On 16th February 2022, the Endurance22 expedition arrived in the area of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea that swallowed Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship - the Endurance - more than 106 years ago.
Endurance22’s team of world-leading marine archaeologists, sea-ice scientists, engineers, technicians and historians set sail aboard the South African polar research vessel S.A. Agulhas II on February 5th, retracing the path Shackleton’s Endurance took on the 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. This endeavour, funded by The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, is unprecedented
Over the course of their 35-day expedition, the Endurance22 expedition is seeking to locate the wreckage of the Endurance, which sank in 1915 after becoming trapped in the Weddell Sea ice for 10 months. The survival of Shackleton’s crew in the meantime - and his wildly daring yet successful rescue mission to save them afterwards - remains a legendary feat of polar exploration, and an audacious display of his indefatigable spirit.
Now, the Endurance22 crew seek to succeed where all before them have failed: in locating, surveying and filming the last remaining evidence of the vessel that carried Shackleton and his men into almost inescapable peril. In doing so, they hope to uncover groundbreaking sub-sea data that sheds light on Shackleton’s expedition and ship, the ice in the Weddell Sea and the most effective means of protecting what remains of the Endurance.
The journey remains as treacherous as ever, taking the Agulhas II into an area where few ships dare to venture. Sailing in Shackleton’s wake, Endurance22 will face the same freezing temperatures, extreme weather and heavy sea ice that dogged the 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
The Weddell Sea covers a staggering 2.8 million square kilometres, and although Captain Frank Worsley’s calculations and records provide a very good indication of where the Endurance might be found, overcast conditions when his final sextant readings were taken - and other errors and uncertainties in the contemporaneous coordinates - mean that the precise location of the wreckage is not certain
What is known is that on 21st November 1915, the Endurance sank beneath the ice and came to rest 3000 metres below the surface. Endurance22’s expedition team, led by British salvage expert Mensun Bound have been working closely from Worsley’s coordinates, using hindsight and modern technology to correct inconsistencies - particularly longitudinal - that may lead them to the correct location of the Endurance.
On 22nd February, however, the Agulhas II came close to repeating history a little too accurately; as temperatures dropped dramatically, the Weddell Sea ice began to freeze around the ship, trapping it in the ice - precisely as had begun the 10-month-long downfall of the Endurance.
Image credit: Saunders CB
British historian Dan Snow is a member of the Endurance22 expedition - often to be found wearing his orange Shackleton Haakon Tactical Parka . “We are stuck on the ice,” he’s reported saying. “We’ve got the engines at full stern, several thousand horsepower. We are shifting movable ballast about the ship. We’re doing everything we can to escape and carry on with the search.”
With the Agulhas II being a specially-equipped icebreaker ship, the Endurance22 expedition team has a century of modern technology on their side in the battle against the ice. Using mechanical cranes to break free - and even burning the ice with aviation fuel - the Agulhas II was soon on its way again within hours.
As devotees of the Boss and his incredible story, we wish the team well and await any news with great excitement. Finding the Endurance would be a truly momentous feat.