This year's search in Antarctica for the wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous expedition ship Endurance was called off for the same reason that the ship had been abandoned in 1915 – due to the extreme weather.

On Aug 1, 1914, the British South Polar Expedition, led by the British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, set out from London in the research ship Endurance. It was Sir Ernest’s second Antarctic expedition. The aim of the expedition, which was also known as the British Trans-Antarctic Expedition, was the first crossing on foot of the Antarctic continent.

The Endurance had been built by the Framnaes Mek Verksted, of Sandefjord, in 1913 as the wooden sailing ship Polaris, 348grt, designed to carry tourists on cruises to East Greenland and Spitzbergen but the venture collapsed and the ship was sold to Sir Ernest in 1914 and renamed Endurance.

The Endurance, which was commanded by Frank Worsley, sailed from Plymouth on Aug 8 and called at Madeira, Montevideo and Buenos Aires, where she was joined by Sir Ernest who had sailed south in the Houlder Line passenger-cargo ship El Uruguayo, 8,631grt. The Endurance carried three small boats, the James Caird, Nimrod, and Dudley Docker.

The Endurance sailed for South Georgia. From the whaling community on the island, Sir Ernest learned that the ice conditions in the Weddell Sea were the worst in memory, with the pack ice extending far to the north.

On the morning of Dec 5, despite warnings about the ice situation, the Endurance left South Georgia for the Weddell Sea. On board were a crew of 28 and 69 sledge dogs. The Endurance was heading for Vahsel Bay, in the western part of the Luitpold coast.

On the evening of Dec 7, the Endurance encountered the ice pack, and then spent six weeks working her way through the loose floes.

On Jan 18, when less than 24 hours from her destination, the Endurance entered thick pack ice at 76.27S 28.46W. Sir Ernest and Capt Worsley decided not to put pressure on the engine by trying to break through the ice, but to wait for an opening. In the night, the ice closed in around the ship, backed by a northerly gale which drove the ice against the ship, holding her fast. The crew soon realised that the Endurance was trapped in the ice until the start of the next southern summer, some nine months away.

This year’s search was a part of the Weddell Sea Expedition 2019 whose main purpose was to study the nearby Larsen C Ice Shelf, which in 2017 calved the giant iceberg known as A68. The hugely productive Larsen investigation ended at the end of January.

The team, on the South African icebreaker SA Agulhas II, then tried to find the wreck of the Endurance.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - April 2019 Issue
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