FOLLOWING IN THE ENDURANCE'S WAKE
An enduring challenge sets sail
Not too long ago if anyone had told me that I’d be setting off on the S.A. Augulhas II to help solve one of history’s greatest maritime mysteries, I’d have said they were one sandwich short of a picnic.
Listen, I love nothing more than casting a line out on the water and spending time in the ocean whenever I can, but locating what must be the most famous shipwreck in history… surely that’s best left to the archaeologists and treasure hunters who do this for a living?
However, in mid-2021, when White Desert asked me if I’d be interested in assisting the #Endurance22 expedition I was happy to agree to join the operation as a team leader along with seven of my colleagues. The expedition was to be led by Dr. John Shears with the express mission of locating Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous ship, Endurance, which was lost to the ice sinking 3,000 meters below the Weddell Sea in 1915; there was no way I was missing this hugely ambitious adventure. Learn more about the compelling story of Shackleton’s impressive leadership and battle to secure the survival of his crew.
The S.A. Augulhas II departs Cape Town for the Weddell Sea, Antarctica – photo by Esther Horvath.
Setting up for survival on ice in Antarctica
After four seasons working with White Desert in Antarctica, I’d gained a fair amount experience overseeing the operator’s resupply logistics. During this time I was living on the Fimbul Ice Shelf for months at a time – a place where you are exposed to the elements 24/7, with only a tent providing protection from the high winds and heavy snow. Understanding and implementing the requisite safety protocols and living support it takes to survive on ice is critical to withstanding this harsh environment; something our team are well prepared for with their experience working in polar conditions.
White Desert’s global team routinely work out of season in some far flung locations; be it traversing the volcanic mountains of Iceland; guiding in Alaska’s backcountry or diving in shark infested waters for the perfect shot – survivalist skills, years of experience and an innate desire to push boundaries wherever possible.
Before setting off on this once in a lifetime journey, I was first flown to Marseilles, France by the expedition leaders to better familiarise myself with the heavy equipment which would be used to set up the Sabretooth Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) launch station on ice, if required. The AUV would be used to search for the ship, piloted remotely from the deck of the Augulhas. This exercise was vital to troubleshoot all possible scenarios and find workable solutions once on ice.
The Sabretooth Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) – photo by Esther Horvath.
Once we set sail I was beyond impressed with the comfort onboard the ice-breaker. I imagined a scientific research vessel being really basic. Far from that, the vessel is as advanced as they come and the living conditions were fantastic. The Augulhas handled heavy seas with ease and she has amazing ice breaking capabilities, something we all really appreciated after weeks of searching, still with no lock on the underwater wreck, and a few episodes of the “Roaring 40’s”.
Finding Shackleton’s lost ship
The moment when we heard that the AUV pilots had located the Endurance was an absolutely amazing occasion, the mood was incredible. Try picture 65 expedition members with the biggest grins you have ever seen!
We were called to the auditorium at 20:00Z where the expedition leaders made the official announcement and showed us the very first sonar images that they had recorded. There is only one word to describe it – inspiring.
The first video of the Endurance as it rests 3,000m below the sea ice – video Falkland Maritime Heritage Trust.
Personally, having spent so much time in Antarctica, Shackleton’s story of survival is one that I can empathise with on some level. It’s fantastic to be a part of the final chapter 107 years later. To see the photos and videos of the wreck and to be able to tie in the written accounts with what we have now seen with our own eyes is nothing short of mind blowing.
The fact that the wreck was found 100 years to the exact day Shackleton was buried, just adds that much more meaning to the enormity of this discovery. The ship is in unbelievably pristine condition thanks to the freezing temperatures and will be preserved in perpetuity as a protected heritage site, remaining undisturbed in its final ice-bound resting place.
My best memory from this adventure will definitely be the people. The leaders created a team culture and made sure everyone was welcome at all briefings; it was incredible to watch as the whole team, regardless of designation, nationality or department worked as one.
It goes without saying that I am incredibly proud and privileged to have worked alongside my White Desert colleagues during the course of this operation, a truly unique experience that we will share for a lifetime.
The Endurance22 team that successfully located the Endurance ship after 107 years – photo by Esther Horvath.