Day 4: January 4 2019

We Proceed

We are off on a great voyage of discovery. Shackleton, I like to think, would be proud of us. 

By midday yesterday we were joined by the last members of the team and immediately we were under way for the Larsen C ice shelf on the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

I wonder how this will all turn out. What will we achieve and how will this all look 45 days from now? This project has been several years in the making, everybody has been carefully selected for their expertise; this great she-elephant of an ice-breaker is packed to the gunwales with learned academics and highly-trained technical specialists, but that doesn’t guarantee success. ‘Stranger things have happened at sea’ and we could yet be a ship of fools on the voyage of the damned. We’ll see …

The fact is we are a day and a half behind schedule. On a project like this when every minute is at a premium, this is not good. We have, however, an eight day transit ahead of us and, if conditions allow, maybe we can make up the lost time.

As a rule of thumb, the bigger the expedition the less likely it is to get away on time. Things always conspire to hold you back; equipment problems, late delivery of essentials, and so on. In Shackleton’s case it was a war.

On Friday 1st August, 1914, the Endurance gave the first kick of its screw and slowly she eased out of London’s West India Docks and into the Thames. One of the diarists described the large crowds that had gathered and how he had heard one bystander predict that ‘Some of them will never see London again.’ But these were terrible times, the two most powerful nations in the world, Britain and Germany, were about to take up cudgels in a war of total destruction. Three days later, on the 4th August, Shackleton went into Margate on the Kent coast where he read in the newspapers of the order for general mobilization. He returned to his ship straight away, mustered the team and informed them that he proposed to send a telegram to the Admiralty offering to place the Endurance, its stores and crew at the disposal of the nation. They all agreed and Shackleton immediately cabled the Sea Lords in Whitehall. The British navy was then the most powerful weapon the world had ever known and the man with his finger upon the trigger was none other than Mr. Winston Churchill. Within an hour they had received his response, just one word: ‘Proceed.’