Captain’s Log, March 23, 1916

Stamp issued by Great Britain's Royal Mail on January 7, 2016, honoring the centennial of the Endurance Expedition.  Frank Hurley on left, skinning a penguin; Sir Ernest Shackleton on the right.
Stamp issued by Great Britain’s Royal Mail on January 7, 2016, honoring the centennial of the Endurance Expedition. Frank Hurley on left, skinning a penguin; Sir Ernest Shackleton on the right.

‘Land in sight’ was reported this morning.
South!, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The land sighted on March 23, 1916 was the ragged ridges of Joinville Island, and it was the first land the Endurance crew had seen in sixteen months.  They had been on the ice since October 27, when Endurance was crushed, living in rotting clothes and eating seal meat, their dogs, and even the undigested fish found in the stomach of  a leopard seal.  In very cold weather, each man got an extra ration of seal blubber.

Moving across the ice was not impossible, but it would have meant sure death by exhaustion, given the jumbled, broken surface.  This they had learned by bitter experience.  So, there was nothing for them to do but stay alive and wait for the slow gyre of ice to move them to it’s edge.  How did they all not go crazy, just waiting?

They passed the autumnal equinox, the beginning of winter, in a fierce blizzard–surely taken as a warning that time was running short for an escape.  When the blizzard relented, the weather turned bitterly cold, and then stormed again.

In our weak condition, with torn, greasy clothes, we felt these sudden variations in temperature much more than we otherwise would have done. A calm, clear, magnificently warm day followed, and next day came a strong southerly blizzard. Drifts four feet deep covered everything, and we had to be continually digging up our scanty stock of meat to prevent its being lost altogether. We had taken advantage of the previous fine day to attempt to thaw out our blankets, which were frozen stiff and could be held out like pieces of sheet- iron; but on this day, and for the next two or three also, it was impossible to do anything but get right inside one’s frozen sleeping- bag to try and get warm. Too cold to read or sew, we had to keep our hands well inside, and pass the time in conversation with each other.

“The temperature was not strikingly low as temperatures go down here, but the terrific winds penetrate the flimsy fabric of our fragile tents and create so much draught that it is impossible to keep warm within. At supper last night our drinking-water froze over in the tin in the tent before we could drink it. It is curious how thirsty we all are.”South!, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

By now their sextant showed that they had drifted north of Paulet Island–it, and the stocked hut on it, were now out of reach–and they had no hope of crossing the sixty miles or so of rugged ice that separated them from Joinville Island, which they were now drifting past.

For the next two or three days we saw ourselves slowly drifting past the land, longing to reach it yet prevented from doing so by the ice between, and towards the end of March we saw Mount Haddington fade away into the distance.

Our hopes were now centred on Elephant Island or Clarence Island, which lay 100 miles almost due north of us.

If we failed to reach either of them we might try for South Georgia, but our chances of reaching it would be very small.
South!, Sir Ernest Shackleton.