Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ernest Shackelton and Endurance

Glen Ellen, California

Some stories should be read, reread, and fully absorbed by all hands. Sir Ernest Shackleton's life should be part of any amateur historians short list of epics. His book, South : The Endurance Expedition is a well thumbed volume sitting upon the physical and electronic shelf of my life. It can be turned to for inspiration during times of difficulty and tumult. 

During my Coast Guard career leadership was a constant topic. What is it? Is it innate or developed, or maybe a latent gene activated during times of stress? What does it mean to "take care of your people?" What is the correct mix of nurturing and Bligh like discipline? The story of the rush to the South Pole is a terrific study in different leadership styles. Since I have been to the Antarctic while serving aboard a Polar Class icebreaker, The Polar Sea, I've always found all things Polar to be fascinating. Pictured below is Endurance's Lifeboat, the James Caired. Shackleton used this lifeboat to make one of the most treacherous journeys ever in the history of the nautical. He and a small crew crossed the Weddell Sea at the onset of winter in the JC, a 22 foot open lifeboat, navigating his way to South Georgia Island, and then mountaineering his way across the island to a whaling station. He continued to push to save his 28 man crew, and was successful. This unbelievable story took place from 1914-1917.

More than ten years ago, while on one of my numerous walkabouts around New York City, I stood at the chiseled marble steps of the The New York Metropolitan Museum staring wide eyed with my jam dangling. A huge banner read "The Shackleton Exhibit." Holy Ice Floes Batman!!! Within five I was running my fingers along the gunwhale of the James Caird, the actual boat pictured above. My heart thumping, nose pressing against the glass as I looked at Shackleton's journal, ships log, and the sextant used to navigate to South Georgia Island