Antarctica: Elephant Island
Elephant Island is an ice-covered mountainous island off the coast of Antarctica in the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands, in the Southern Ocean. Its name was given by early explorers sighting elephant seals on its shores.The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1917 is considered to be the last major expedition of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Conceived by Sir Ernest Shackleton, the expedition was an attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent.
The voyage of the James Caird was a small-boat journey from Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands to South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean, a distance of 1,300 km (800 mi). Undertaken by Sir Ernest Shackleton and five companions, it aimed to obtain rescue for the main body of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1917, which was stranded on Elephant Island after the loss of its ship Endurance. Polar historians regard the voyage as one of the greatest small-boat journeys ever completed.
In October 1915 pack ice in the Weddell Sea had sunk Endurance, leaving Shackleton and his companions adrift on a precarious ice surface. Throughout the duration of their survival, the group drifted northward until April 1916, when the floe on which they had encamped broke up. They then made their way in the ship's lifeboats to Elephant Island, where Shackleton decided that the most effective means of obtaining rescue would be to sail one of the lifeboats to South Georgia.
Of the three lifeboats, the James Caird was deemed the strongest and most likely to survive the journey. Shackleton had named it after Sir James Key Caird, a Dundee jute-manufacturer and philanthropist, whose sponsorship had helped finance the expedition. Before its voyage, the ship's carpenter Harry McNish strengthened and adapted the boat to withstand the mighty seas of the Southern Ocean. Surviving a series of dangers, including a near capsizing, the boat reached the southern coast of South Georgia after a voyage lasting 16 days. Shackleton and two companions then crossed the island's mountainous interior to reach a whaling station on the northern side. Here he organised the relief of the Elephant Island party, and the return of his men home without loss of life. After the First World War, in 1919, the James Caird was moved from South Georgia to England. It has been on regular display at Shackleton's old school, Dulwich College, since 1922.
The weather in the Southern Ocean was unpredictably cold. It was sunshine one minute, the rain would roll in and it would start sleeting and the next minute it was snowing. Give it a few minutes the fog would lift, clouds depart and it was clear and sunshine again. I can't imagine being stuck on this island for months. I had on two pairs of pants and four layers of shirt-sweater-light coat and overcoat, gloves and I was still cold. I had to limit my exposure to minutes. This was during the Antarctica summer!