LAUNCHING THE JAMES CAIRD FROM ELEPHANT ISLAND
DIMENSIONS: 19.5” X 27”
(49.5 CM X 68.6 CM)
PRICE: $19.95 US
PHOTOGRAPH BY: FRANK HURLEY
IMAGE SOURCE: Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, UK
After reaching the barren safety of Elephant Island Shackleton was faced with a daunting reality – no outside help knew where they were, let alone that they could still be alive; there would be no rescue if they simply eked out an existence on the wave and wind lashed spit of Point Wild. To ensure the rescue of his men, Shackleton had to take matters in his own hands once again and make a bold run for help.
The closest inhabited land was in Tierra del Fuego / Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. But the storming westerly winds and strong currents coursing through the Drake Passage made an approach from Elephant Island in a small boat virtually impossible. Their only option was to make for the island of South Georgia, to the northeast. They were faced with a treacherous journey across 800 nautical miles / 1500 km of the stormiest seas in the world, at the beginning of winter, a distance ten times greater than they had traveled to get to Elephant Island. It amounted to trying to find a geographical needle in an oceanic haystack. South Georgia was less than 100 km long flanked to either side by thousands of kilometers of the South Atlantic ocean.
In all probability, such an open boat journey was tantamount to suicide. But they had no other option and Shackleton knew this. The men were terribly demoralized and the weather was worsening every day. Shackleton announced his plan and everyone set about in preparation. Six of the men, led by Shackleton and including Hurley and Crean, would depart as soon as everything was ready. McNish did an amazing job at strengthening and covering the 22 1/2 foot James Caird with a minimum of tools and supplies. April 24th, the weather broke and the James Caird was finally ready after four days of intense preparation. Under favourable skies, the little boat was launched in the breaking surf.