Southern Ocean and Elephant Island

 After leaving South Georgia we headed south for 800 miles across the Southern Ocean to Elephant Island. There we would get our first Antarctic experience. Up to this point our voyage had been fairly smooth sailing, I was feeling fairly confident with my sea legs. In the Southern Ocean that all changed. The ocean had turned violent. For 2 days we encountered swells at times that would reach 30 feet. Walking the length of the ship down the passageway was at times harrowing to say the least. The bow of the ship would ride up the crest of a wave then just as you have adapted to going uphill, on your next step it would drop into a trough between waves. After a brief moment of weightlessness your foot fall would find the floor a couple of feet lower than where you anticipated it would be.  In the observation room I would sit watching the bow of the ship become completely submerged in a wave which would roll along the deck until it smashed against the window obliterating all visuals until the until the ship crested the next wave. I was definitely out of my comfort zone. Our cabin was center of the ship on the 4th deck. Optimal placement for rough seas. The individuals who had paid top dollar for the suites forward on the top 7th deck had stories of items falling off the shelves, doors and drawers opening and spilling their contents everywhere. Several moved to the lounging areas on the lower decks so they could sleep without falling out of bed. Apparently it happened often enough that the crew had a saying for it………. “The more you pay, the more you sway.”

Elephant Island is a wretched foreboding outcrop of land at the Easternmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. In 1915 Ernest Shackelton had planned a transcontinental crossing of Antarctica. Weather and lack of Antarctic knowledge (Shackelton and a few others were the first to explore the continent) created conditions which caused their ship Endurance to sink. The crew of 28 escaped in 3 lifeboats which drifted on sea ice for 5 months until making “safe” landfall on Elephant Island. As Elephant Island was far from any whaling or exploratory routes, Shackelton with 5 others set out on a rescue mission. They chose the most seaworthy life boat, a 22.5 ft semi-enclosed life boat and provisioned it with 18 gallons of water, food for a month and a minimal of navigational instruments and set out for South Georgia, 800 miles away across the Southern Ocean. The Southern Ocean is the most notorious ocean on the planet, prevailing jet stream winds out of the west with no land masses to slow them down creates a rolling ocean with waves up to 60 feet. After 16 days of mostly dead reckoning, (they only were able to see the sun for sexton readings 5 of the 16 days) they were able to make their way to South Georgia. To this day, this is still considered the greatest small boat sail ever achieved. The rescue boat for the men left behind eventually arrived 4 ½ months later. The members of the ill fated Endurance endured 20 months of epic struggle and all survived.

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