Day 12: 12 January 2019

Doubts have been expressed by some on the ship as to whether volume 1 of Macklin’s diary will, because of its perishable nature, have survived within the wreck of the Endurance (see Blog 8).

I grant you that it will have suffered some deterioration and will be distinctly mushy, but I am absolutely confident that, if the wreck is still in semi-intact condition, then the diary will still be there and in large part legible.

Water, you see, is surprisingly a great preservative. Even better if temperatures, light and oxygen are all low. I could go on, but I want to tell you a story. Something that happened to me just last year. Something that will put a lid on the matter.

We were conducting an ROV survey at a depth of almost 6000 m. That is deep, extremely deep, far deeper even than the Titanic. Suddenly, there on the mud in front of us lay a wooden case. It was a classic sealed-box mystery and everybody was possessed by the urge to know what was inside. It was just so Pandoran. We consulted on what to do, and in the end we decided to raise it for interrogation and recording and then afterwards return it to the seabed, a common procedure in maritime archaeology when, because of cost, conservation or storage (often all three), you simply cannot recover everything and expect a museum to look after it all. In short, from a depth of over fifteen Empire State Buildings, we brought it up.

In my time I have recovered Greek painted pottery, statuettes of mythological animals, Ming porcelain, figurines of people, thousands of coins, great guns and weaponry of all kinds, rare pottery from South East Asia, even slabs of gold; collections of artefacts that today grace the shelves of over a dozen museums around the world, but nothing I have found prepared me for, or gave me a greater thrill, than what was in that box.

There are moments when I just know God loves archaeologists, and this was one of them. I had been expecting nails, but what we had found was a box of books – and first editions all.

Nothing beats the joy of connecting with the past. You find something, a trapdoor opens and suddenly, like Alice down the rabbit hole, you are hurtling into another world, connecting with people and places and great, dripping, slices of history.

Those books, all printed during the same two-year period within the first half of the 19th century, were easily identifiable. All I had to do was enter into my computer several key-words from any

page and, instantly, I had everything I needed to know. Authors, titles, texts and story lines, it was all there, and, in my head they took me everywhere. One was a travelogue of France, another was an early post-colonial history of the River Plate and, my favourite, a memoir of battles fought on the North West Frontier. There were even novels, one of which one was illustrated by George Cruickshank best known for his work with Charles Dickens. Other titles included The Ward of Thorpe-Combe by Mrs Trollope, (mother of Anthony Trollope); Ten-Thousand a Year by Samuel Warren; The Recreations of Christopher North by John Wilson; and Cecil, a Peer, or the Adventures of a Coxcomb, a best-seller by ‘the wittiest women of her age’, the silver-folk writer Catherine Gore.

But I digress. My point is that that these books, which were all still legible, had been on the seabed for much longer than Macklin’s diary. Furthermore, they were on the bottom of a warm water ocean; the Endurance, by contrast, which is 3000 m below the ice, is in the freezer. All the foregoing, however, raises an important issue to which I will return tomorrow – that of the state of preservation of Shackleton’s legendary ship.

* * * * * * * *

At 20.01 hrs our bow touched A-68 for the first time. Are we the first ship to be here? Was this an historic moment? We think so, but we are not certain.

It was a difficult 24 hrs that left everybody exhausted. As we have seen, we started the day right up against the Larsen C ice shelf where we were hoping to conduct equipment trials, but because of unfavourable currents and a persistent NE wind that pushed the floes towards the shelf, the sea was too congested for subsea ops. We moved south along the shelf towards an area that, from the ice radar, looked to be more sheltered, but were again thwarted so we transited the approx. 25 mile gap to iceberg A-68, pausing about a mile from it to conduct CTD and bongo-net work. After which we closed on A-68 where we spent the evening trying to find a clear space to deploy the ROV for trials which are intended to test its under-ice reach and navigational flexibility, as well as its ability to perform a rescue of the AUV if necessary. All evening we struggle with the floes; we tried driving them away with prop-wash and pushing them to one side using the FRC boat, but nothing worked and, after midnight, we drew off from A-68 and headed out to find a clear spot away from the berg in which to conduct CTD and coring work.

Although we will be conducting science until the 24th I am now monitoring conditions over the Endurance wreck area with our ice skipper. Unfortunately there is still dense coverage over the site. The weather so far has been too kind to us. Basically, we need something to happen, ideally something that will give it a good shake. We must be the only ship in the world that is hoping for a thumping good storm.

Position against Larsen C ice shelf: 66 23.1 S, 060 23.3 W. Position against A-68: 66 36.3 S, 059 37.6 W