Expedition Finds Shackleton’s Sunken Ship

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Expedition Finds Shackleton’s Sunken Ship

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A scientific expedition has located the wreck of the Endurance, famed Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, which has not been seen since it was crushed by ice and sank off Antarctica in 1915.

Shackleton aboard The Endurance a week before she was crushed and sank.
Credit Scott Polar Research Institute

The wreck of the Endurance, in the most pristine condition, was found on the ocean floor 3000 metres below the ocean’s surface and just five kilometres south of the position logged by the ship’s captain when it was abandoned by its crew and sank 107 years ago.

British historian and TV presenter Dan Snow was aboard the ship, the SA Agulhas II when the team came upon the wreck a few days ago.

Snow says it is exhilarating to be part of the team and to discover one of the most famous shipwrecks of history.

“I can hardly take the smile off my face,” he says. “We are all walking around high fiving. It’s just a great atmosphere. We have been in the Weddell Sea for the past month. We were moving up and down, surveying the seabed, the temperature was plummeting, we were brushing the snow off ourselves and then, with a few days left to go before we returned to port, we found it.

“We had started to give up hope but there it was. And since then, we have been happy I got to say.”

The moment when they first saw the wreck and recognised it for what it was will, he says, live with him forever. “When you work towards something for so long, and it has been years in the cases of some of the people on this ship, what you are working towards can get lost in the details. So, when you see it, it’s incredible.

“People have given up so much for this. People have left their families behind and sacrificed in so many ways and when you see that ship you think, ‘I can’t believe we have done this.’

“First of all, we were very quiet. But eventually, we started cheering and clapping, but there was a moment of just awe and silence and we just couldn’t quite believe that we had done it.”

He says the ship is in astonishing condition for an object that has spent more than 100 years submerged in the ocean.

“The wood is like a golden-brown colour,” Dan says. “You can still see the gold lettering on the stern, the brass lettering shining like gold saying Endurance. It looks just like a serviceable vessel to this day because of a lack of wood-eating micro-organisms in the Wendell Sea. It is just so beautifully preserved, and we realised we had something big on our hands.”

The endurance in mid-winter 1915.
Credit: Scott Polar Research Institute

Shackleton and his crew set out on an expedition in 2015 to cross the Antarctic continent from one side to the side, something no one had done before.

“They didn’t even get to shore,” says Dan. “they were caught up in the ice on their way there. The ice then moved, and it moved away from Antarctica and along the way it crushed his ship. He and his men had to camp on the ice as they watched their ship sink on November 21, 1915.”

The men lived on the ice for several months before it began to break up as temperatures rose in the spring. When the ice flow was no longer liveable, they piled into three rowing boats and crossed a stretch of the Wendell Sea to a place called Elephant Island which is a tiny scrap of land.

They stayed there for 500 days before Shackleton led a specially picked party north in one of the boats, an 800-kilometre voyage, to South Georgia where a whaling station offers help and hope. They then go back to Elephant Island and rescue everyone still there.

It is one of history’s most incredible tales of courage and survival, which makes finding the Endurance even more significant.

So far, the researchers have been able to spot the ship’s bell, crockery from the ship’s mess, pieces of old boots, an instrument for measuring water depth. The brass nails in the decking still shine as though they’d been polished yesterday.

“It is a thing of beauty in itself,” says Dan Snow. “But more than that it will inspire anyone that sees it with a passion for exploration and adventure, for getting out there and finding lost things.”

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