A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Robin Stuart
Date: 2017 Feb 9, 12:31 -0800
I've finished "Shackleton's Boat Journey" and expanded the notes I had provided previously (below). I come away surprised at the number of times Shackleton chose to go against Worsely's advice and wonder about whether or not they would have still been successful if he had taken it. Some instances are
- Although not in this book - pushing the Endurance south into the ice rather than putting the party ashore on a more northerly part of the antarctic coast.
- Whether to moor to ice flows or continue overnight during the voyage to Elephant Island
- Overballasting the James Caird
- Not going to the nearby whaling station at Prinz Olaf Harbour
- Not taking a more direct and ultimately less hazardous approach at the very end of the trek to Stromness
At the end of they made it so who knows. A strong theme that comes through is Shackleton's genuine and selfless concern for the well-bing of his men.
“[24th April] Immediately after breakfast the sun came out obligingly. The first sunny day with a clear enough horizon for rating my chronometer.*
* This English chronometer, an excellent one of Smith’s was the sole survivor, in good going order, of the twenty-four we set out with in the Endurance. [Author’s Note]” p.101
“It was too much by about five hundredweight. The overweighting was the cause of Caird’s slowness, stiffness, and jerky motion. It kept us constantly wet all passage, so causing much unnecessary misery. I demurred to Sir Earnest, but other counsels prevailed. He knowing the danger of under ballasting, went to the other extreme.” p.103
Worsley mentions a number of books that he has in his possession
· Navigation books specifically the epitome and Nautical Almanac
He describes making notes in his
· Navigating/navigation book
“my navigating books and log were in a pitiable state – soaked through” p.115
“My navigation books had to be half-opened, page by page, till the right one was reached, then opened carefully to prevent their utter destruction. The epitome had had the cover, front and back pages washed away, while the Nautical Almanac shed its pages so rapidly before the onslaught of the seas that it was a race whether or not the month of May would last to South Georgia.” p.116
“Quoting from my diary:
Pumping and baling on every watch…” p.119
“A few scribbled remarks in my navigating book ran: ”Bags and finneskoe moulting at a great rate.”” p.128
“From my navigation book: “In assisting with the ‘Primus’ I burn my fingers…” p.134
Which volume is he referring to as the epitome?
Did he have a navigating/navigation book to carry out intermediate calculations that don’t go into and record personal note? Did he separately have a diary?
Concerns about the Voyage
What surprised me was that Worsley seemed to be reasonably confident about making it to South Georgia but was aware that Shackleton was less so.
“For me, used to boat work, surf landings and every kind of craft, this passage was an adventure - a too uncomfortable and dangerous one-but still an adventure. To him [Shackleton]…it must have been more menacing, even appalling.” p.107
I guess today we’d identify this as a rogue wave.
“The line of white along the southern horizon that he [Shackleton] had taken for clearing sky was, in fact the foaming crest of an enormous sea…The wave that had struck was so sudden and so enormous that I have since come to the conclusion that it may have been caused by the capsizing of some great iceberg unseen and unheard by us in the darkness and the heavy gale.” p.130
Missing Digits in Log
This may explain why he omits leading digits in time sight reductions.
“The dead reckoning figures were made one at a time by jabbing the pencil as occasion offered. By strict economy I confined their numbers to twenty-five.” p.126
Change of Course
“I told Sir Ernest that I could not be sure of our position to 10 miles, so he would not agree to my trying to weather the northwest end of South Georgia, for fear of missing it. We then steered a little more easterly, to make landfall on the west coast.” 7th May, p.138
Crossing South Georgia
“It had never been crossed except where Possession Bay, on the east coast was separated by the previously mentioned saddle, only six miles across from King Haakon Sound [where they landed] on the west coast. Thence three miles more would take you to Prinz Olaf Harbour. I tried to persuade Sir Earnest to make this journey – I knew that it was no use volunteering to go myself; but he would not, for at the time, so far as we knew, the whaling station there was only kept on in the summer. We afterwards found that it was kept running all that winter, and has not since been closed.” p.187