The Endurance ship was crushed by pack ice in its final moments. (Wikimedia Commons)


Column: A doomed ship and its intrepid captain: An incredible saga of survival

The remarkable story of Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the ill-fated Endurance.
<a href="" target="_self">Rishi Vridhachalam</a>

Rishi Vridhachalam

January 27, 2023

It was a balmy 90 degrees, yet I reflexively reached for my weighted blanket. Sunlight flooded in through the open windows, but a dense fog shrouded the room. 

Only a faint breeze rustled the leaves outside but I cowered against gale-force winds. Barely an hour had passed after lunch when, inexplicably, pangs of hunger gnawed at my stomach and the malodor of burning blubber engulfed me. 

As I read about the discovery of the Endurance shipwreck nearly 10,000 feet down in waters that are among the iciest on Earth, I was teleported across space and time to the frigid Weddell Sea, amidst Ernest Shackleton and his crew. 

It was January 1915. We were six months into our journey to Antarctica, navigating through thousands of miles of treacherous pack ice. The end was in sight. We were barely a day’s sail away from our destination but calamity was upon us: The Endurance was trapped in the vise-like grip of an island of ice

Over the next 10 months, the pack ice slowly crushed the ship in its relentless embrace and finally, on November 21, 1915, it would sink into the bleak depths of the Weddell Sea. Stranded in a vast frozen desert, death was imminent and inevitable. 

But a tiny flicker of hope casts a glow in the darkness of despair. That flicker was Shackleton’s courage and determination against all odds to get his men to safety. Fueled by his leadership and girded by his resolve, that flicker turns into a flame, and then a bonfire. We trudged across 850 miles of the South Atlantic Ocean by foot, on floes, and in lifeboats until we reached the closest outpost of civilization. The terrors of the long polar night were finally dispelled by the dawn of a new day. We had made a miraculous escape and lived to tell a tale that would reverberate across centuries. 

As I traveled back to reality, I felt refreshed and renewed. I no longer feared the paper that was due tomorrow. My to-do list stirred no anxiety or dread. One of the greatest survival stories in the annals of exploration had echoed through the ages, infusing me with confidence and strength. It is amazing what a bit of summer reading does for you!