Day 1: 1 January 2019

There were 27 of the them and Shackleton. 

In August, 1914, as the world erupted into what would become the most destructive war in human history, they set off on an expedition which would become the stuff of legend.  Their goal was to cross Antarctica on foot from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea by way of the Pole.  It was, in Shackleton’s words, ‘the last great journey left to man’.  But they never even got started; in fact they never even set foot upon the great white continent.  In January, 1915,  while carving their way through the pack, their ship, the legendary Endurance, became icebound.  In the end she was crushed and on 21 November they all watched in silence as her stern rose twenty feet into the air, paused momentarily and then  in one gulp was gone.  All that was left was a small dark opening in the ice, but within seconds the pack had closed leaving nothing to mark where she had been.

They were 28 little dots marooned on the ice at the heart of the most hostile sea on the planet.  They were utterly alone, the nearest civilization was many hundreds of miles away.  Their last contact with the outside world had been over eleven months before, they did not have a radio and nobody knew where they were.  Their prospect of rescue was nil. 

The Endurance sank at 5 pm.  In his tent that evening Shackleton tried to describe what had happened.  ‘She went today’, he began.  He struggled on another 43 words and then gave up.  ‘I cannot write about it’, he concluded.

They expected to die - slowly and horribly - but what followed was the greatest Antarctic adventure there has ever been and, arguably, the greatest story of human survival in recorded history.  The most remarkable thing about the Shackleton saga is that they all lived to tell the story.

If Shackleton’s objective was to cross Antarctica then ours is to locate his ship.  Today we forgathered mission-ready upon the freezing white banks of the Weddell Sea.  Soon we will set sail on the South African icebreaker Agulhas II for the Larsen C ice shelf   The greater part of our expedition will be scientific, but towards the end we will plunge the abyss in an attempt to find the Endurance.  As a maritime archaeologist I can say with little fear of contradiction that this will be the greatest wreck-search there has ever been.  Conditions and equipment allowing, and at a cost of millions, we will journey into what Shackleton himself called ‘the worst corner of the worst sea on earth’, and then, using the most advanced deep-ocean search-and-survey technology available, go under the pack to three thousand meters to hunt for what has been called the most iconic ship of all time.  Of course I do not know if we will succeed, but stay with me, I will talk you through it, and together we will find out.