Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ Expedition, May 6, 1916: “We bailed with the energy of men fighting for life. . . . “

–from Ernest Shackleton’s account “South”—

On the tenth night Worsley could not straighten his body after his spell at the tiller. He was thoroughly cramped, and we had to drag him beneath the decking and massage him before he could unbend himself and get into a sleeping-bag. A hard north-westerly gale came up on the eleventh day (May 5) and shifted to the south-west in the late afternoon. At midnight I was at the tiller and suddenly noticed a line of clear sky between the south and south-west. I called to the other men that the sky was clearing, and then a moment later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the crest of an enormous wave.

“During twenty-six years’ experience of the ocean in all its moods I had not encountered a wave so gigantic. It was a mighty upheaval of the ocean, a thing quite apart from the big white-capped seas that had been our tireless enemy for many days. I shouted ‘For God’s sake hold on! It’s got us.’

“Then came a moment of suspense that seemed drawn out into hours. White surged the foam of the sea around us. We felt our boat lifted and flung forward like a cork in breaking surf. We were in a seething chaos of tortured water; but somehow the boat lived through it, half full of water, sagging to the dead weight and shuddering to the blow. We bailed with the energy of men fighting for life. . . . “


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