Introduced by Ranulph Fiennes
A story of tremendous courage and endurance, related first-hand by one of its survivors.
Shortlisted for the V&A Illustration Book Cover Award 2016
'A breathtaking story of courage, skill and determination under the most appalling conditions’
When, in August 1914, Ernest Shackleton set out to complete ‘a transcontinental journey from sea to sea, crossing the Pole’, he had already achieved renown for coming within 97 miles of the southernmost point on Earth. But with the glow of fame subsiding and his achievement outstripped by Roald Amundsen’s conquest of the Pole in 1911, he was desperate to lead the next triumph in polar exploration. His mission was doomed when the Endurance became trapped in ice just one month after leaving South Georgia. The ship drifted for around 1,000 miles and finally sank. Camping on ice floes, the explorers eventually reached open seas in three lifeboats, on which they drifted for 500 miles before reaching the remote and barren Elephant Island. In Worsley’s words: ‘Plainly the thing to do was to take a boat to the nearest inhabited point, risking the lives of a few for the preservation of the party.’ And so Shackleton, Captain Worsley and four others undertook a perilous rescue mission. All 28 men would ultimately survive what was, in all, a 17-month ordeal.
Written in concise, fast-moving prose, Shackleton’s Boat Journey reads as a gripping adventure. It is also the most intimate and engrossing of the several accounts of the expedition. As well as detailing the ingenuity that aided the men’s survival – though humble about the crucial role of his own navigation skills – Worsley recalls the tenacity and humour with which they faced extreme privation and the threat of death. For all his restless ambition, Shackleton was neither foolhardy nor ruthless, and here we learn of his heroism, loyalty and pragmatism when the survival of his men became his sole aim.
Simon Pemberton’s binding illustration, spot-varnished for a watery effect, evokes the raging seas that threatened to engulf the tiny boat. The display typeface was inspired by correspondence of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Illustrations include photographs of the men on Elephant Island and the ice-bound Endurance, alongside Worsley’s map of South Georgia. The venerated polar explorer Ranulph Fiennes introduces this edition.
'Working on a book for The Folio Society is always a great creative experience … Shackleton’s Boat Journey was no different; it made a great impression on me. It's an amazing example of what the human spirit is capable of when facing the enormity of natural forces.
[In my work] I wanted to capture the icy Antarctic colour palette and the terrifying extent of the waves. The scale of their suffering and the terror of the ‘roaring grey green seas that towered over us’ is almost beyond belief. My hope is that the cover image captures the drama, intensity and energy – the power of the sea. I’d like the reader to look at the cover and instantly feel a little scared. It’s an incredible adventure story, and a privilege to work on.'
By early June 1915, the ice-embedded Endurance had drifted for some 650 miles, of which 132 miles were back to the north. It was clear, if not initially accepted, that the expedition’s best outcome would be to give up any hope of achieving a continental traverse in favour of doing everything possible just to survive their predicament by reaching civilisation before running out of food and fuel.
On 14 July the unbearable pressure of the million-ton surrounding ice floes squeezed Endurance’s hull to the point where all on board, feeling the shocks, realised that she was in danger of sinking. Her beams were buckled and her rudder was smashed.
The ice-controlled drift continued until renewed pressure cracked the hull open on 27 October. Shackleton wrote, ‘She was doomed. No ship built by human hands could have withstood the strain. I ordered all hands out on the floe.’
Without their ship, the lives of the twenty-eight men depended on their ingenuity, the decisions of their leader, their ability to navigate, and, very largely, on Lady Luck. They had three well-built lifeboats and sledges capable of towing the boats and all necessary stores over the floes. In addition to their tents and bagged food, they had rifles with which to shoot seals for meat and for blubber to fuel their cookers.
Three weeks after the ship was abandoned, she sank. Shackleton later moved camp to a safer floe, but manhauling all their stores over the floes’ broken surface was back-breaking toil and only used as a last resort.
After many near break-ups, their new floe, which they had named Patience Camp, finally, in April 1916, reached sea lanes open enough to allow the men to launch their three boats into the storm-wracked South Atlantic.
They had drifted 2,000 miles over six months of precarious existence, but their period of real suffering and extreme danger was only now to begin. The man on whose navigation skills all their lives were to depend takes up their story and tells it, in my opinion, in a wonderfully readable way.
Frank Worsley, born in New Zealand in 1872, enlisted in the New Zealand Shipping Company in 1888, before serving in the Royal Navy. In 1914 he joined the Imperial Trans- Antarctic Expedition under Ernest Shackleton as captain of the Endurance. Following the wreck of this ship the expedition went by lifeboat to Elephant Island, from where Worsley sailed with Shackleton and four others across the South Atlantic to Georgia, to gain help for the rescue of his fellow sailors. He captained the Q-ship PC.61 during the First World War, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his role in the sinking of the German submarine U-33. From 1921 to 1922 he served on Shackleton’s last Antarctic voyage, the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition, as captain of the Quest. He died in 1943.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes was born in 1944, and has spent much of his life exploring and working in conditions of extreme cold, earning himself the title of ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’. Among the many adventures he has led over the past forty years, he was the first to reach both Poles, to cross the Antarctic and Arctic Ocean, to circumnavigate the world along its polar axis and to cross the Antarctic continent unsupported. Author of numerous books, he successfully summitted Everest in 2009.
Please sign in to your account to leave a review for Shackleton’s Boat Journey.
Review by wjcarter on 13th May 2018
"A fascinating page turning story that you cannot put down, even knowing the ending. Inserted maps make everything much clearer and real. Beautifully presented in usual FS style."
Review by anon on 29th Jun 2015
"A riveting story -- I didn't put it down once I opened it -- in a beautiful and extremely appropriate binding. The text captures the feeling of peril and awe, and the photos add a touch of life to the..." [read more]