The Voyage Of The James Caird Begins.
The Endurance Expedition.
April 24th 1916.
“The 20-ft. boat had never looked big; she appeared to have shrunk in some mysterious way when I viewed her in the light of our new undertaking.”
Ernest Shackleton on viewing the James Caird prior to the voyage.
The 28 men of the Endurance were stranded on Elephant Island, having reached the desolate outcrop on April 16th, after an utterly gruelling seven day voyage. They had sailed there in three lifeboats, salvaged from the expedition ship, before it was crushed and sunk, by the ice floes that had held it captive for months.
While it was a welcome relief for the crew to be back on land, after surviving on the drifting floes, since abandoning the ship on October 27th 1915, their survival chances were still very slim.
Elephant Island is a 29 mile long, fog shrouded, ice covered mountain, that supports virtually no vegetation, and was not remotely near any shipping lanes, which meant there was no hope of rescue from passing vessels. On examining their supplies, Shackleton estimated that they had approximately five weeks food, which could possibly be stretched to three months, at half rations. There was always the contingency of supplementing the stock with seals and sea elephants, but they appeared to have deserted the beach as soon as the men arrived.
Shackleton’s Lifeboats Make Landfall On Elephant Island
The Endurance Expedition
On April 9th 1916, the ice floe that Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance, had established Patience Camp upon, had begun to break up beneath their feet, and forced them into a rather hasty evacuation. The men had previously managed to salvage three lifeboats from the Endurance which had been first trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea in January 1915, before it sank on November 21st, of that year, and these vessels were their only hope of escape.
The three lifeboats had earlier been named after the chief financial backers of the expedition. Shackleton took command of the largest of the lifeboats, the James Caird, the Dudley Docker was commanded by Worsley, and Hubert Hudson took command of the Stancomb Wills.
However Hudson’s mental condition was deteriorating, after months of confinement on the ice, and he was suffering badly with frostbite, so it was soon Tom Crean who assumed command of the Wills. Being the smallest and most vulnerable of the three crafts, Crean’s task was immense and his efforts in keeping the Wills afloat, sailing through a labyrinth of ice and battling the rough sea, was truly heroic. Conditions on the boats were appalling as the freezing, soaked and hungry men suffered from seasickness and diarrhoea, as they sailed in search of land.
Initially Shackleton had contemplated reaching either Deception Island or Hope Island, but after three days at sea, Worsley ascertained that the strong currents had been causing the boats to drift south east. Taking this and the wretched condition of his men into consideration, Shackleton opted to strike for what he deemed the nearest attainable landfall – Elephant Island.