mass of ice, and it was easy to imagine what would be the fate of the ship if she entered the area of disturbance. She would be crushed like an egg-shell amid the shattering masses.

Worsley was in the crow’s-nest on the evening of the 15th, watching for signs of land to the westward, and he reported an interesting phenomenon. The sun set amid a glow of prismatic colours on a line of clouds just above the horizon. A minute later Worsley saw a golden glow, which expanded as he watched it, and presently the sun appeared again and rose a semi-diameter clear above the western horizon. He hailed Crean, who from a position on the floe 90 ft. below the crow’s-nest also saw the re-born sun. A quarter of an hour later from the deck Worsley saw the sun set a second time. This strange phenomenon was due to mirage or refraction. We attributed it to an ice-crack to the westward, where the band of open water had heated a stratum of air.

The drift of the pack was not constant, and during the succeeding days the crevassed berg alternately advanced and receded as the ‘Endurance’ moved with the floe. On Sunday, April 18, it was only seven miles distant from the ship.

“It is a large berg, about three-quarters of a mile long on the side presented to us and probably well over 200 ft. high. It is heavily crevassed, as though it once formed the serac portion of a glacier. Two specially wide and deep chasms across it from south-east to north-west give it the appearance of having broken its back on the shoal-ground. Huge masses of pressure-ice are piled against its cliffs to a height of about 60 ft., showing the stupendous force that is being brought to bear upon it by the drifting pack. The berg must be very firmly aground. We swing the arrow on the current-meter frequently and watch with keen attention to see where it will come to rest. Will it point straight for the berg, showing that our drift is in that direction? It swings slowly round. It points to the northeast end of the berg, then shifts slowly to the centre and seems to stop; but it moves again and swings 20 degrees clear of our enemy, to the south-west. . . . We notice that two familiar bergs, the Rampart Berg and the Peak Berg, have moved away from the ship. Probably they also have grounded or dragged on the shoal.”

A strong drift to the westward during the night of the 18th relieved our anxiety by carrying the ‘Endurance’ to the lee of the crevassed berg, which passed out of our range of vision before the end of the month.

We said good-bye to the sun on May 1 and entered the period of twilight that would be followed by the darkness of midwinter. The sun by the aid of refraction just cleared the horizon at noon and set shortly before 2 p.m. A fine aurora in the evening was dimmed by the full moon, which had risen on April 27 and would not set again until May 6. The disappearance of the sun is apt to be a depressing event in the polar regions, where the long months of darkness involve mental as well as physical strain. But the Endurance’s company refused to abandon their customary cheerfulness, and a concert in the evening made the Ritz a scene of noisy merriment, in strange contrast with the cold, silent world that lay outside. “One feels our helplessness as the long winter night closes upon us. By this time, if fortune had smiled upon the Expedition, we would have been comfortably and securely established in a shore base, with depots laid to the south and plans made for the long march in the spring and summer. Where will we make a landing now? It is not easy to forecast the future. The ice may open in the spring, but by that time we will be far to the north-west. I do not think we shall be able to work back to Vahsel Bay. There are possible landing-places on the western coast of the Weddell Sea, but can we reach any suitable spot early enough to attempt the overland journey next year? Time alone will tell. I do not think any member of the Expedition is disheartened by our disappointment. All hands are cheery and busy, and will do their best when the time for action comes. In the meantime we must wait.”

The ship’s position on Sunday, May 2, was lat. 75 degrees 23 minutes S., long. 42 degrees 14 minutes W. The temperature at noon was 5 degrees below zero Fahr., and the sky was overcast. A seal was sighted from the mast-head at lunch-time, and five men, with two dog teams, set off after the prize. They had an uncomfortable journey outward in the dim, diffused light, which cast no shadows and so gave no warning of irregularities in the white surface. It is a strange sensation to be running along on apparently smooth snow and to fall suddenly into an unseen hollow, or bump against a ridge.

“After going out three miles to the eastward,” wrote Worsley in describing this seal-hunt, “we range up and down but find nothing, until from a hummock I fancy I see something apparently a mile away, but probably little more than half that distance. I ran for it, found the seal, and with a shout brought up the others at the double. The seal was a big Weddell, over 10 ft. long and weighing more than 800 lb. But Soldier, one of the team leaders, went for its throat without a moment’s hesitation, and we had to beat off the dogs before we could shoot the seal. We caught five or six gallons of blood in a tin for the dogs, and let the teams have a drink of fresh blood from the seal. The light was worse than ever on our return, and we arrived back in the dark. Sir Ernest met us with a lantern and guided us into the lead astern and thence to the ship.”

This was the first seal we had secured since March 19, and the meat and blubber made a welcome addition to the stores.

Three emperor penguins made their appearance in a lead west of the ship on May 3. They pushed their heads through the young ice while two of the men were standing by the lead. The men imitated the emperor’s call and walked slowly, penguin fashion, away from the lead. The birds in succession made a magnificent leap 3 ft. clear from the water on to the young ice. Thence they tobogganed to the bank and followed the men away from the lead. Their retreat was soon cut off by a line of men.

“We walk up to them, talking loudly and assuming a threatening aspect. Notwithstanding our bad manners, the three birds turn towards us, bowing ceremoniously. Then, after a closer inspection, they conclude that we are undesirable acquaintances and make off across the floe. We head them off and finally shepherd them close to the ship, where the frenzied barking of the dogs so frightens them that they make a determined effort to break through the line. We seize them. One bird of philosophic mien goes quietly, led by one flipper. The others show fight, but all are imprisoned in an igloo for the night. . . . In the afternoon we see five emperors in the western lead and capture one. Kerr and Cheetham fight a valiant action with two large birds. Kerr rushes at one, seizes it, and is promptly knocked down by the angered penguin, which jumps on his chest before retiring. Cheetham comes to Kerr’s assistance; and between them they seize another penguin, bind his bill and lead him, muttering muffled protests, to the ship like an inebriated old man between two policemen. He weighs 85lb., or 5 lb. less than the heaviest emperor captured previously. Keir and Cheetham insist that he is nothing to the big fellow who escaped them.”

This penguin’s stomach proved to be filled with freshly caught fish up to 10 in. long. Some of the fish were of a coastal or littoral variety. Two more emperors were captured on the following day, and, while Wordie was leading one of them towards the ship, Wild came along with his team. The dogs, uncontrollable in a moment made a frantic rush for the bird, and were almost upon him when their harness caught upon an ice-pylon, which they had tried to pass on both sides at once. The result was a seething tangle of dogs, traces, and men, and an overturned sled, while the penguin, three yards away, nonchalantly and indifferently surveyed the disturbance. He had never seen anything of the kind before and had no idea at all that the strange disorder might concern him. Several cracks had opened in the neighbourhood of the ship, and the emperor penguins, fat and glossy of plumage, were appearing in considerable numbers. We secured nine of them on May 6, an important addition our supply of fresh food.

The sun, which had made “positively his last appearance” seven days earlier, surprised us by lifting more than half its disk above the horizon on May 8. A glow on the northern horizon resolved itself into the sun at 11 a.m. that day. A quarter of an hour later the unseasonable visitor disappeared again, only to rise again at 11.40 a.m., set at 1 p.m., rise at 1.10 p.m., and set lingeringly at 1.20 p.m. These curios phenomena were due to refraction, which amounted to 2 degrees 37 minutes at 1.20 p.m. The temperature was 15 degrees below zero Fahr. and we calculated that the refraction was 2 degrees above normal. In other words, the sun was visible 120 miles farther south than the refraction tables gave it any right to be. The navigating officer naturally was aggrieved. He had informed all hands on May 1 that they would not see the sun again for seventy days, and now had to endure the jeers of friends who affected to believe that his observations were inaccurate by a few degrees.

The ‘Endurance’ was drifting north-north-east under the influence of a succession of westerly and south-westerly breezes. The ship’s head, at the same time, swung gradually to the left, indicating that the floe in which she was held was turning. During the night of the 14th a very pronounced swing occurred, and when daylight came at noon on the 15th we observed a large lead running from the north-west horizon towards the ship till it struck the western lead, circling ahead of the ship, then continuing to the south-south-east. A lead astern connected with this new lead on either side of the ‘Endurance’, thus separating our floe completely from the main body of the pack. A blizzard from the south-east swept down during the 16th. At 1 p.m. the blizzard lulled for five minutes; then the wind jumped round to the opposite quarter and the barometer rose suddenly. The centre of a cyclonic movement had passed over us, and the compass recorded an extraordinarily rapid swing of the floe. I could see nothing through the mist and snow, and I thought it possible that a magnetic storm or a patch of local magnetic attraction had caused the compass, and not the floe, to swing, Our floe was now about 2 1/2 miles long north and south and 3 miles wide east and west.

The month of May passed with few incidents of importance. Hurley, our handy man, installed our small electric-lighting plant and placed lights for occasional use in the observatory, the meteorological station, and various other points. We could not afford to use the electric lamps freely. Hurley also rigged two powerful lights on poles projecting from the ship to port and starboard. These lamps would illuminate the “dogloos” brilliantly on the darkest winter’s day and would be invaluable in the event of the floe breaking during the dark days of winter. We could imagine what it would mean to get fifty dogs aboard without lights while the floe was breaking and rafting under our feet. May 24, Empire Day, was celebrated with the singing of patriotic songs in the Ritz, where all hands joined in wishing a speedy victory for the British arms. We could not know how the war was progressing, but we hoped that the Germans had already been driven from France and that the Russian armies had put the seal on the Allies’ success. The war was a constant subject of discussion aboard the ‘Endurance’, and many campaigns were fought on the map during the long months of drifting. The moon in the latter part of May was sweeping continuously through our starlit sky in great high circles. The weather generally was good, with constant minus temperatures. The log on May 27 recorded:

“Brilliantly fine clear weather with bright moonlight throughout. The moon’s rays are wonderfully strong, making midnight seem as light as an ordinary overcast midday in temperate climes. The great clearness of the atmosphere probably accounts for our having eight hours of twilight with a beautiful soft golden glow, to the northward. A little rime and glazed frost are found aloft. The temperature is — 20 degrees Fahr. A few wisps of cirrus-cloud are seen and a little frost-smoke shows in one or two directions, but the cracks and leads near the ship appear to have frozen over again.”

Crean had started to take the pups out for runs, and it was very amusing to see them with their rolling canter just managing to keep abreast by the sledge and occasionally cocking an eye with an appealing look in the hope of being taken aboard for a ride. As an addition to their foster-father, Crean, the pups had adopted Amundsen. They tyrannized over him most unmercifully. It was a common sight to see him, the biggest dog in the pack, sitting out in the cold with an air of philosophic resignation while a corpulent pup occupied the entrance to his “dogloo.” The intruder was generally the pup Nelson, who just showed his forepaws and face, and one was fairly sure to find Nelly, Roger, and Toby coiled up comfortably behind him. At hoosh-time Crean had to stand by Amundsen’s food, since otherwise the pups would eat the big dog’s ration while he stood back to give them fair play. Sometimes their consciences would smite them and they would drag round a seal’s head, half a penguin, or a large lump of frozen meat or blubber to Amundsen’s kennel for rent. It was interesting to watch the big dog play with them, seizing them by throat or neck in what appeared to be a fierce fashion, while really quite gentle with them, and all the time teaching them how to hold their own in the world and putting them up to all the tricks of dog life.

The drift of the ‘Endurance’ in the grip of the pack continued without incident of importance through June. Pressure was reported occasionally, but the ice in the immediate vicinity of the ship remained firm. The light was now very bad except in the period when the friendly moon was above the horizon. A faint twilight round about noon of each day reminded us of the sun; and assisted us in the important work of exercising the dogs. The care of the teams was our heaviest responsibility in those days. The movement of the floes was beyond all human control, and there was nothing to be gained by allowing one’s mind to struggle with the problems of the future, though it was hard to avoid anxiety at times. The conditioning and training of the dogs seemed essential, whatever fate might be in store for us, and the teams were taken out by their drivers whenever the weather permitted. Rivalries arose, as might have been expected, and on the 15th of the month a great race, the “Antarctic Derby,” took place. It was a notable event. The betting had been heavy, and every man aboard the ship stood to win or lose on the result of the contest. Some money had been staked, but the wagers that thrilled were those involving stores of chocolate and cigarettes. The course had been laid off from Khyber Pass, at the eastern end of the old lead ahead of the ship, to a point clear of the jib-boom, a distance of about 700 yds. Five teams went out in the dim noon twilight, with a zero temperature and an aurora flickering faintly to the southward. The starting signal was to be given by the flashing of a light on the meteorological station. I was appointed starter, Worsley was judge, and James was timekeeper. The bos’n, with a straw hat added to his usual Antarctic attire, stood on a box near the winning-post, and was assisted by a couple of shady characters to shout the odds, which were displayed on a board hung around his neck — 6 to 4 on Wild, “evens” on Crean, 2 to 1 against Hurley, 6 to 1 against Macklin, and 8 to 1 against McIlroy. Canvas handkerchiefs fluttered from an improvised grand stand, and the pups, which had never seen such strange happenings before, sat round and howled with excitement. The spectators could not see far in the dim light, but they heard the shouts of the drivers as the teams approached and greeted the victory of the favourite with a roar of cheering that must have sounded strange indeed to any seals or penguins that happened to be in our neighbourhood. Wild’s time was 2 min. 16 sec., or at the rate of 10 1/2 miles per hour for the course.

We celebrated Midwinter’s Day on the 22nd. The twilight extended over a period of about six hours that day, and there was a good light at noon from the moon, and also a northern glow with wisps of beautiful pink cloud along the horizon. A sounding gave 262 fathoms with a mud bottom. No land was in sight from the mast-head, although our range of vision extended probably a full degree to the westward. The day was observed as a holiday, necessary work only being undertaken, and, after the best dinner the cook could provide, all hands gathered in the Ritz, where speeches, songs, and toasts occupied the evening. After supper at midnight we sang “God Save the King” and wished each other all success in the days of sunshine and effort that lay ahead. At this time the ‘Endurance’ was making an unusually rapid drift to the north under the influence of a fresh southerly to south-westerly breeze. We travelled 39 miles to the north in five days before a breeze that only once attained the force of a gale and then for no more than an hour. The absence of strong winds, in comparison with the almost unceasing winter blizzards of the Ross Sea, was a feature of the Weddell Sea that impressed itself upon me during the winter months.

Another race took place a few days after the “Derby.” The two crack teams, driven by Hurley and Wild, met in a race from Khyber Pass. Wild’s team, pulling 910 lb., or 130 lb. per dog, covered the 700 yds. in 2 min. 9 sec., or at the rate of 11.1 miles per hour. Hurley’s team, with the same load, did the run in 2 min. 16 sec. The race was awarded by the judge to Hurley owing to Wild failing to “weigh in” correctly. I happened to be a part of the load on his sledge, and a skid over some new drift within fifty yards of the winning post resulted in my being left on the snow. It should be said in justice to the dogs that this accident, while justifying the disqualification, could not have made any material difference in the time.

The approach of the returning sun was indicated by beautiful sunrise glows on the horizon in the early days of July. We had nine hours’ twilight on the 10th, and the northern sky, low to the horizon, was tinted with gold for about seven hours. Numerous cracks and leads extended in all directions to within 300 yds. of the ship. Thin wavering black lines close to the northern horizon were probably distant leads refracted into the sky. Sounds of moderate pressure came to our ears occasionally, but the ship was not involved. At midnight on the 11th a crack in the lead ahead of the ‘Endurance’ opened out rapidly, and by 2 a.m. was over 200 yds. wide in places with an area of open water to the south-west. Sounds of pressure were heard along this lead, which soon closed to a width of about 30 yds. and then froze over. The temperature at that time was — 23 degrees Fahr.

The most severe blizzard we had experienced in the Weddell Sea swept down upon the ‘Endurance’ on the evening of the 13th, and by breakfast-time on the following morning the kennels to the windward, or southern side of the ship were buried under 5 ft. of drift. I gave orders that no man should venture beyond the kennels. The ship was invisible at a distance of fifty yards, and it was impossible to preserve one’s sense of direction in the raging wind and suffocating drift. To walk against the gale was out of the question. Face and eyes became snowed up within two minutes, and serious frost-bites would have been the penalty of perseverance. The dogs stayed in their kennels for the most part, the “old stagers” putting out a paw occasionally in order to keep open a breathing-hole. By evening the gale had attained a force of 60 or 70 miles an hour, and the ship was trembling under the attack. But we were snug enough in our quarters aboard until the morning of the 14th, when all hands turned out to shovel the snow from deck and kennels. The wind was still keen and searching, with a temperature of something like -30 degrees Fahr., and it was necessary for us to be on guard against frost-bite. At least 100 tons of snow were piled against the bows and port side, where the weight of the drift had forced the floe downward. The lead ahead had opened out during the night, cracked the pack from north to south and frozen over again, adding 300 yds. to the distance between the ship and “Khyber Pass.” The breakdown gang had completed its work by lunch-time. The gale was then decreasing and the three-days-old moon showed as a red crescent on the northern horizon. The temperature during the blizzard had ranged from — 21 degrees to — 33.5 degrees Fahr. It is usual for the temperature to rise during a blizzard, and the failure to produce any Foehn effect of this nature suggested an absence of high land for at least 200 miles to the south and south-west. The weather did not clear until the 16th. We saw then that the appearance of the surrounding pack had been altered completely by the blizzard. The “island” floe containing the ‘Endurance’ still stood fast, but cracks and masses of ice thrown up by pressure could be seen in all directions. An area of open water was visible on the horizon to the north, with a water indication in the northern sky.

The ice-pressure, which was indicated by distant rumblings and the appearance of formidable ridges, was increasingly a cause of anxiety. The areas of disturbance were gradually approaching the ship. During July 21 we could bear the grinding and crashing of the working floes to the south-west and west and could see cracks opening, working, and closing ahead.

“The ice is rafting up to a height of 10 or 15 ft. in places, the opposing floes are moving against one another at the rate of about 200 yds. per hour. The noise resembles the roar of heavy, distant surf. Standing on the stirring ice one can imagine it is disturbed by the breathing and tossing of a mighty giant below.”

Early on the afternoon of the 22nd a 2-ft. crack, running south-west and north-east for a distance of about two miles, approached to within 35 yds. of the port quarter. I had all the sledges brought aboard and set a special watch in case it became necessary to get the dogs off the floe in a hurry. This crack was the result of heavy pressure 300 yds. away on the port bow, where huge blocks of ice were piled up in wild and threatening confusion. The pressure at that point was enormous. Blocks weighing many tons were raised 15 ft. above the level of the floe. I arranged to divide the night watches with Worsley and Wild, and none of us had much rest. The ship was shaken by heavy bumps, and we were on the alert to see that no dogs had fallen into cracks. The morning light showed that our island had been reduced considerably during the night. Our long months of rest and safety seemed to be at an end, and a period of stress had begun.

During the following day I had a store of sledging provisions, oil, matches, and other essentials placed on the upper deck handy to the starboard quarter boat, so as to be in readiness for a sudden emergency. The ice was grinding and working steadily to the southward, and in the evening some large cracks appeared on the port quarter, while a crack alongside opened out to 15 yds. The blizzard seemed to have set the ice in strong movement towards the north, and the south-westerly and west-south-westerly winds that prevailed two days out of three maintained the drift. I hoped that this would continue unchecked, since our chance of getting clear of the pack early in the spring appeared to depend upon our making a good northing. Soundings at this time gave depths of from 186 to 190 fathoms, with a glacial mud bottom. No land was in sight. The light was improving. A great deal of ice-pressure was heard and observed in all directions during the 25th, much of it close to the port quarter of the ship. On the starboard bow huge blocks of ice, weighing many tons and 5 ft. in thickness, were pushed up on the old floe to a height of 15 to 20 ft. The floe that held the ‘Endurance’ was swung to and fro by the pressure during the day, but came back to the old bearing before midnight.

“The ice for miles around is much looser. There are numerous cracks and short leads to the north-east and south-east. Ridges are being forced up in all directions, and there is a water-sky to the south-east. It would be a relief to be able to make some effort on our own behalf; but we can do nothing until the ice releases our ship. If the floes continue to loosen, we may break out within the next few weeks and resume the fight. In the meantime the pressure continues, and it is hard to foresee the outcome. Just before noon to-day (July 26) the top of the sun appeared by refraction for one minute, seventy-nine days after our last sunset. A few minutes earlier a small patch of the sun had been thrown up on one of the black streaks above the horizon. All hands are cheered by the indication that the end of the winter darkness is near . . . Clark finds that with returning daylight the diatoms are again appearing. His nets and line are stained a pale yellow, and much of the newly formed ice has also a faint brown or yellow tinge. The diatoms cannot multiply without light, and the ice formed since February can be distinguished in the pressure-ridges by its clear blue colour. The older masses of ice are of a dark earthy brown, dull yellow, or reddish brown.”

The break-up of our floe came suddenly on Sunday, August 1, just one year after the ‘Endurance’ left the South-West India Docks on the voyage to the Far South. The position was lat. 72 degrees 26 minutes S., long. 48 degrees 10 minutes W. The morning brought a moderate south-westerly gale with heavy snow, and at 8 a.m., after some warning movements of the ice, the floe cracked 40 yds. off the starboard bow. Two hours later the floe began to break up all round us under pressure and the ship listed over 10 degrees to starboard. I had the dogs and sledges brought aboard at once and the gangway hoisted. The animals behaved well. They came aboard eagerly as though realizing their danger, and were placed in their quarters on deck without a single fight occurring. The pressure was cracking the floe rapidly, rafting it close to the slip and forcing masses of ice beneath the keel. Presently the ‘Endurance’ listed heavily to port against the gale, and at the same time was forced ahead, astern, and sideways several times by the grinding floes. She received one or two hard nips, but resisted them without as much as a creak. It looked at one stage as if the ship was to be made the plaything of successive floes, and I was relieved when she came to a standstill with a large piece of our old “dock” under the starboard bilge. I had the boats cleared away ready for lowering, got up some additional stores, and set a double watch. All hands were warned to stand by, get what sleep they could, and have their warmest clothing at hand. Around us lay the ruins of “Dog Town” amid the debris of pressure-ridges. Some of the little dwellings had been crushed flat beneath blocks of ice; others had been swallowed and pulverized when the ice opened beneath them and closed again. It was a sad sight, but my chief concern just then was the safety of the rudder, which was being attacked viciously by the ice. We managed to pole away a large lump that had become jammed between the rudder and the stern-post, but I could see that damage had been done, though a close examination was not possible that day.

After the ship had come to a standstill in her new position very heavy pressure was set up. Some of the trenails were started and beams buckled slightly under the terrific stresses. But the ‘Endurance’ had been built to withstand the attacks of the ice, and she lifted bravely as the floes drove beneath her. The effects of the pressure around us were awe-inspiring. Mighty blocks of ice, gripped between meeting floes, rose slowly till they jumped like cherry-stones squeezed between thumb and finger. The pressure of millions of tons of moving ice was crushing and smashing inexorably. If the ship was once gripped firmly her fate would be sealed.

The gale from the south-west blew all night and moderated during the afternoon of the 2nd to a stiff breeze. The pressure had almost ceased. Apparently the gale had driven the southern pack down upon us, causing congestion in our area; the pressure had stopped when the whole of the pack got into motion. The gale had given us some northing, but it had dealt the ‘Endurance’ what might prove to be a severe blow. The rudder had been driven hard over to starboard and the blade partially torn away from the rudder-head. Heavy masses of ice were still jammed against the stern, and it was impossible to ascertain the extent of the damage at that time. I felt that it would be impossible in any case to effect repairs in the moving pack. The ship lay steady all night, and the sole sign of continuing pressure was an occasional slight rumbling shock. We rigged shelters and kennels for the dogs inboard.

The weather on August 3 was overcast and misty. We had nine hours of twilight, with good light at noon. There was no land in sight for ten miles from the mast-head. The pack as far as the eye could reach was in a condition of chaos, much rafted and consolidated, with very large pressure-ridges in all directions. At 9 p.m. a rough altitude of Canopus gave the latitude as 71 degrees 55 minutes 17 seconds S. The drift, therefore, had been about 37 miles to the north in three days. Four of the poorest dogs were shot this day. They were suffering severely from worms, and we could not afford to keep sick dogs under the changed conditions. The sun showed through the clouds on the northern horizon for an hour on the 4th. There was no open water to be seen from aloft in any direction. We saw from the masthead to west-south-west an appearance of barrier, land, or a very long iceberg, about 20 odd miles away, but the horizon clouded over before we could determine its nature. We tried twice to make a sounding that day, but failed on each occasion. The Kelvin machine gave no bottom at the full length of the line, 370 fathoms. After much labour we made a hole in the ice near the stern-post large enough for the Lucas machine with a 32-lb. lead; but this appeared to be too light. The machine stopped at 452 fathoms, leaving us in doubt as to whether bottom had been reached. Then in heaving up we lost the lead, the thin wire cutting its way into the ice and snapping. All hands and the carpenter were busy this day making and placing kennels on the upper deck, and by nightfall all the dogs were comfortably housed, ready for any weather. The sun showed through the clouds above the northern horizon for nearly an hour.

The remaining days of August were comparatively uneventful. The ice around the ship froze firm again and little movement occurred in our neighbourhood. The training of the dogs, including the puppies, proceeded actively, and provided exercise as well as occupation. The drift to the north-west continued steadily. We had bad luck with soundings, the weather interfering at times and the gear breaking on several occasions, but a big increase in the depth showed that we had passed over the edge of the Weddell Sea plateau. A sounding of about 1700 fathoms on August 10 agreed fairly well with Filchner’s 1924 fathoms, 130 miles east of our then position. An observation at noon of the 8th had given us lat. 71 degrees 23 minutes S., long. 49 degrees 13 minutes W. Minus temperatures prevailed still, but the daylight was increasing. We captured a few emperor penguins which were making their way to the south-west. Ten penguins taken on the 19th were all in poor condition, and their stomachs contained nothing but stones and a few cuttle-fish beaks. A sounding on the 17th gave 1676 fathoms, 10 miles west of the charted position of Morell Land. No land could be seen from the mast-head, and I decided that Morell Land must be added to the long list of Antarctic islands and continental coasts that on close investigation have resolved themselves into icebergs. On clear days we could get an extended view in all directions from the mast-head, and the line of the pack was broken only by familiar bergs. About one hundred bergs were in view on a fine day, and they seemed practically the same as when they started their drift with us nearly seven months earlier. The scientists wished to inspect some of the neighbouring bergs at close quarters, but sledge travelling outside the well-trodden area immediately around the ship proved difficult and occasionally dangerous. On August 20, for example, Worsley, Hurley, and Greenstreet started off for the Rampart Berg and got on to a lead of young ice that undulated perilously beneath their feet. A quick turn saved them.

A wonderful mirage of the ‘fata Morgana’ type was visible on August 20. The day was clear and bright, with a blue sky overhead and some rime aloft.

“The distant pack is thrown up into towering barrier-like cliffs, which are reflected in blue lakes and lanes of water at their base. Great white and golden cities of Oriental appearance at close intervals along these clifftops indicate distant bergs, some not previously known to us. Floating above these are wavering violet and creamy lines of still more remote bergs and pack. The lines rise and fall, tremble, dissipate, and reappear in an endless transformation scene. The southern pack and bergs, catching the sun’s rays, are golden, but to the north the ice-masses are purple. Here the bergs assume changing forms, first a castle, then a balloon just clear of the horizon, that changes swiftly into an immense mushroom, a mosque, or a cathedral. The principal characteristic is the vertical lengthening of the object, a small pressure-ridge being given the appearance of a line of battlements or towering cliffs. The mirage is produced by refraction and is intensified by the columns of comparatively warm air rising from several cracks and leads that have opened eight to twenty miles away north and south.”

We noticed this day that a considerable change had taken place in our position relative to the Rampart Berg. It appeared that a big lead had opened and that there had been some differential movement of the pack. The opening movement might presage renewed pressure. A few hours later the dog teams, returning from exercise, crossed a narrow crack that had appeared ahead of the ship. This crack opened quickly to 60 ft. and would have given us trouble if the dogs had been left on the wrong side. It closed on the 25th and pressure followed in its neighbourhood.

On August 24 we were two miles north of the latitude of Morell’s farthest south, and over 10 degrees of longitude, or more than 200 miles, west of his position. From the mast-head no land could be seen within twenty miles, and no land of over 500 ft. altitude could have escaped observation on our side of long. 52 degrees W. A sounding of 1900 fathoms on August 25 was further evidence of the non-existence of New South Greenland. There was some movement of the ice near the ship during the concluding days of the month. All hands were called out in the night of August 26, sounds of pressure having been followed by the cracking of the ice alongside the ship, but the trouble did not develop immediately. Late on the night of the 31st the ice began to work ahead of the ship and along the port side. Creaking and groaning of timbers, accompanied by loud snapping sounds fore and aft, told their story of strain. The pressure continued during the following day, beams and deck planks occasionally buckling to the strain. The ponderous floes were grinding against each other under the influence of wind and current, and our ship seemed to occupy for the time being an undesirable position near the centre of the disturbance; but she resisted staunchly and showed no sign of water in the bilges, although she had not been pumped out for six months. The pack extended to the horizon in every direction. I calculated that we were 250 miles from the nearest known land to the westward, and more than 500 miles from the nearest outpost of civilization, Wilhelmina Bay. I hoped we would not have to undertake a march across the moving ice-fields. The ‘Endurance’ we knew to be stout and true; but no ship ever built by man could live if taken fairly in the grip of the floes and prevented from rising to the surface of the grinding ice. These were anxious days. In the early morning of September 2 the ship jumped and shook to the accompaniment of cracks and groans, and some of the men who had been in the berths hurried on deck. The pressure eased a little later in the day, when the ice on the port side broke away from the ship to just abaft the main rigging. The ‘Endurance’ was still held aft and at the rudder, and a large mass of ice could be seen adhering to the port bow; rising to within three feet of the surface. I wondered if this ice had got its grip by piercing the sheathing.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29