The Endurance: Legendary Shipwreck Saga

The Endurance Shipweck

The Endurance Shipweck

Is there an I-max theater near you? If so, don’t miss Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure on the five-story Imax Theater screen. Billed as a sensory-immersion experience, the film chronicles Commander Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 attempt to lead a 26-man British team across the Antarctic continent.

In 1913, Shackelton advertised his expedition in the British newspapers: Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold and long months of complete darkness. There will be constant danger and a safe return is doubtful. Looking for the bravest of the brave. There will be honor and recognition in case of success.

Thousands of men replied to the ad, all seeking an opportunity to join the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a complete on-foot crossing of the ice-bound continent. Among the engineers, physicists, geologists and others on the voyage was Frank Hurley, a cameraman who shot 35 mm footage of the team’s legendary struggle to survive. Some of Hurley’s shots—a riveting part of the Imax presentation—show the ship being crushed by the ice floes and breaking apart as the men abandon it.

The Endurance Shipweck

The Endurance Shipweck

The Endurance, stuck in the ice for nearly 11 months, sank in October, 1915. Shackleton, realizing his men couldn’t walk to Elephant Island, 350 miles away, ordered them to camp on the ice and wait for the spring thaw. Five months later, after enduring blizzards, gales and minus 50-degree temperatures, three lifeboats were launched and deployed through narrow water lanes in the ice pack. It took one week of strenuous rowing to reach Elephant Island where camp was set up on the rocky shore of a secure cape.

The Endurance Shipwreck

The Endurance Shipwreck

It was the first time in nearly a year and a half since the men had set foot on land. Safer now, but not out of danger, they rested and dined on seals and penguins. They used blubber from the flesh of seals to fuel their stoves and built crude housing from upturned boats and boulders. They were surviving, but not without Shackleton’s constant encouragement. He instilled his optimism in others and inspired confidence when things looked bleak. Defeated in his goal to cross the continent on foot, the inspirational commander was determined to bring his men back alive. He knew this new found sense of security wouldn’t last long and announced that he would attempt to reach a whaling station at South Georgia Island, 800 miles away. Shackleton and five volunteers took the sturdiest boat and sailed for 17 days through storms that spawned howling winds and blinding snow. When they reached the island, the weary voyagers climbed the mountainous terrain and made their way to a Norwegian whaling station. Bathed and nourished, Shackleton made immediate plans to rescue his men.

With help from the whalers, the commander was successful in his fourth attempt to return to Elephant Island. All of the crew survived the two-year Antarctic adventure. Shackleton was elated when he was greeted by his men on the beach and one of them said: “We knew you’d come.”

The Endurance Shipweck

The Endurance Shipweck

David Mearns of West Sussex, United Kingdom, heads Blue-Water Recoveries and endorses expeditions to exciting places. He is planning to search for the Endurance as soon as funds are available to hire the ice-breaking research vessels necessary for such a quest. Stay tuned for future news. For more information, visit or write to David Mearns at For an excellent read with authentic photos, get Michelle & Nicholas Pennington’s book, The Endurance: History’s Greatest Shipwreck, Pathways Press, 2007

About Ellsworth Boyd

Ellsworth Boyd, Professor Emeritus, College of Education, Towson University, Towson, Maryland, pursues an avocation of diving and writing. He has published articles and photo's in every major dive magazine in the US., Canada, and half a dozen foreign countries. An authority on shipwrecks, Ellsworth has received thousands of letters and e-mails from divers throughout the world who responded to his Wreck Facts column in Sport Diver Magazine. When he's not writing, or diving, Ellsworth appears as a featured speaker at maritime symposiums in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, New York and Philadelphia. "Romance & Mystery: Sunken Treasures of the Lost Galleons," is one of his most popular talks.
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10 Responses to The Endurance: Legendary Shipwreck Saga

  1. Ethan Allen says:

    Fascinating Professor, absolutely fascinating. One of the few antarctic expeditions that ended well. I will have to see if this presentation is showing at the local I-max.

    Safe diving, EA

  2. Thanks Ethan for your comment. Yes, by all means try and see this film. I notice that these I-max presentations come and go, but often return, so just keep an eye out on the one closest to you. I saw it at the I-max theater a year ago at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland. I’m watching to see if it returns and if it does I will go again. Cheers!

  3. Julie Clark says:

    This is a fascinating story. Thank you for writing about it. I did not know about this saga. Commander Shackleton was indeed a hero and a great leader.

  4. Yes, it’s an amazing saga. Not only did Shackleton and five volunteers row and sail in a small boat for 17 days to reach Elephant Island, they then had to climb mountainous terrain to reach the whaling station. Through determination and courage, they made it & eventually rescued the others.

  5. Ethan Allen says:

    Professor, Look on Yahoo News there is a story about a frenchman who re-created the journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia in the same type boat with the same clothes (I think I’d spring for a survival suit) and the same conditions. An adventure in itself to get all that together.

    Always reading, EA

  6. Thanks for the heads up Ethan. Yes, I shall check this out and I too argree—a survival suit might be an appropriate “extra” to take along on the journey! E.

  7. N. A. Henry says:

    Professor, thank you for putting this story out there for more people to read. I was assigned to read this story when I was 11 or 12, and it inspired a love of the sea in me, and also taught me a great deal about leadership. Seeing this brought up again means a lot to me. Thank you.

  8. Thanks for your nice comments. Yes, this story should be rquired reading for all classes that stress leadership. Shackleton’s men loved him. It’s no wonder, as he practiced what he preached and set an example for all.

  9. Walter William Winterburn says:

    One of the best Movie / Film / Documentaries / Mini Series was with actor Kenneth Branagh, just titled “Shackleton” it was based on the detailed diaries and actual accounts of expedition members, has been shown on the History Channel in a four part series, very powerful and enjoyable.

  10. Thanks for the heads-up on this from the History Channel. I shall be on the lookout for the re-runs. I did have the opportunity of viewing the story on the big screen at the Maryland Science Center a few years ago and it was quite captivating. Let me know if you see it coming up anyplace else. Thanks again.

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