A thrilling update to a legendary tale of adventure
"What the ice gets the ice keeps" observed Sir Ernest Shackleton as his ship the Endurance was pinned by pack ice in the Weddell Sea in 1915.
Despite never setting foot on the continent, the incredible story of Shackleton's escape from Antarctica is without doubt one of the greatest adventure stories ever told.
"Overwhelming" is how the marine archaeologist Mensun Bound describes the burden of setting out in Shackleton's wake to search for the Endurance, "the world's most unreachable shipwreck," in its icy grave.
Our December book, The Ship Beneath the Ice, deftly weaves both these stories together as Bound details the incredible moments of excitement and achievement, along with frustration, failure and despair, in his attempts to locate the wreck.
The reasons for his enduring imprint on our collective imagination are in part down to Shackleton's knack of self promotion; the endeavour was filmed and photographed extensively by the talented Frank Hurley, some of whose images are re-published in Bound's book.
But the main reason is the legacy left by his towering leadership that enabled all 28 men came home alive, beating unassailable odds to survive 497 days on the ice, whilst travelling an astonishing 830 miles across the stormy southern ocean to reach the closest habitation; a whaling station on South Georgia.
As tales of resilience, persistence and talent go, both stories are hard to beat. Shackleton's set such a compelling example that I sent our then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, my personal copy of the story mid Coronavirus crisis, in the vain hope he might lean something from it.
The big difference between the two, however, is the world they are set within.
Shackleton sets out just as war is declared, even pausing to wait for approval to proceed from the Vice Admiral Winston Churchill. Almost his first words on reaching the whaling station are to ask whether the war had ended, which of course it had not. This left his achievement and crew somewhat at limbo, with the globe embroiled in the first of it's world wars with little time for polar exploits however heroic.
One hundred years later, Bound however, discovers a starting change to the south polar oceans. Where the Endeavour was surrounded by hundreds of crab eater seals and penguins, Bound's ship found just sparse colonies. And whilst he too was captured by what Shackleton called "dense pack (ice) of a very obstinate nature" he was only able to achieve his mission thanks to the vast ice melt opening up previously unreachable sea floor.
Two incredible stories, each with their own message to us now and for the future, neatly bound in a single cover - it's the stuff that long winter evenings were made for.
Subscriptions, including gift subscriptions, started in December will begin with a copy of The Ship Beneath the Ice and our January book Elegy for a River, as we ship 2 books every 2 months to reduce our carbon footprint.