Overview

The discovery of the wreck of HMS Endurance reminds me to never, ever complain about anything ever again, ever

Reading Time: 4 minutes

So HMS Endurance has been found, nearly two miles below the surface of the Antarctic Ocean, 107 years after it was crushed in sea ice and sunk.

When I saw the news, my feet were up, as they tend to be. I was warm, but not too warm. And the unbelievable story of the Endurance came flooding back into my memory—and with it, the name Shackleton.

Out of respect and shame, I slowly slid my feet off the ottoman.

If you, like me, spend 98% of your time in temperature-controlled interior suburban spaces, cursing your full fridge because it’s out of water kefir and not wanting to drive to the store for more because gahhh—this story will call you back from every complaint of discomfort, every pissy little feeling you’ll ever have of being inconvenienced for the rest of your natural life.

Ernest Shackleton left England on the three-masted sailing ship Endurance in August 1914, leading a crew of 28 to cross Antarctica by way of the South Pole. The Endurance ended up trapped in ice floes less than sixty miles from its destination. Eventually, the ice froze fast around the ship. They tried cutting a channel through the ice to the open water they could see just a half mile away—cutting the ice by hand, mind you, and pulling the boat forward with ropes through the channel. After a month of trying, they gave up.

Quitters.

Members of the crew with the Endurance in the distance (public domain)

The ship traveled with the ice floes for nine months, then was crushed to splinters by the pressure. Three smaller boats and all other salvageable supplies were rescued from the ship before it sank out of sight.

The crew lived on the Antarctic ice for another six months, eating penguin and a few of the dogs they’d brought along, their spirits kept high by the man they called “The Boss” – Shackleton.

Banish all thoughts of Gore-Tex and down. They had clothes of cotton, leather, and wool. Many of them kept journals, all of which were remarkably cheerful and free of complaint, but all of which casually mentioned the fact that their feet and hands and arms and legs were soaked by the end of the first day and were never really dry again for the duration of their time on the Antarctic ice.

Can I get you anything? Cup of tea, a little cheese, maybe? Sofa cushion firm enough, but not too firm?

Endurance as the ice closed in (public domain)

The floes began to break apart, so Shackleton had the crew pile into three 23-foot open boats for a thousand-mile journey through the expanse of the South Atlantic, without instruments, in hopes of hitting Elephant Island, one of the tiny specks of the South Shetland Islands.

Which they did.

Seven days later, they stepped onto the shore of freezing, windswept, uninhabited Elephant Island, and set up camp.

Shackleton then set off with five of the crew in one of the tiny open boats to reach the whaling station at South Georgia Island. Sixteen days later, sick and exhausted, having survived several storms and 40-foot seas, they stepped onto the shore of South Georgia.

That 16-day voyage from Elephant to South Georgia is considered one of the greatest feats in navigation history.

Unfortunately, the current landed them on the wrong shore of South Georgia Island—the side opposite the Stromness whaling station. So the six sick and exhausted men hiked 36 hours straight across the frozen interior, crossing a 9,000-foot wall of mountains so forbidding that they had never before been crossed by anyone, ever.

They reached the whaling station, got warm and dry, then raised an expedition to rescue their comrades. They tried three times to reach Elephant Island and failed each time, repelled by violent weather.

A member of the stranded crew on Elephant Island took this photo of Shackleton’s boat—that distant speck—returning after four months (Public domain)

At last, four months after first leaving the island and two full years after leaving England, Shackleton reached his crew, clinging to life, and guided them back to South Georgia Island, where they found passage home to England.

Total survivors out of the original twenty-eight? Twenty-eight.

Almost immediately after reaching England, Shackleton began organizing another Antarctic expedition.

Read that again.

For the rest of my life, if I’d been any one of the 28 on the Endurance, I’d sing the Queen of the Night aria every time a waiter brought me ice water.

Shackleton got another expedition together all right, in 1921. But as the ship docked at South Georgia, he had a massive heart attack and died at 47.

Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.