The story of the Endurance is a real life epic. It is hard to imagine another story so engrossing and so impossible that also happens to be true. When Ernest Shackleton assembled 27 men to join him in his quest to cross Antarctica, he began a journey that would stand as a testament to mankind’s indomitable will to survive. It was a disaster practically from the moment the Endurance reached the ice floe of the frozen continent. Trapped in ice, the ship was crushed and on Nov. 21, 1915, sank to the bottom of the Weddell Sea.
'The Ship Beneath the Ice'Mensun Bound, a maritime archaeologist and ocean explorer, believed the famous ship could be found. Despite the passing of more than a century, Mr. Bound’s experience suggested that the ship wasn't only close to the coordinates left by Frank Worsley, the captain of the Endurance, but that it would more than likely be intact. Or at least as close as a crushed and sunken ship could be.
Mr. Bound spent a decade preparing and attempting to locate the Endurance: the first time in 2019 (The Weddell Sea Expedition) and then successfully in 2022 (The Endurance22 Expedition). His diaries from these massive, expensive, and dangerous expeditions have resulted in his book “The Ship Beneath the Ice: The Discovery of Shackleton's Endurance.”
The director of these two explorations provides intricate details into the search, trials, errors, failures, and ultimate triumph of what was seemingly impossible: the discovery of a ship that had been resting nearly two miles below the surface for more than 100 years.
The reader rides the highs and lows of Mr. Bound’s experiences. We are taken on a day-by-day journey to the heart of the most dangerous sea in the world with colorful characters, animal life, and the constant threat of unforgiving weather. Of course, technology, specifically the autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) AUV 7 and Sabertooth, enabled these expeditions to succeed when before it would have been impossible.
The Crew of 1915Those references are nostalgic but also gritty. That grittiness only grew when the Endurance crew was forced to abandon the ship. The tale of survival required the killing of penguins for food and the tragic misfortune of having to remove the dogs and the ship’s cat from the number of mouths to feed. Aside from the necessary harshness, Mr. Bound’s references are a celebration of Shackleton’s leadership and foresight, Worsley’s miraculous gift for dead reckoning navigation, and the ability of all 28 men to survive despite the incomparable hardships.
It's easy to see that Mr. Bound has an affinity for the Endurance story. He knows it very well, as is made clear in his entries. But many people have an affinity for the story (I am one of those people). The author appears almost duty-bound to discover the sunken ship, as if Shackleton’s ghost has requested it as a proper bookend to his own story.
Despite knowing how the story ends before it ends, one feels Mr. Bound’s anguish and heartache from the first expedition’s failure, a failure that included an eerie moment when the AUV 7 went rogue and was never to be found again.
Discovering the EnduranceWhen the ship was finally discovered on March 5, 2022, Mr. Bound reflected on the success and the 2019 expedition that had come so close to succeeding. Even in the face of the failed 2019 attempt, he was able to take retrospective solace knowing that his predictions in 2018 about the location of the ship and its condition had been correct.
The author discusses what it was like viewing the sunken Endurance while the AUV Sabertooth’s camera passed alongside her various sections. In perfect form, Mr. Bound describes the stern, the various decks, the cabins, and smaller, but very significant parts, such as the wheel and the nine letters fascinatingly still visible along the stern of the ship, in a way that connects the 1915 crew with the 2022 discovery. The dead are revived to join in the celebration. They are once again connected to a seemingly impossible endeavor.
“The Ship Beneath the Ice,” despite its frigid content, is a story that will warm the heart, not simply because the Endurance was found, but also because Mr. Bound and scores of others believed its discovery to be important.
The discovery was a necessary conclusion to the Shackleton adventure. In a sense, it was a debt of gratitude being paid to the Shackleton crew for inspiring the world and proving that the impossible can be achieved. And it's a debt that we can all thank Mr. Bound and the Endurance22 Expedition for paying.