I write this as we approach the western side of the Falkland Islands. The ocean and winds have been kind to us today, pushing us on with a following sea. Tomorrow we’ll be making our first landings for the voyage. Our mandatory briefings on what to do in Zodiacs and IAATO’s responsible tourism behaviour in Antarctica have been completed. Overall it’s been more restful than expected.

However, that wasn’t the case exactly 96 years ago tonight, when Shackleton’s vessel, the Endurance, finally sank through the ice. That was at 5pm on November 21, 1915. Perhaps there’s something in the old superstition about it being bad luck to change a ship’s name after all? He’d changed it from Polaris to Endurance from his family motto “By endurance we conquer”

For much of the previous month she had been supported solely by the ice that pierced her sides and prevented her from sinking as it crushed and destroyed her. Then, as Frank Wild reported: “On November 21st, Shackleton was on the lookout platform and everyone else in the tents when we heard him shout ‘she’s going boys!’ Running out we were just in time to see the stern of the Endurance rise and then a quick dive and all was over. Shackleton told me later that it was the saddest moment in his life, but none of that showed in his demeanour and to all appearance, he was his usual cherry self. I felt as thought I had lost an old friend and I think all hands had a similar feeling.”

However, not everyone was so sentimental. The ever-practical Frank Hurley wrote in his diary: “We are not sorry to see the last of the wreck, for we have rifled it of everything likely to be of value to us; apart from being an object of depression to all who turned their eyes in that direction, it was becoming more dangerous daily to those visiting it.” It was a defining moment, especially for the sailors who related so closely to their ship and were distraught to lose her. Shackleton’s steadfast leadership was to prove vital in maintaining the morale of his shipwrecked companions.

A month earlier, when they’d abandoned the Endurance and retreated to five tents on the ice, amid “the groaning and cracking of splintering timbers” Shackleton matter-of-factly announced: “Ship and stores have gone—so now we’ll go home.” His unclouded optimism was an inspiration.

It’s remarkable to be following in his wake and to feel so close to both Wild and Shackleton on this voyage.

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