Shackleton never gave up.
Nor it seems do we.
And so we are back.
1075 days, or almost three years have passed since I and my colleagues slunk back to the UK with our tails between our legs. Beaten by the ice.
I am standing on the high quayside of the East Dock in Cape Town looking up at one of the finest ice ships around. It is going to be our home for the next five to six weeks. Except we cannot go on board because it is loading fuel for our two helicopters. John Shears, the expedition leader, comes over and tells me it is going to take three hours at least. Jolly annoying.
I am joined by Chad Bonin, a friend of many years from various deep-ocean survey projects around the world. He’s from Louisiana. He is one of a small group who will be piloting the submersibles in our search for Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance. He was with me during the first attempt three years ago. Like me he is delighted to be back. ‘A twice in a lifetime opportunity’, he proclaims in his distinctive Southern drawl.
We peer up at the great she-elephant of a cherry-red-painted ship before us. It’s the 12,900 ton, 134 foot long, South African flagged SA Agulhas II. Launched in 2011 she is not exactly new, but nor by any measure is she some old tusker. Her primary role is the supply and relief of her nation’s scientific bases on and around the Great White Continent. Vessels like this are the pit ponies of Antarctica; but this one is more than that; a cross between a Sherman tank, a wrecking ball and a Swiss-army knife, this is one of the best and most versatile ice breakers around.
And this is what we need because we are heading into the frozen cauldron of the Weddell Sea where the Endurance was crushed by pack ice and went under on 21 October 1915.
There are about ten of us who are boarding today. Tomorrow the work of mobilization begins. Over the next four days more of the team will be arriving until we number 64. If all goes well we should be leaving sometime late on 5th February. Once out of Table Bay we will shape a course for the Weddell Sea 3000 nautical miles to the South West. Depending on speed and weather conditions it should take us about 8 days.
Once there we will have to shove, bludgeon and break our way through to the heart of the pack where we will plunge the abyss to 3000 m in search of the most famous lost ship in the world. During the days to come I will talk more about the team, our incredible kit and the methodologies we shall employ. In addition, I shall try to be Virgil to your Dante as I take you deep into Shackleton territory.
I cannot promise that we will receive History’s tap on the shoulder, but I can promise you one helluva ride. So pull up your chairs, for as Kirk Douglas warbled in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (the most popular movie on board last time round), ‘I’ve got a whale of a tale to tell you, lads.’
Mensun Bound (Director of Exploration)