On 21 November 1915, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition ship Endurance sank amid the Antarctic ice of the Weddell Sea. Now, 100 years after Shackleton’s death in 1922, the Endurance22 expedition has pinpointed the wreck, at a depth of 3,008m underwater.
Shackleton’s aim in the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was to be the first to cross Antarctica on land, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. But Endurance was trapped in pack ice and never reached land. The ship was abandoned, with the 28 men in the crew eventually ending up on the uninhabited Elephant Island, from which Shackleton and a small party made a 1,300km-long voyage in a lifeboat to South Georgia, where they were able to conduct a rescue mission, saving the lives of the men left on Elephant Island. The Ross Sea group of the expedition did land at Ross Island and succeeded in setting up supplies for the crossing party, though three people died.
Overcast conditions on the day Endurance sank meant that precise coordinates were not taken using the ship’s sextant. Frank Worsley, the ship’s captain, instead estimated the location using the following day’s sextant observations. Based on this information, Endurance22, organised by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, identified a search area to head to on the South African vessel, S A Agulhas II. On a 35-day mission in the inhospitable Antarctic environment, the team used underwater search vessels provided by Saab to pinpoint and survey the ship, which was about 6km south of the location recorded by Captain Worsley.
The excellent state of preservation of the ship meant that once this wreck was located it was easy to identify, with its name still visible. Mensun Bound, Endurance 22’s director of exploration, said, ‘This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see Endurance arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail. This is a milestone in polar history.’
Content relating to the expedition and discovery is available on the streaming platform History Hit, while a longer documentary is due to air in the autumn of this year as part of National Geographic’s Explorer series.