South Georgia is a tiny island in the direct track of deep atmospheric depressions that roar through the Drake Passage between Terra del Fuego and Antarctica with near freezing annual temperatures. Miraculously they survived the 1300 km odyssey, which took two weeks in an open lifeboat across the world’s most treacherous of oceans. The crossing is regarded as the most remarkable rescue saga in maritime history. The story of Shackleton’s epic survival and subsequent rescue of his crew on Elephant Island (not a single crewmember was lost) is still hailed as the greatest epic of the century.
The Shackleton Legend
On 5 December, 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team of 27 explorers set sail for the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. The mission was to be the first to cross the Antarctic continent, coast to coast via the South Pole. On 17 January, within sight of land, their expedition vessel the Endurance became frozen fast in ice floes. In May, the Antarctic sun set for the last time before winter. When spring arrived, the breaking of the ice and subsequent movement of giant ice floes splintered the ship’s hull.
On 15 November, 1915, the Endurance finally slipped beneath the ice. Stranded all alone, beyond all hope of rescue, the team was to endure the most uninhabitable, windiest, and coldest place on earth, surviving on penguins, seals and sea birds.
For five months, Shackleton and his men camped on ice floes, marched on ice for over 100 km and finally, on 9 April, the ice floe that they were camped on broke into two. Shackleton decided that the crew should enter the lifeboats and head for the nearest land. After seven days at sea in the three small lifeboats, the men landed on Elephant Island, but the island was also an inhospitable place far from any shipping routes and thus a very poor location to wait for rescue. On 24 April, 1916 Shackleton took decisive action and set sail for South Georgia with five of his most able men.