Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review - South - The Endurance Expedition by Sir Ernest Shackleton

I'm not up with my history on polar exploration but the name Shackleton is held in high regard. When I spotted this book for $5 at the Save The Children Fund Giant Book Fair I had no hesitation in grabbing it.

And what a riveting read it turned out to be. At times it was difficult to put the book down. Normally I just read on the bus but I found myself reading at home also. Took about three weeks to finish. The justified text made it a bit difficult to concentrate at time and the US spelling for a book written by someone from Britain added to the difficulty. I had words spelt "incorrectly".

Long story made short - Shackleton assembled a crew prior to the outbreak of World War I for a polar expedition to Antarctica, his third. They sailed south and attempted to land at the Weddell Sea and make a crossing via the pole to the Ross Sea where another ship, the Aurora, was waiting (supposedly) after its crew had created a series of depots with food to allow him to make a relatively easy crossing. Well, his ship became stuck fast in the ice and he didn't make land. Then the ship was crushed by ice and the 26 explorers had to wait it out in abominable conditions. After a few months camped on the floe they headed to the open sea by dragging three boats with them until they reached relatively open water. A dangerous sea crossing was made and they were the first humans to land on Elephant Island. Six of the members headed to South Georgia to organise a rescue from the whaling station there. Just when you thought that things couldn't get worse they did. Continuously.

Sir Ernest didn't have all of the fun though. The Aurora broke its moorings and drifted in a chunk of floe for some ten months before they could break free. They then made it to New Zealand.

Spare a thought for the depot crew on Antarctica who were planning on living on the Aurora - they were left to mother nature and withstood hunger, temperatures of -35C, blizzards that raged for days, lack of dogs for sledging and many other calamities. Three of the ten men survived this ordeal. Absolutely amazing.

Throughout my reading I jotted down notes of interesting quotes and writing. Here is where I share them.

- Killer whales posed a danger to men on the ice as they wouldn't differentiate between man and seal when hunting and could smash through quite thick ice.
- Ice bubbles 40ft across by four or five ft high were noticed.
- Strieted.
- Mirages were seen regularly, sometimes in duplicate or triplicate.
- Strange phenomenon of the sun setting and rising twice, another mirage.
- Arthwartship.
- Parhelia, double suns noted.
- Frost-smoke.
- "A man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground." - following the loss of his ship.
- sinecure.
- Farinaceous - Made from, or rich in, starch or flour.
- The fact that the men did not know what was coming gave them a sort of mental speculation, and the slightest variation was of great value.
- Imbricated.
- "No housewife ever had more to do than we in making a little go a long way" - Lees
- The men would forage for the smallest scraps of "food", not something modern people in the land of plenty would contemplate.
- Avidity.
- "It will do us all good to be hungry like this, for we will appreciate so much more the good things when we get home" - one of the men.
- Shackleton's men ate the dogs when food was very low. "Just like beef, but, of course, very tough." Strangely, it was written that the last two teams of dogs were shot on April 2nd but mentioned they were still feeding them on April 18th.
- "Loneliness is the penalty of leadership, but the man who has to make decisions is assisted greatly if he feels that there is no uncertainty in the minds of those who follow him, and that his orders will be carried out confidently and in expectation of success."
- "The trappings of civilisation are soon cast aside in the face of stern realities, and given the barest opportunity of winning food and shelter man can live and even find his laughter ringing true."
- The old adage about a short cut being the longest way round is ofter as true in the Antarctic as it is in the peaceful countryside.
- "The scene from our camp as the daylight brightened was magnificent beyond description, though I must admit that we viewed it with anxiety."
- Distances are much more difficult to judge because of the clear air in Antarctica and differences in elevation were almost impossible to determine which lead to sledging teams tipping over on many occasions.
- "The fairy princess who would not rest on her seven downy mattresses because a pea lay underneath the pile might not have understood the pleasure we all derived from the irregularities of the stones, which could not possibly break beneath us or drift away; the very searching lumps were sweet reminders of our safety."
- First person to set foot on Elephant Island, Blackborrow, the youngest expedition member, actually stayed lying in the surf after being dumped overboard for the honour. He was badly frostbitten on both feet and couldn't possibly walk and Shackleton forgot this in his endeavour to give him the honour. Whoops.
- "Man's sense of honour is always most easily stirred by the petty misfortunes of his neighbours."
- Morainic.
- Nunataks.
- A roaring glacier on South Georgia Island which, sounding much like gunfire as icebergs were being calved, kept them awake.
- Once Shackleton, Worsley and Crean had reached civilisation and bathed, changed clothes and had a hair cut both head and facial, other members of his crew failed to recognise Worsley upon their return.
- "It is evident, therefore, that a complete knowledge of the weather conditions in any part of the world, which it is understood carries with it the ability to make correct forecasts, can never be obtained unless the weather conditions in every other part are known."
- Sir Ernest was greatly concerned that the humpback whale was threatened with extinction and called for universal legislation to protect whales from early commercial extinction.

For those of you who love non-fiction - read it. It's a harrowing tale of human survival against all odds.


Anonymous said...

I am into that survivalist stuff myself Hammy. Mitch

Hammy said...

Moreso than Bear Grylls?