On This Day – April 17th 1916

The Voyage To Cape Wild

The Endurance Expedition

“Wild was to proceed westwards along the coast and was to take with him four of the fittest men, Marston, Crean, Vincent, and McCarthy.” *

Frank Wild

Frank Wild

Having finally reached Elephant Island, with the abject crew of the Endurance, after a deplorable seven day journey in three lifeboats, Ernest Shackleton now had to consider, putting his men to sea again. The sanctuary of the pebble beach they had camped upon was simply not safe enough for a long term stay, as evidence of high tides was clearly visible, and the area offered little in the way of shelter from either the weather or indeed the sea.

Shackleton decided that Frank Wild should explore the coastline of the island in the Stancomb Wills, and endeavour to find a more suitable site, where a long term camp could be established. Wild took with him Tom Crean, Marston, Vincent and McCarthy as they were the strongest and fittest of the bedraggled party, and headed westwards in the tiny lifeboat. Shackleton and Hurley ventured west too, on foot, in an effort to find a suitable haven, should the efforts of the men on the Wills prove unsuccessful.

After three hours of futile searching, Shackleton and Hurley turned back for camp. Not long after their return, the decision to seek out a new station, was entirely justified as the incoming tide began to encroach further up the beach, and soon forced the group to move the entire camp.

The men who had been resting, as well as repairing and drying their clothing, were soon labouring to move the boats and their supplies to higher ground, which brought them nearer to the overhanging cliffs. When Wild and his crew arrived back in the Wills, they reported that they had found a 200 yard long sandy stretch, that could serve the purpose of establishing camp, and it was seven miles west of their current position. Where the sandy spit ended, it was backed up with a long snowy slope, that offered more possibilities than the rocky cliffs that were currently abaft of them. Aside from this they could find no other suitable area that could be used – “Beyond, to the west and south-west, lay a frowning line of cliffs and glaciers, sheer to the water’s edge.” **

On hearing the good news Shackleton was eager to move, and as he observed approaching pack ice, even more so. The last thing they needed at this point was to become trapped again, and soon the three lifeboats were setting sail anew. Despite being a journey of only seven miles, and comparatively a mere jaunt, when measured against their previous gruelling voyage, it would not be plain sailing.

In their efforts to launch the boats, the men had used the oars as rollers, and three of them had broke in the process. Being the largest and heaviest of the three vessels, the James Caird needed its full complement of oars, leaving the Dudley Docker and the Stancomb Wills short, and taking turns with the odd one. As if their task was not difficult enough a violent gale blew up, and monstrous waves crashed off the cliffs around them. They battled strenuously to avoid being smashed against the rocks. The Caird and the Wills and briefly found shelter behind a towering rock pillar, protruding from the churning sea, where they paused to muster strength before struggling onwards.

Elephant Island

Elephant Island

Ultimately the Caird and the Wills reached the destination, and when a break in the surrounding reef was spotted they made for shore. Again it was the Wills which landed first, and again it was followed ashore by the James Caird, but this time the Dudley Docker did not appear behind them. Shackleton had lost sight of the boat, as the Caird and Wills had passed inside the large pillar of rock, and the Docker, operating with only three oars, was washed outside of it.

“Having only three oars, the Docker’s progress became still more crablike. While the other two boats managed to weather a rocky pillar 1’000 feet high that t stood 200 yards offshore, we fell leeward of it. There was a strong possibility of the boat being driven out to sea.”

Frank Worsley – From Shackletons Boat Journey – The Collins Press

The frantic men on the beach began unloading their supplies, as the time ticked by. After half an hour the Dudley Docker miraculously laboured into view – “We watched her coming with that sense of relief that the mariner feels when he crosses the harbour-bar.” ***
The crew of the Docker had battled desperately against the raging sea, and every ounce of their depleted physicality was tested to the limit. Somehow the weary men had summoned the strength to stave off the sea, and sail and steer the Docker, through an ocean that seemed hellbent on devouring them.

“The swell tossed us within an oar’s length of the great cliff up which we seemed to climb dizzily for fifteen feet before sliding away from the rock as we fell in the trough of the sea.”

Frank Worsley – Shackleton’s Boat Journey – The Collins Press

With the tide going out quickly, they had to offload some cargo onto the outer rocks, but eventually the Docker was sailed to the safety of the beach, and the provisions would later be retrieved. The voyage to the place the men would call Cape Wild, was complete.
Cape Wild is today known as Point Wild


Quotes * ** *** – Ernest Shackleton – “South” Chapter VIII – Escape From The Ice

On This Day – April 16th 1916
The Endurance Expedition

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