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Among explorers headed to Antarctica, the name of Sir Ernest Shackleton should be a familiar one. From 1901 till his death in 1922, he attempted no less than three expeditions to cross the continent of Antarctica and reach the geographic South Pole. His journeys achieved a series of firsts in the history of navigation and exploration; however, they failed to emulate Roald Amundsen’s feat of arriving at the South Pole in 1911. As such, Shackleton is one of the most well-recognised figures from the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, a period roughly spanning from the end of the 19th century to the end of World War I.
Shackleton’s most famous expedition was probably the Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914–1917 aboard the sailing vessel, Endurance. It attempted to make the first land crossing of the Antarctica continent—an expedition that was aborted when the ship was damaged by pack ice and sunk into the depths of the Weddell Sea in 1915. Instead, it was retrospectively hailed as an epic journey of resilience and survival, which saw Shackleton and his men camping on drifts and ice of Antarctica, then undertaking a lifeboat journey to Elephant Island. The most remarkable phase of their journey to safer shores took place when they adapted and rowed on one of the lifeboats, a 22.5-foot improvised vessel called James Caird, for an 800-mile (1,300-kilometre) open-air journey across the Southern Ocean to Southern Georgia in 1916—itself the first crossing of its kind at that time.
In a momentous discovery, the wreck of Endurance—testament to Shackleton’s failed but heroic expedition—was finally discovered on March 5, 2022, during the course of an expedition organised by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust. Endurance was found 3,008 metres below sea level, six kilometres away from where it originally sank in 1915. Astoundingly, it has been described to be in an incredible state of preservation—”one of the finest wooden shipwrecks”, according to the director of the expedition, Mensun Bound.
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The helm still remains intact, as if it set sail only yesterday, and the letters proudly spelling out ‘Endurance’ can still be seen under the stern. And while underwater creatures such as sea anemones and sponges have made their homes in the nooks and crannies of the wreckage, they do not seem to have harmed the ship in the slightest.
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