Shackleton – Success under failure

In late 1914 Ernest Shackleton and a team of 27 men sail towards the South Pole to be the first to cross the Antartic continent but unfortunately the expedition became a failure very early on as the ship Endurance became trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea north of Antartica. They remained there for 14 months drifting with the ice flow completely frozen in. The ship broke up and sank in October 1915 due to the pressure from the ice. They managed to salvage some provisions and three life boats. They camped on the ice and then managed to sail 100 miles north to Elephant Island on three 23ft boats in gale force winds and 50ft high waves to this uninhabited desolate island navigating with a sextant and charts.

Shackleton then with 5 other men sail in a 23ft open boat against all odds for 16 days 800 miles north to South Georgia Island where there is a Whaling Station – the nearest inhabited island. The weather and conditions were extreme – gale force winds, high waves, strong currents, -20 degrees C. The captain was only able to take 1 sighting of the sun with his sextant to determine their position, the rest was done on ‘dead reckoning’ – an outstanding achievement ! May 1916 they managed to enter a tiny bay and land the boat safely – even the main pin that held the rudder then fell out – a miracle they made it !

The whaling station is on the other side of the island, and so Shackleton then leads a perilous expedition without a map with two others to cross over the mountainous island to reach the whaling station on May 20th 1916. He then takes three attempts to sail to Elephant Island over 3 months to rescue the other 22 men left there.

Under Shackleton’s incredible leadership they remained as a team with hope and motivation and survived against all odds.

Someone quoted at the time “Scott would give you scientific leadership, Amundsen (Norwegian explorer 1st to South Pole) would give you swift & efficient travel leadership, but Shackleton would give you leadership in a desperate and hopeless situation”.

Who or what strengthened Shackleton to do what he did? In the early 1900s in Britain many believed in the God of the bible – but did Shackleton draw on Him? There is one entry in his private diary that indicates that he may well have done, and through him a miracle that was to unfold.

Hope you have a happy & prosperous 2023

All the best,

Addendum: Shackleton never achieved any of his goals. He lost the race to the South Pole and failed to cross the Antartic continent. He died aged 47 from a heart attack in 1922 on an expedition, yet leaves us with an amazing example of outstanding leadership.

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