DAN SNOW gives his eyewitness account as century-old ship is foundMarch 9, 2022
Seeing Endurance’s outline come into focus took my breath away: Historian DAN SNOW’s dramatic eyewitness account of the moment the wreck of Ernest Shackleton’s ship was spotted
- Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance found after it sank off the coast of Antarctica
- Wooden ship was last seen sinking in the Weddell Sea, Southern Ocean in 1915
- TV historian watches as Endurance is freed from 100-year-old frozen shackles
- Snow worked with Endurance22 marine archaeologists, engineers and scientists
Here, on board the icebreaker SA Agulhas II, we’re all buzzing with excitement.
The thrill of discovering the wreck of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, is so great that we’ve almost forgotten we’re in one of the most inhospitable and marginal places on Earth.
The cold is indescribable — as low as minus 35C (minus 31F) in the Southern Ocean, off Antarctica. We left the pack ice behind only six hours ago, the sea is grey, and a blizzard has just torn across the deck.
But all I can think about, though, is the extraordinary success of our mission.
Not only have we located the Endurance on the seabed, but it is in miraculous condition – probably the best preserved wooden vessel underwater anywhere in the world.
I confess that I had almost given up hope.
Here, on board the icebreaker SA Agulhas II, we’re all buzzing with excitement. The thrill of discovering the wreck of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, is so great that we’ve almost forgotten we’re in one of the most inhospitable and marginal places on Earth
We set out at the beginning of February and after a month of searching the vast frozen wilderness of the Weddell Sea, we had nothing to show for our pain and effort.
My inner demons were nagging me that all this had been for nothing. However, under the inspirational leadership of Captain Knowledge Bengu, the first black African to skipper an icebreaker, and lead archaeologist Mensun Bound, the ship quartered the search zone relentlessly and the team kept the sophisticated machinery operational.
We were pushing as hard as we could at the limits of human and technological endurance.
So when the live video feed from the undersea probe finally picked up the shape of something man-made on the sea bed, we were exultant.
Endurance was one of two ships used by the Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-1917, whose goal was to make the first land crossing of the Antarctica. Aiming to land at Vahsel Bay, the vessel became stuck in pack ice in the Weddell Sea on January 18, 1915 — where she and her crew would remain until the ship was crushed and ultimately sank on November 21, 1915
Photo issued by Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust of the stern of the wreck of Endurance, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship which has not been seen since it was crushed by the ice and sank in the Weddell Sea in 1915
The taffrail, ship’s wheel and aft well deck on the wreck of Endurance, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, which has been found 100 years after Shackleton’s death
The standard bow on the wreck of Endurance, which was found at a depth of 9,868 feet (3,008 metres) in the Weddell Sea, within the search area defined by the expedition team before its departure from Cape Town
A wave of relief hit me — and as the outline of a wooden ship came into focus, it took my breath away. The wreck is 9,869ft beneath the surface, in water so cold that there are few organisms to eat into the hull.
The detail was extraordinary — to be able to make out the brass letters on the stern, spelling out ‘Endurance’, was beyond our wildest dreams. The wreck is protected by the Antarctic Treaty of 1961, which prohibits the ship being moved or interfered with in any way.
It will continue to lie where it sank on November 21, 1915 after being trapped in ice.
But using ultra-high definition cameras, we have made a 3D model accurate to a millimetre, so that researchers will be able to put on a headset and swim around it in virtual reality.
Thankfully, this is not a grave site: Shackleton and his 27 crew abandoned ship before it sank and survived by camping on the pack ice, before he embarked on one of the most daring rescues in the history of exploration.
With five crew members, he navigated more than 800 miles in a whaleboat to the island of South Georgia to seek help in rescuing the rest of his crew, which he successfully achieved.
And that is where, as I write, we are headed now — to pay tribute to the great explorer.
Shackleton never achieved his great goals, which were to get to the South Pole or journey across the Antarctic from coast to coast. But he was tenacious, determined, tough and brave, a great and compassionate leader who looked out for the men under his command
The fact that we found his ship on March 5, a century to the day after his funeral in 1922 (he died of a heart attack on his ship in South Georgia), is an extraordinary coincidence, one rich in echoes of history.
I hope our discovery will encourage a new generation to learn about Shackleton and be inspired by him. Growing up, I loved stories of heroism at sea, and I’ve grown to admire him more in adulthood.
His adventures are as relevant now as they ever were — because his battles were not against other humans but against the ocean, the cold and the ice.
Shackleton is not a conventional hero — not a Duke of Wellington, for example, who succeeded at nearly everything he did.
Shackleton never achieved his great goals, which were to get to the South Pole or journey across the Antarctic from coast to coast.
But he was tenacious, determined, tough and brave, a great and compassionate leader who looked out for the men under his command.
That makes him a role model like no other. When we have paid our respects at his grave, we will head back 3,000 miles or so to Cape Town — where we started this epic journey.
It’s a long voyage, but I cannot complain about conditions — this is a state-of-the-art ship, with surprising levels of comfort.
If there is one hardship, it is that there’s no alcohol on board. It seems a pity to be surrounded by so much ice and have not a drop of Scotch to celebrate our achievement.
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