You might be surprised to see a blog about Antarctica written from a rowboat on the Pacific, but one of the real joys of audiobooks is the way they suck you into a different world – and today, for me, that world has been the South Pole, 1914-16.
It’s been a long day’s rowing, but has passed relatively pleasantly because I’ve been listening to The Lost Men, the story of the men who were enlisted to support Shackleton’s attempt to be the first to cross Antarctica. Their job was to sail to the opposite side of the continent from Shackleton’s primary team, and set out from the Ross Sea to deposit caches of food and fuel for the last third of Shackleton’s journey.
As it turned out, the whole expedition was a spectacular failure in the finest British tradition, following on from Scott’s noble but fatal attempt to be the first to the South Pole (the Norwegian, Amundsen, beat him by a month, and Scott and his men died on the return journey). Shackleton didn’t make it to the Pole, or indeed, even onto the continent. And the support team fell into disarray, with half-baked plans and lack of leadership leading to delays.
What the two teams had in common was intense hardship, many of the men spending a total of two years in Antarctica, enduring harsh weather, starvation, malnutrition, frostbite, 24-hour darkness, and uncertainty as to whether they would ever be rescued. The Ross Sea party, particularly, seem to have suffered – when they were eventually picked up, they were almost feral, stinking of seal blood and blubber, and speaking strangely.
There was no way for the teams to communicate with each other, or with the outside world. Nobody would know if they had succeeded or failed until they returned. Or didn’t.
Listening to this sorry saga made me feel very humble, and frankly, like a bit of a wimp. On the Atlantic I felt pretty sorry for myself at times, with all my oars broken, as well as my stereo, camping stove, and ultimately my satellite phone. But at all times I had enough to eat and drink, was warm enough, and even after my phone broke my team could follow my progress via my locator beacon. And it was only for a mere 103 days.
So it was good to be reminded of a time when explorers really were pushing the boundaries in a way we can’t even begin to imagine now. They were seriously hardcore. Respect!
[If you're interested in reading more about my Atlantic crossing, we're going to start doing a series of links: "This day on the Atlantic.". Mum will be adding the links to my blogs, as I can't do it from here, so there may be a time delay of a few hours between this blog first appearing and the link being added, due to the time difference.]
John in Reno – I would love to tell you more (or show photos of videos) about what I am seeing and observing, but there really hasn’t been anything apart from sea and sky, and that wears a bit thin after a while! I haven’t seen any wildlife since the sunfish a few weeks ago (apart from a couple of birds). Nor have I seen any ocean debris, although I have been looking out for it. Rest assured, if and when I see something interesting, I will duly report.
Rachel – so after the first 10 days you had no electricity at all on your Atlantic crossing – wow! I’m in absolute luxury, then! You’re almost in the Shackleton league.!
Marty U – if you’re interested in the weather, check out my weatherguy’s blog. I can’t see my website from here, but I think the link is on the right of this page.
Special thanks to Chris Martin for the words of encouragement. (fyi, Chris was the only other solo entry in the Atlantic Rowing Race 2005.}
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Position Tuesday evening: 29 16.235 N. 125 55.485W.