A true hero

King Penguins, South Georgia 1994. Photograph by a friend

Since January 20th, I have moved far away from the News, feeling the need to cleanse my tortured brain.

Whatever I should know will find me in good enough time and there won’t be much I can do about it anyway.

It’s been quite refreshing.

Inevitably, snippets come to light and I can choose to read or not read as I see fit.

A rare bit of good news caught my eye yesterday.

Concerning South Georgia

It was my great good fortune to travel to Antarctica in the 1980’s. I wrote about it last July 18-21.

It is not a place one could ever forget.

In preparation for the journey I read books by the great polar explorers. But it was Sir Ernest Shackleton’s great book “South” that deeply inspired me.

When I think of heroes, Sir Ernest is the one who immediately comes to mind. He was a true leader.

For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen: but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton’

Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund’s quote says it all.

Ernest Shackleton set off for the Antarctic in 1914 aboard the ship aptly named “Endurance”. In January, 1915, the Endurance became trapped in sea ice. In October the ship was crushed by pressure of the ice and in November she sank, leaving the men to negotiate the ice in lifeboats.

After some weeks of struggling in ghastly and treacherous conditions, the lifeboats were maneuvered into open water.

Shackleton headed for Elephant Island, arriving there in April, 1916. An inhospitable, ice-covered, jagged rock, it was at least firm land. Creating a camp in this place was a major challenge, in severe gales and below freezing temperatures. Most of Shackleton’s men remained there while he and 5 others went for help.

This involved an 800 mile, 16-day journey through a stormy sub-Antarctic ocean, in a barely sea-worthy lifeboat, the James Caird.

Arriving on South Georgia, Shackleton faced yet another challenge. They had been unable to sail to the whaling station because of the heavy sea and winds. Shackleton decided to “sprint” over the 4,000 ft mountain and glaciers, as stopping for rest would prove fatal given their lack of equipment and ebbing strength.

Ernest Shackleton and two others reached the whaling station after 36 hours and immediately started to organize rescue of the remaining men. The entire crew of the Endurance survived what must have been the most appalling physical and mental challenge.

His unconquerable spirit inspired his team and made them invincible.

Frank Hurley – photographer of the expedition

The men on Elephant Island were rescued by a Chilean steamer on August 30th, 1916

Shackleton returned to South Georgia on January 4th, 1922, to begin a new expedition. But it was not to be. He died of heart failure on 5th January 1922, just shy of his 48th birthday. He was buried in the graveyard at Grytviken.

It is no doubt because of the connection with Sir Ernest Shackleton that I hold South Georgia in my heart. I was never able to get there to visit the grave, but it is a great haven for penguins and many kinds of wildlife. It is also the home of sustainable fishing grounds.

In 2017 an enormous iceberg broke off from the Larsen ice sheet. It covered 2,187 square miles with an average thickness of 761 feet.

By 2020, this huge berg had reduced by 30% but it seemed on a collision course with South Georgia. It risked tearing up the seabed and flooding the sea with cold fresh water.

Wildlife would have been devastated.

Yesterday, I read that the iceberg has broken up and while the resulting bergs are significant, ocean currents have steered them to the south, into the open ocean, away from South Georgia.

Which was a very long way around to explaining the bit of very good news I read.

6 thoughts on “A true hero

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