We left Leith Harbour on January 17th, and proceeded along the coast to Cooper Bay. Douglas and Carr had gone there some days before to carry on their geological examination of the island.
On arrival we found that they had set up a tent on the beach and had built outside it a fireplace of stones. For fuel they used driftwood, which lined the beach in large quantities. Douglas came to meet us in the kayak, a small skin-boat which had been presented to us by Mr. Jacobsen. I lowered the surf-boat and went ashore. Both Carr and he looked well, being very sunburnt and fatter than when they left us. A meal was in process of preparation in the fireplace, and when I saw the quantity of food they were about to dispose of I felt satisfied as to their health and the state of their appetites.
I wanted a supply of fresh meat to take with us on the ship, for although we had no refrigerator on board, there was no fear of the meat going bad in the low temperatures of these regions. I sent Macklin and Marr to catch and kill a dozen penguins, and went myself, with McIlroy, to shoot some skua gulls. I intended taking a seal also, but found that Douglas, with considerable forethought, had already killed and cut one up.
The day was bright, with warm sunshine, turning Cooper Bay, which I had previously visited under less favourable circumstances, into a beautiful spot. Seabirds of all sorts covered the rocks and flew overhead, filling the air with raucous cries, which sounded, however, not unpleasant, fitting the wild environment. Seals and sea-elephants were ashore in hundreds, lying lazily on the shingle of the beach or in the hollows of the tussock grass behind. Ringed and Gentoo penguins strutted solemnly about like leisurely old gentlemen taking the sea air. On the hills behind were large rookeries where these quaint birds were gathered together in thousands.
I had no difficulty in obtaining the necessary number of skua gulls, and I saw that Macklin and Marr had made a little heap of penguins close to the boat, Macklin rejecting, with the discriminating care of one whose staple diet they have formed for months, the old tough birds and picking out the young and tender. Marr was delighted with his new experiences, being particularly fascinated with these almost human looking little creatures.
So pleasant was the day that I was loth to tear myself away.
We returned to the ship, where we prepared the birds for the larder, and hung them, together with the meat, from the mizen boom, the poop at the finish resembling a butcher’s shop.
Green, who had been before into the Antarctic and had wintered with me on Elephant Island, came out of his galley to regard with a professional eye this new addition to his larder. I asked him if he had forgotten how to cook seal and penguin meat, to which he replied, “Not likely! If I was to live to be a hundred, I would not forget that.”
We weighed anchor and proceeded to Larsen Harbour, which is approached through Drygalski Fiord, a long, narrow channel situated at the extreme south-eastern end of South Georgia. The entrance, which is very picturesque, lies between steep and high mountains. As one nears the end it appears as if one is about to charge a steep wall of snow-covered rock, but suddenly the little opening of Larsen Harbour comes into view, and one enters a wonderful little basin shut in on all sides by steeply rising mountains and offering a secure anchorage for small vessels. Across the entrance lies a ledge of rocks from which grows a belt of kelp, where the soundings gave a depth of 38 fathoms.
Douglas went ashore in his kayak to make a geological examination of the place and bring away some specimens of rock.
At daybreak on January 18th we made our final departure from South Georgia, setting course to pass close to Clerk Rocks. Douglas and Carr had reported that whilst ascending the slopes behind Cooper Bay they had seen what appeared to be a volcano in eruption. They had taken a rough bearing of its direction, and from their description generally we concluded that the site of the phenomenon could only have been Clerk Rocks. I was anxious, therefore, to visit them; but the day unfortunately turned out to be thick and misty, and we were unable to get a good view of them. As every day was now a matter of importance to us in our attempt to push South, I did not delay in the hope that we might effect a landing. From observations made by Worsley and Jeffrey, their position as charted seems to be incorrect, but as the thick weather prevented accurate sight, their exact position cannot be definitely given.
We were now about to undertake the most difficult part of our enterprise, the plans of which I have indicated in the preceding chapter.
I divided up the hands into three watches: In my own—McIlroy, Macklin and Carr; in Worsley’s—Wilkins, Douglas and Watts; in Jeffrey’s—Dell, McLeod and Marr. The Boy Scout had become a fine, handy seaman, and developed an all-round usefulness which made him a valuable member of the expedition. The engineers, Kerr and Smith, kept watch and watch about in spells of six hours. I had added, in the person of Ross, to their staff in South Georgia, where a number of Shetlanders are employed at the flensing. Young and he acted as firemen, and Argles as trimmer. Green and Naisbitt, who formed the galley staff, were, of course, exempt from watch keeping.
At first we had misty weather, and soon encountered a heavy swell in which the Quest rolled heavily. We met numerous icebergs travelling in a north-easterly direction—beautiful works of Nature passing slowly to their doom.
Hundreds of sea-birds tailed in our wake, including numbers of every species known to this part of the world: albatross, cape pigeons, whale birds and every kind of petrel, from the giant “Stinker” to the dainty, ubiquitous Mother Carey’s Chickens.
Thursday, January 19th, broke bright and clear. We were surrounded on all sides by bergs, those in sight numbering more than a hundred. Many of them were flat topped, evidently pieces which had recently calved from the Great Ice Barrier and floated out to sea. Others were more irregular in shape, with pinnacles, buttresses, and caves and tunnels through which the water rushed with a roar. The imaginative could see in them a resemblance to all sorts of things; churches with spires, castles with heavy ramparts, steamships, human profiles, and the figures of every conceivable kind of beast. Some were stained with red-coloured mineral deposits, blue bottom-mud and yellow and brown diatomaceous material. A few sloped towards the sea at such an angle as to enable penguins, all of them of the ringed variety, to clamber up. Some of the groups of penguins thus formed numbered as many as two or three hundred.
There was a high following sea, and the deeply laden Quest wallowed in it heavily, dipping both gunwales and filling the waist with water, which rushed to and fro with every roll. Smith was thrown off his feet and swept violently across the deck, fetching up with considerable force against the lee rail. He was much bruised and shaken.
During the day a number of soundings were taken with the Kelvin apparatus, but no bottom was found with 300 fathoms of wire.
In the evening Worsley altered course to look at what appeared to be a small half-submerged rock, but on approach it proved to be a heavily stained piece of ice.
January 20th was another fine day. I saw Marr come on deck wearing a fur cap, heavy sea-boots, and a belt from which hung a ferocious-looking sheath knife. The scrubby promise of a thick beard adorned his chin, and I had the greatest difficulty in associating the kilted boy who joined us in London with this tough-looking sailor man. If Hussey had been there he would have sung, “If only my mother could see me now!” Indeed, I would have liked to have had for a short while the use of a magic carpet and been able to transfer him exactly as he stood to the bosom of his family.
Jeffrey, who had been confined to his cabin since leaving Rio de Janeiro, returned to duty on this day.
We continued to pass through a sea filled with icebergs, which in the sunshine stood out white and glistening against the blue-black of the sea. Worsley saw what looked like a new island with high summit, but even as he pointed it out a breeze flattened off its top, proving it to be only a cloud. These little rebuffs on the part of Nature have no influence upon Worsley, whose enthusiasm is unconquerable.
In the afternoon we sighted a number of icebergs in line, and a few minutes later Zavodovski Island showed up. The bergs were evidently aground, most of them having a distinct tide-mark and showing considerable wear along the water-line. As we drew nearer we saw that all those which were accessible were thickly covered with ringed penguins, which showed the most marked astonishment at our approach. There were many also in the sea, and they came swimming towards us, uttering their familiar “Cl-a-a-k!” Some of the bergs were so steep that we wondered how the penguins ever managed to get a footing on them. We passed one with a side which sloped gradually to an edge some twenty or thirty feet above water, against which the sea broke heavily. A number of penguins were attempting a landing, and we watched their efforts with interest. They took advantage of the swell to leap out whilst the sea was at its highest, often to fail and fall back with a splash into the wash below; but they sometimes succeeded in getting a footing in a crack in the ice. They showed the greatest agility and skill in clambering from one little foothold to another, and their attitude of triumph when at last they gained the gentler slope and waddled off to join their companions in the group was most amusing. These little creatures are so absurdly human in every one of their aspects that one could watch them for hours without tiring. Those of the party who had not been previously in Antarctic regions were greatly fascinated by them and laughed outright at their quaint antics.
The island takes its name from Lieut. Zavodovski, chief officer of the Vostok, of Bellingshausen’s Expedition, who landed in 1820. It is barren and snow covered, except on the western side, which presents an unattractive bare surface of rock. Bellingshausen described this bare surface as being warm from volcanic action, and says that the penguins found it an attractive nesting-place. On that occasion the island presented the appearance of an active volcano, with thick clouds of steam belching from the summit. Owing to the low-lying mist we could not see the top of the island, and so were unable to gauge accurately the height, but from general contour it seemed to be not more than 3,500 feet.
The coastline presents a rugged face of rock broken here and there by glaciers which descend from the slopes behind to finish abruptly above narrow beaches of black sand. A red line of volcanic staining surrounds the island. Generally speaking it is inaccessible, and there are no good bays or anchorages for a ship. There are places where a landing could be effected by boat, but at no time would it be easy, for the rock faces rise sheer from the sea and the beaches are shut off from the island by the glaciers behind and laterally by steep cliffs. Nevertheless, penguins are able to get ashore. On the beaches were a number of the large and beautifully marked king penguins, whilst covering the slopes behind were whole battalions of the ringed variety, forming very large rookeries. I have seen larger rookeries than these in one place only—Macquarie Island, which I visited during the Mawson Expedition. There one can look over square miles and never see a piece of ground for the number of penguins of all varieties which collect there.
On the southern side of Zavodovski Island are a number of caves, from the mouths of which sulphurous fumes were issuing in a thin reddish cloud. We could feel their effects in a smarting sensation of the eyes, nose and throat. It was noticed that the penguins did not collect round the caves, but gave them a pretty wide berth. Larsen, who explored this group in the Undine in 1908, was overcome by these fumes whilst attempting to land on this island, and became seriously ill.
We made a running survey of the island and obtained a number of soundings. Before leaving I took the ship close to a berg which was thickly covered with ringed penguins to enable Wilkins to get some cinematograph pictures. To stimulate them into movement I told Jeffrey to fire two or three detonators. The loud reports caused the utmost consternation amongst them, and, stretching their flippers, they rushed en masse for the lower edge of the berg. Those in front were loth to take to the water, which is not surprising, seeing the difficulty they have in climbing back again, but those behind pressed them so hard that they were forced over into the sea, and, as Kerr facetiously remarked, “It was just as well that they could swim.” Their attitude of surprise and indignation was very amusing.
We continued (Saturday, January 21st) to pass innumerable bergs. The sea was literally filled with them. It is fortunate that in these latitudes there is comparatively little darkness at this time of the year, for at night these bergs form the most unpleasant of companions and necessitate a continuous and unremitting look-out. The long swell rushes against them with a heavy surge, and a collision with any one of them would prove a nasty accident from which we would not be likely to escape scot free, whilst the dislodgment of a heavy portion on to our decks could have nothing but the most disastrous results.
The Quest rolled like a log and the seas in the waist rushed like a swollen flood from side to side, so that one rarely passed about the ship without a wetting. The water foamed over the tops of our sea boots and filled them up. This was particularly annoying when going to take over the watch, for one had then to endure the discomfort of four hours on the bridge with wet feet, which in this temperature is extremely unpleasant.
Before leaving England Sir Ernest Shackleton had designed a weather-proof bridge, completely enclosed, but with windows which could be opened up on all sides. Owing to the strikes which occurred before our start, skilled labour was not available, and the work done in the building of it was so bad, and the windows and doors were so ill-fitting, that it was quite impossible to exclude draughts. Except that it was to some extent rain- and snow-proof, we would have been much better off with an open bridge protected with a canvas dodger. There was always a strong draught along the floor, which made it very hard to keep the feet warm, no matter how well clothed and shod we might be. When the footgear became wetted the difficulty was increased, and in the long night watches we often endured agonies from this cause.
Macklin reported to me on the 21st that there were fifteen inches of water in the hold. The ship had always leaked, but hitherto the engine-room pumps had been sufficient to keep down the water. I instituted a daily pumping, which, as the hand pump was situated in the waist amidst a rush of water, was no pleasant task for those engaged in it.
I began to feel my responsibilities now, for each day made it more abundantly clear to me that this trip was to be anything but a picnic and demonstrated the fact that the Quest was by no means an ideal ship for the work. Often I was made to doubt the wisdom of the undertaking, but, having put my hand to the plough, there was to be no turning back.
This being Saturday night, we drank the time-honoured toast of “Sweethearts and Wives,” to which some wag always added, “May they never meet!” On such occasions as these I issued to each man who wanted it a tot of whisky or rum. Rum was generally selected, as being the stronger drink.
On Monday, January 23rd, we passed close to two large and beautiful bergs, full of cracks and chasms, with a number of caves of the deepest blue colour. This appearance of blue in cavities surrounded by colourless ice is a phenomenon for which physicists have not yet offered a satisfactory explanation.
There is something about these huge bergs, bucking and swaying in the long heavy swell, which always attracts. One wonders at their age and where they have come from. It is a pity that there is no way of marking them. Worsley, ever inventive, and never at a loss for a suggestion, proposes firing into them bombs filled with permanganate of potash, or, better still, to have rifles firing small projectiles, by which one could mark the date. “Why not?” says he.
There is much difference of opinion regarding the length of life of these bergs, some saying two or three years, whilst others suggest that they last forty or more. Much undoubtedly depends upon their movements. A grounded berg is likely to exist for a long time, and I have seen many, marked by the rise and fall of tide and washed by the action of the sea, which had obviously endured for many years. Those which do not go aground drift about for varying periods till carried eventually to the north; they meet their fate amongst warm currents, which leave not a vestige of their original selves. A berg floats with about seven-eighths of its bulk below water, and is consequently more susceptible to deep than to surface currents. I have often seen them moving through pack at a rate of two or three miles an hour, brushing aside the lighter ice in their undeviating progress. In open water, too, I have seen them moving up against strong winds at a similar speed.
During our boat journey from the breaking-up pack on the Endurance expedition we nearly came to grief from this cause, a large berg of several hundred yards in length almost jamming us against a line of floe ice, and requiring all our efforts to pull free.
Worsley met with a slight accident on the 23rd. While passing round the front of the deck-house he was struck by the forestay-sail sheet block, and was hurled across the deck. He picked himself up, with blood running freely down his face, but the intensity of his imprecations relieved me from fear of a bad injury, and, indeed, on examination it proved to be slight. He felt a little hurt when someone asked him if he could not do it again because there were several who had missed the incident. I omit his reply.
Our daily mileage had proved disappointing up to this point, and it became clear to me that we could not hope to reach Bouvet Island and still be in time to enter the ice this year. The coal consumption also proved higher than I had anticipated. I decided, therefore, to make a more southerly course to meet and enter the ice in a position somewhere about 20° E. Long. On my westward run I intended to cross the mouth of the Weddell Sea, and attempt to examine and sound the charted position of “Ross’s Appearance of Land,” probably call at Elephant Island to obtain sand for ballast and blubber for fuel, and proceed to Deception Island for coal for the return to South Georgia.
After a long spell of bad weather, on January 25th we at last experienced a change for the better, the day breaking bright and clear, the water a deep blue and the icebergs a dazzling white. The sea was comparatively smooth, and the Quest behaved moderately well.
I seized the chance to get on with an amount of work which had been difficult during the bad weather. Worsley, Dell and Carr overhauled the Lucas sounding machine and fixed a roll of wire all ready for a running out. When this was done, I set Carr to blocking some of the scupper holes, in the hope of keeping a drier deck. Macklin, assisted by Marr and Green, spent a busy morning in squaring up the hold, and there was work for everyone in one way or another. McIlroy and I baled out our cabins and put the wet gear out to dry.
The ship was found to be taking more water, Macklin reporting that it had reached the level of the kelson, and I had to institute longer spells at the pumps, each taking from one and a half to two hours to pump her dry.
I got McIlroy to cut my hair, after which I acted as barber for him, and for Kerr and Worsley also. They were no half cuts, but good convict crops! Wilkins, with a view to stimulating the laggard hairs on his crown to more active growth, shaved the top of his head, and looked like a monk. He was growing a beard, as were a number of the men. McLeod’s was the most flourishing; Dell and Macklin each showed a respectable growth, and Kerr, Smith, Young, Argles and Watts gave a promise of better things. Marr, not to be outdone, was also making the attempt, but so far could show only a stubble, which gave him rather a ferocious appearance.
In the afternoon Worsley took a sounding, with the unsought assistance of all the men on board, who crowded round with a great willingness to help, but who, like the cooks at the broth, only impeded things. Four miles of wire were reeled out without finding bottom, but, this being the first time we had used the Lucas machine on this trip, it was probably incorrect. When it came to winding up, the machine ran well, but when only about half the reel had been taken in the wire broke, and we lost the sinkers and the snapper (which is used to bring up specimens from the sea bottom). From this time forward Dell took charge of the sounding machine, and under his management it ran without a hitch. It was often a cold and tedious job, but he took the greatest interest in the work, and enabled Worsley to get some excellent results.
Whilst the sounding was in process a mass of pultaceous material floated past the ship, some of which we collected. Macklin examined a small portion of it under a microscope, and reported that it was composed of feathers in a state of decomposition. Its occurrence was hard to explain, but Wilkins thought it may have come from one of the carnivorous mammals of these seas: a sea leopard or a killer, which had swallowed a number of penguins or other birds, and afterwards vomited the indigestible portions of them, just as our sledge dogs used to vomit bones which they had eaten.
Naisbitt asked me if he might start a ship’s magazine, to which I assented.
I saw an Antarctic petrel, the first I had seen this trip. The presence of these birds usually indicates proximity of ice.
The fine weather did not last long, for the next day the wind and seas increased, and the Quest took full advantage of the excuse to behave as badly as ever. We encountered fewer bergs, but were never out of sight of them altogether. One which lay two or three miles to starboard had a very peculiar appearance, closely resembling a sailing ship under canvas. Worsley examined it long and attentively through binoculars, and exclaimed, “A sailing vessel!” I cast some doubt on the probability, but after a second look he cried excitedly, “It is a sailing vessel; I can see her topsail yard! Let us go and talk to her!” A gleam of sunshine lighting upon the “topsail yard” dispelled the illusion. I wonder what ship he expected to see down there!
An extract from Marr’s diary on this date gives an interesting sidelight:
A fairly strong sea was running when we came on deck for “the middle,” but this did not deter us from our usual occupation in the night watches, i.e. the consumption of food and drink. Indeed, it must appear that our watch is very hungry, but it is not so. This is merely our very effective method of passing the four long hours on the bridge.
It was customary for the engine-room staff to make a hot drink once a watch. The galley fire was always allowed to go out at night because of the necessity for economy in coal consumption, and the stokers used to boil the water in a tin on the furnace fires. The result was that there was often some difficulty in diagnosing the nature of the concoction, but under circumstances like this one could not be over particular. We used to turn to each other, saying: “Well, at any rate it is hot and wet.”
We had two casualties on January 30th. Douglas, whilst skipping to keep himself warm, sprained his ankle, and had to take to his bunk. Worsley also came to grief in a much more serious way. Shortly after leaving South Georgia I had instructed Macklin to provision each of our three boats for thirty days. As the surf-boat was likely to be in frequent use, I had the provisions moved from her and divided equally amongst the port and starboard life-boats, the total in each weighing not less than a quarter of a ton. I decided to swing the port life-boat outboard on her davits, both in order to have her the more ready to lower away and to give us a little more sorely needed space on the bridge deck. The sea was smooth, but there was a long swell running which caused the Quest to give an occasional heavy roll. We were in the midst of proceedings, and I had got into the boat the better to direct operations, when suddenly a guy fixing the forward davit carried away; the heavily laden boat took charge, swinging inboard and out and in a fore and aft direction with the swing of the unsecured davits. It was all I could do to hold on, for I had been steadying myself with the after davit head, which now swung in a semicircle. Many times I felt as if I must be flung headlong into the sea. All hands gathered round to regain control, but with the strain the after davit guy also parted. The boat swung aft, sweeping Wilkins and Macklin off the bridge deck on to the poop, where they met with no damage, and, surging forward again, caught Worsley and drove him with tremendous force against the after wall of the bridge house. The impact was heavy. I heard a cry and a crash of splintering wood as the wall gave way. I felt sure Worsley was killed. McIlroy immediately went to his assistance, whilst the rest of us, after an effort, secured the boat and lowered her on to the skids again.
Worsley appeared at first to be terribly damaged. His face turned a deathly grey and was covered with perspiration, and he could scarcely breathe. We carried him to his cabin, where the surgeons made a careful examination. He had sustained severe damage to his chest and broken a number of ribs. His whole body was covered with bruises and abrasions, and he was suffering severely from shock. The doctors reported his condition as serious, but thought that the outlook was favourable unless signs of internal hæmorrhage appeared. It was a great relief to feel that I had with me as surgeons two reliable and experienced men. Worsley had undoubtedly to thank the workmen who had this particular job in hand for his life, for had the bridge house been of more solid workmanship and shown greater resistance to the impact, he must infallibly have been crushed to death.
On this same day we reached the charted position of Pagoda Rock. It was first reported by Lieut. T. E. L. Moore, in the Pagoda, in 1845, in the following words:
In the afternoon of the same day (Thursday), January 30th, 1845, we fell in with a most singular rock, or rock on an iceberg. It appeared to be a mass of rock about 1,600 tons, and the top was covered with ice, and did not appear to have any visible motion, with a heavy sea beating over it. It had a tide mark round it. We tried for soundings with 200 fathoms, and the first time we fancied we had struck the ground, but before we could try again we had drifted some distance off. We could not send a boat or beat the ship up against the breeze that was then blowing.
In our position, lat. 60° 11´ S. and 4° 47´ E. long., however, there was no sign of it, though we made a traversing cruise, and a sounding which showed a depth, of 2,980 fathoms gave no indication of shoaling in the vicinity.
It is rather remarkable, however, that towards evening we saw a very curious-looking berg, very dark green in colour and heavily stained with some earthy material. We altered course to pass close to it, and examined it carefully. It was an old, weather-beaten berg which had evidently capsized. Our meeting with it in this particular spot was a curious coincidence.
On the first day of February the maiden number of Expedition Topics appeared under the editorship of Naisbitt. It was got up simply, consisting of a number of sheets of typewritten matter, chiefly on the humorous side, and containing a sly hit at most of the company. There were also some clever drawings. Like everything else that created an interest it was of value just then when the daily life in those cold grey stormy seas was necessarily very monotonous.
On February 2nd we had a strong gale from the south-east, during which I was compelled to take in sail and heave to—very disappointing, as we needed every mile we could make to the eastward. The Quest behaved in the liveliest possible manner, and everything that was not tightly lashed took charge. A bookcase in my cabin had battens three inches wide placed along the shelves, but they proved useless to keep in place the books, which hurled themselves to the floor, where they were much damaged by the seas which found their way in and swished up and down with every roll.
On deck everything had been lashed up and tightly secured, but in the galley pots and pans took charge and defied all Green’s efforts to make them remain on the stove. All kinds of utensils escaped into “Gubbins Alley,” where they were carried up and down by the wash of water, whilst Green splashed knee deep in pursuit. As he recovered one lot so another leapt away, regardless of his imprecations, till, some helpers coming along, order was once more restored.
Naisbitt, whose work compelled him to pass frequently between the wardroom and the galley, often with both hands full, had a very trying time. At meals we had the greatest difficulty in keeping things on the table, and we had to hold plates, cups, etc., in our hands, balancing them against the roll of the ship. We had to abandon all idea of comfort and wait patiently till the rage of the elements should abate.
During this time of bad weather Worsley suffered very much, for, with the violent rolling, he could get no rest in his bunk. He improved, however; the doctors pronounced him out of danger, and he spoke of soon getting up.
Macklin reported another fifteen inches of water in the hold—it was obvious that it would be necessary to increase the daily spells of pumping. All hands took to this unpleasant and monotonous job very cheerfully, saying that it was good exercise! Indeed, there is not much else that can be said for it.
In lat. 65° 7´ S. and 15° 21´ E. long, we entered, on February 4th, what appeared to be the edge of very open pack, which lay in several strips and bands of light, loosely packed ice, with large open spaces of water between. I made my course due south and pushed into it. For some time I had doubts as to whether it was the real pack or streamers carried north by the late south-easterly gale. The sky to the south was very indefinite, and from the crow’s nest the same conditions of loose ice and open water extended as far as the eye could reach. The two “signs” which one looks for in the sky are “ice-blink” and “water sky.” A sky with ice-blink presents near the horizon a hard white appearance which indicates the proximity of close pack, ice barrier, or snow-covered land. A “water sky” is a dark patch in a lighter sky, which indicates open water below the horizon. In each case when these skies are well marked they are definitely of value, but it requires much experience to gauge accurately the meaning of some of the more indefinite appearances, and conclusions too hastily drawn often prove erroneous.
Whilst we were at sea I had watched the petrels which followed in our wake attempting to come to rest on the water, but breaking seas always drove them up again. I was interested to note that as soon as we reached the pack they flew forward and came to rest on a piece of ice, where they preened their feathers and settled down on their breasts.
The ice had a wonderfully settling effect upon the sea, deadening all but the heavier swells. The Quest became more comfortable than she had been for a long time, and at lunch we dispensed with the fiddles. This she would not tolerate, and a sudden roll swept everything to the floor. Later in the day the belts of ice became broader and the pools of water much smaller. There could be no doubt that this was the real pack ice and that the most strenuous part of our work was now to begin. Quoting from a diary:
Now the little Quest can really try her mettle. What is in store for us? Will the pack, as variable in its moods as the open sea, prove friendly or will it rise in its wrath to punish man’s temerity in thus bringing to the attack so small a craft? Before this effort the smallest ship to make a serious attempt to penetrate the heavy Antarctic pack was the Endurance, and she lies crushed and broken many fathoms deep in the Weddell Sea. We are but half her size! Shall we escape, or will the Quest go to join the ships in Davy Jones’s Locker, and the queer deep-sea fish nose about amongst her broken spars? We are not in the least pessimistic, but the man who blinds himself to the possibility is a fool.
My sense of responsibility was growing daily, for though I always welcomed the suggestions of my senior officers I realized that on me alone must devolve the final decision in every plan and in every movement. This was my fifth expedition—nearly half my life has been spent in Antarctic exploration—and every accumulated year of experience has taught me more and more how much in this work we are the playthings of chance. Experience counts a great deal, of course, but no amount of experience, care or skill can be of much avail against prolonged and overwhelming pressure. Yet in those first days in the ice, as I stood on the bridge and looked down on the decks I saw amongst my men nothing but elation. Carr, Douglas and others who saw the ice for the first time were fascinated by it, and amongst the old hands there was obvious pleasure at again meeting the pack. Old McLeod, veteran of many expeditions, said to McIlroy: “Here we are home again! Doesn’t it do you good to get back!” Even Query was affected with the general air of uplift, and with paws on gunwale gazed with twitching nostrils at this new phenomenon. Nor could I long resist a similar feeling, for as I gazed south over the ice, with the cold, keen air in my nostrils, I, too, felt pleased and elated, glad of a tough problem to tackle and rejoicing in the long odds.
We soon began to meet old acquaintances in the form of crab-eater seals which, wakened from sleep on the floe, turned a curious eye in our direction and, scratching themselves the while with their queer hand-like flippers, pondered drowsily on the strange phenomenon which had come amongst them. Most of them seemed satisfied with their scrutiny, treating us as of no particular importance, and rolled over to sleep again. With their light silvery coats these are the most elegant of the southern seals and also the most active. They are characteristic of the pack, being found in large numbers about its free edge, where they obtain their living from the small crustacea of these regions, euphausiæ and amphipods. These small creatures live on the diatoms of which the Antarctic seas are so rich, and which often become embedded in the floe ice, which is stained brown or greenish-brown by their presence. Euphausiæ resemble small shrimps, and the amphipods are very like the sandhoppers of home beaches, but redder in colour. Whalers speak of them collectively as whale food, for they form the staple diet not only of the crab-eaters but of most of the Antarctic whales. It is an extraordinary thing that so large an animal as the whale should depend for its existence upon so small a creature, especially when one considers the millions necessary to make one meal. The side of natural history which interests me most is the consideration of animal habits, mode of life and source of food. There is something intensely fascinating about this study, but I confess to a lack of enthusiasm when it comes to a question of minute differences in structure and classification of species.
The ordinary whale has a gullet so small that one can scarcely pass one’s fist into it, and no whale could certainly ever have swallowed Jonah. The animal referred to in the Bible story is no doubt the Orca gladiator, which, though commonly known as the Killer whale, differs considerably in many features from the true whale. It is much better referred to by the name Killer only. It is smaller than the larger varieties of true whale, but it has immense jaws and a wide gullet, and lives not on whale food but on seals and penguins, and it is conceivable that it has on occasions accommodated a man; though whether it ever let one go again is a different matter. The killer is certainly an evil-looking monster. Before we had entered deeply into the pack we saw numbers of them gliding about us, driven smoothly forward by almost imperceptible movements of their powerful flukes, the downward strokes of which produce small whirlpools on the surface of the water. One could mark their progress by watching these whirlpools. Every now and then they rise to breathe, for they are not fish but mammals, and exhale a spout of fine vapour which in the distance looks like water. It is dangerous to cross leads of young ice whilst killers are about, for they are able by charging upwards from below to break through considerable thicknesses with their heads. The round holes produced in this way are quite common, and one frequently sees their evil heads and wicked little eyes appear suddenly above the surface, scattering fragments of ice in a wide circle. When sledging along newly frozen leads, it is customary to keep close in to solid ice, and when a crossing is necessary it is made as rapidly as possible.
By February 5th there was a certain amount of daylight all night, and we were not held up on account of darkness. The ice had increased all the time in density and thickness, and at times it was all we could do to push ahead. Already I began to feel the need of greater engine power, though the small size of the ship made her very handy to manœuvre, and we were able to dodge and squeeze past where a bigger ship would require to push and ram. For the man at the wheel the spell was no longer two hours of monotony, but a period of hard work for which he shed his bulky garments, finding all the warmth he required in the exercise entailed. It was only when we entered the leads that we could keep a steady course, and usually the commands, “Port! Steady! Starboard!” etc., followed each other in rapid succession as we turned and twisted and wriggled our way ahead.
Worsley appeared again to-day. This evergreen youth of fifty years certainly made a rapid recovery, for I did not think when I saw him after his accident that he would be up so soon. Although a very good patient, he chafed so much at his confinement to bed that Macklin thought it better to let him out of his bunk, taking, however, the precaution to strap and bandage his injured parts in such a way that he could not do himself much harm, and was unable to make any attempt to climb aloft—which is the first thing he would have wished to do! He was keenly anxious to take his watch, and I must confess I was looking forward to his return to duty, for Jeffrey and I had been doing “watch and watch” alternately, and I had to be frequently on deck during my watch below, which under the arduous circumstances was a heavy strain.
I kept a keen look out for a convenient floe with seals on it, for I was anxious to obtain fresh meat. Our food stores included an ample and varied supply of all foods, with the exception of meat, for which we were prepared “to live on the country.” Seal meat is quite palatable when one is used to it, and has the advantage over tinned stuff of being fresh. It is also a valuable antiscorbutic, and I was relying on its regular consumption to prevent the onset of scurvy.
Sighting a good solid floe with three seals on it, I put the ship alongside and shot them all with my heavy rifle. I went over on to the floe with Macklin to bleed them, which done, they were hoisted aboard, and McIlroy, Dell and Macklin flensed and cut them up. The blubber went to the bunkers to eke out our supply of coal. Practically the whole of the meat of the seal can be used for eating; whilst the liver, kidneys and heart make very dainty fare. Fried seal’s brain is a dish that can hardly be excelled anywhere in the world. The seal’s brain is large and well developed, and when shooting these animals I always make a point of aiming at the neck just behind the skull so as not to spoil the brain for cooking. There is quite an art in removing the brain, and the heads were usually handed over to Macklin and McIlroy, who took them out complete and unbroken. Whilst the flensing was going forward Worsley seized the opportunity to take a sounding, finding it lat. 66° 12´ S. and 16° 21´ E. long., 2,330 fathoms of water.
On February 6th we continued pushing on through fairly heavy pack. Often the Quest was brought to a stop by heavy pieces of ice across her bows, which she was powerless to move or break up. When this occurred we backed down the lane formed in our wake, where her short length usually enabled her to turn, and getting her nose inserted between two floes, we pushed ahead with all the power the engines could give us till she finally worried through. So far we had not been held up for any considerable time.
Macklin reported another fifteen inches of water in the hold, requiring an extra spell at the pumps to clear. There can be no doubt that the continual bumping and jarring of the ship against the ice caused a starting of the timbers which had then no chance to settle and swell.
Everybody was in wonderful health and spirits, and appetites were keen. For lunch on that day we had the seal brains taken the day before; they were delicious. All hands took to the seal meat, with the exception of Jeffrey and Carr. Carr tasted it and said that it produced a sickly feeling, but with the former it was a case of pure prejudice, for he would not even taste it, and preferred to live on what else might be going. Stefansson, in his books, dilates upon the theory that men who in their normal lives have been used to all sorts and varieties of food take more readily to kinds which they are experiencing for the first time than those whose dietary has been more monotonous and composed of much the same thing day after day and week after week. That this is very true there can be no doubt, but it does not hold in the case of Jeffrey and Carr, for out of the whole party I doubt if there was anyone more used to the highly faked and varied dishes which the modern chef succeeds in producing. Hunger is a wonderful sauce and will break down most prejudices. Those of us who accompanied Sir Ernest Shackleton on his previous expedition lived entirely on seal and penguin meat for eleven months, and except that we were thin at the time of rescue as a result of not having enough of it, we were otherwise healthy and fit and had no sign of scurvy.
Stefansson, in speaking of scurvy, attributes his freedom from it to eating his meat raw or “rare done,” and states definitely that this is the secret of preventing and curing scurvy, whatever the food may be. On the occasion to which I have referred we always cooked our meat, except when circumstances or the exigencies of the moment did not permit of it and when we were short of fuel.
Nature has providentially arranged that most of the animals of south polar regions, for example the seals, provide in addition to meat the fuel necessary to cook it in the form of blubber. It is true that the use of heat in cooking meat does very slightly destroy the antiscorbutic principle, but when the consumption is sufficiently large this factor can be neglected. Much depends upon the method of cooking, for a more thorough investigation of the subject shows that the detrimental influence is not heat but oxidization. It is also stated that scurvy may be cured by eating meat which has gone bad. It is possible that a few isolated cases may have recovered in spite of the additional intoxication, but this teaching must be regarded as a most dangerous one. The subject is one of the greatest importance to explorers, for scurvy has caused the failure of many well-found expeditions. I cannot enter more fully into it here. The investigation of scurvy and other food deficiency diseases is at present occupying the minds of the medical profession, much new knowledge is being brought to light, and it is probable that the next few years will show great advances. I am greatly opposed to the making of generalizations based upon one or two isolated observations by writers with little or no knowledge of the fundamental facts; they are of little value for guidance and are apt to prove misleading.
Query was in great spirits at this time, never having been in better condition since we left England; his coat was thick and bushy, and his tail made a fine brush. He was really a most handsome dog. He became a thorough ship’s dog, and climbed all over the place. Wilkins fixed a camera case to the front of the deck-house, and Query discovered via it a way to the top. So delighted was he with his new discovery that he ran up and down just for the joy of doing it. All day long he pestered one to play with him, bringing in his mouth a stick or tin or a lump of coal, or even a potato looted from the galley, which he wished thrown for him to fetch. Of this game he never tired, and no matter where one threw the object, he searched until it was found, when he brought it back, calling one’s attention to the fact by a short bark or a dig in the calves with his nose.
Another game which he was very fond of was to drop things from the deck-house on to the head of someone standing below, whose share in the game was to return the thing dropped so that he could do it again. He was greatly excited by a seal which followed the ship and whenever we were stopped by floes rose high out of the water alongside us as though trying to come aboard. Possibly it regarded us as a strangely elusive and inaccessible piece of land. Up to now we had not seen any penguins in the pack.
On coming on deck at 4.0 A.M. on February 7th I discovered that during Jeffrey’s watch the ship had entered a cul-de-sac and that further progress was impossible. From the crow’s nest I could see nothing but dense pack stretching away to the southward as far as the eye could reach, with no sign of a water sky beyond it. To the east and west the same conditions prevailed, and there was no hope of working the ship in any direction except that in which we had come. I therefore decided to stay where we were for a day (lat. 67° 40´ S. and 17° 6´ E. long), and if there was no sign of opening of the ice at the end of that time to retrace my steps and look for open leads farther to the west.
There were a number of seals within reach which I determined to collect, and so putting the ship alongside a suitable floe I sent off some of the men to kill and bring them aboard. They secured nine altogether, far more than we required for meat, but I wanted the blubber to help out the coal supply. We took for the larder, therefore, only the dainties, such as the brains, kidneys, livers and hearts, and the choicest pieces of flesh, which are the undercuts from the inside of the ribs.
We saw that day the first emperor penguin of the trip standing solitary, as is the wont of this species, upon a floe. Wilkins secured it as a specimen. The emperors are the most stately of all the penguins and have the finest markings. The king penguin is more brightly coloured, but the emperor has the more delicate shades which merge gradually into one another. Seen on the floe in bright sunshine they have a really beautiful appearance.
If approached slowly they make no attempt to run away, but may even take a few sedate steps forward to meet the stranger. When within a few paces they stop and commonly make a profound bow, just as if they were greeting one’s arrival. If approached quickly and suddenly they take alarm and retire, first of all upon their feet; but if hustled they drop upon their bellies and using both feet and flippers, sledge themselves along at a considerable speed. Seen from behind they look like gigantic beetles, and there is something about this mode of progression which is provocative of laughter. I have noticed this when I have been showing pictures upon the cinema screen, the audience invariably breaking into laughter when it occurs.
This species is found only in the far south, and has the peculiarity of nesting during the winter. The term “nesting” may be misleading, for they do not make any nests but lay their egg (only one egg is laid by each bird) upon the snow surface. Both male and female birds take turns in hatching out. They have a small depression on the foot into which the egg is wriggled by means of the beak. They are able to move about carrying the egg, and as Sir Ernest Shackleton used to say, “they act both as a cradle and a perambulator.” When they wish to transfer the egg from one to another they stand belly to belly and indulge in a vast amount of wriggling; but in the process the egg is often dropped on to the ice and has to be wriggled on again from there. Two of the most marked characteristics of penguins are their patience and tenacity of purpose, both of which are extraordinary.
A few days before we entered the cul-de-sac Dell killed the South Georgia pig which was presented to us by Mr. Hansen, of Leith Harbour. It proved excellent eating and a pleasant change from seal meat. The head remained, and as it would make a meal for only one of the messes, we agreed to gamble to decide which should have it. Kerr was deputed to represent us, but lost to the after-mess. Even such small incidents as this attracted an interest just then.
A sounding taken on this day (February 7th) showed 2,356 fathoms in position lat. 67° 40´ S. and 17° 6´ E. long.
At 5.0 A.M. on the following day the ice had shown no signs of opening, so I decided to turn back and look for a more open route to the east or west. We steamed north until noon, when, not caring to expend coal in going away from our objective, I gave orders to reduce steam, and proceeded under sail. The wind was southerly and of moderate strength. I gathered in this way some idea of what ice navigation meant in the days before the introduction of the steam engine. Progress, in spite of favourable winds, was slow, but I was surprised at the effect of a long-continued steady pressure against floes, some of them of quite considerable weight. They gave way slowly before our bows, and the Quest slipped of her own will (for she would not answer her helm) into the cracks between them and slowly wedged her way through.
We were now so deep in the pack that there was no appreciable swell, and the Quest was consequently steady. I continued the operation which we had been compelled to give up before, and swung out the port life-boat, Worsley being a spectator only. This time there was no accident.
Worsley now started to go on the bridge and keep a watch, though of course he was compelled to take things very quietly, at any rate in so far as his movements were concerned. Quiet in other respects his watch certainly was not, for members of it carried on long-continued, and often argumentative, dialogues, usually at the top of their voices. This was especially the case with one of them, and many times I have leapt on deck with a sense of impending danger, wakened by shouting that proved to be the most trivial of remarks.
The weather was fair during the day, with a moderate southerly wind, no sunshine, and occasional snow squalls. At 7.30 P.M. we had made thirty-five miles to the northward. This was all to the bad and a bit disappointing. However, we hoped for a change before long. Seals appeared on the floe in quantity during the day and also a number of emperor penguins standing, as usual, stately and alone.
Killers were about and a large number of birds—Antarctic petrels, Wilson’s petrels, and a few pretty pure white snow petrels.
During the night (February 9th) our luck changed and we were able to make southerly again. Throughout the morning we met loose pack and a number of leads of open water, so that by 12.0 noon we were only eleven miles north of the previous position. We had the same conditions till 4.0 P.M., when we met with dense pack. From the crow’s nest, however, I saw “water sky” to the southward and determined to push on to the utmost ability of the ship. We progressed very slowly and only with the greatest difficulty. It took much hard steaming and consumption of valuable coal for the Quest to make any impression on this heavy floe.
The evening of this day was fine, beautiful and still, the sort that takes hold of one and sends mind and memory wandering far afield. There was not a ripple on the small pools between the floes, in which were numbers of small euphausiæ swimming about. Four or five seals came about the ship and accompanied us, rubbing themselves against the sides and popping their heads out to regard us with large eyes of a beautiful soft brown colour. They were evidently in a playful mood. On the ice seals are sluggish and very helpless, but in the water they are wonderful, and their swimming movements are most graceful as they dart about twisting and turning and occasionally rising to look round.
Killers were about earlier in the day, but no penguins. An ugly-looking sea-leopard put his head out of the water and gazed malignantly over the edge of the floe. In a pool at some distance from the ship I caught sight of a black mass rising and falling, and through my binoculars witnessed what appeared to be a fight between two sea-leopards. One of them leapt continually from the water to a height of some six feet, and the water was churned to a mass of foam. Suddenly it all ceased. What tragedy was enacted on that perfect evening? On such a night, amidst the pure whiteness of one’s surroundings, it was hard to realize that in the struggle for existence the unrelenting laws of Nature must hold.
We passed close alongside a floe with a seal on it. I shot it; Macklin jumped off on to the floe and made fast a line, scarcely taking time to stop we hauled it aboard and proceeded on our way. Looking back I saw the surface of the snow smirched with its blood. So Man passed leaving a red stain; and yet but a few moments before I had been moralizing on “Nature red in tooth and claw.”
Very few birds were about, with the exception of snow petrels, a few Antarctic petrels and a single young Dominican gull.
We were pushing on, but the prospect at the moment was not promising. From aloft there was nothing to be seen but ice closely packed and stretching as far as the eye could reach in all directions. I distrust fine weather in the pack; it usually means lowered temperature, close ice and little open water.
February 10th opened as a beautiful morning, with bright sunshine. The ice was white and sparkling and the water a deep blue. The air was keen and crisp, and all hands revelled in the improved weather conditions. Less so myself, however, for I feared what was portended. I prefer damp misty weather in the pack, for that means the presence of a considerable amount of open water amongst the ice and better conditions for navigating, in spite of poor visibility.
The number of seals that accompanied us increased to twenty or more. They refused to leave us, though they occasionally took fright and dashed off with a swirl of water. Seen from aloft a school of seals is a wonderful sight. There was evidently something on the ship’s side which had an attraction for them, for they seized the chance of every stop to rise out of the water and nibble at frozen pieces of ice which had formed just above the water-line. The ice on the patent anchors which projected from the hawse holes two or three feet above the surface especially attracted them, and they collected in clusters of five or six to nibble at it.
In the early morning the pack was composed of dense, heavy old floes, much broken up and bearing the remains of pressure ridges through which progress was very slow. At 7.30 A.M. we entered a lead with surface just freezing over, which offered little resistance to the ship. It was literally full of killers, which crossed and recrossed our bows and “blew” all about us. Our seal friends did not accompany us into the lead, for which the presence of the killers was no doubt a good and sufficient reason. The crab-eaters seem to have no fear of them whilst in closely set pack with only small pools of water between the floes, but one rarely sees crab-eaters in larger stretches of water. Occasionally they have been seen in large numbers travelling at high speed. Hurley, the photographer of the last expedition, was able to get a photographic record of them passing close to the ship, the number being so great that the surface of the water was lashed to foam. That they are hunted by the killers is beyond doubt, for one frequently sees them shoot out of water and land with a heavy wallop on a piece of ice, look all round and bump themselves violently along, finally disappearing with a dive into the water again. This differs largely from their ordinary method of landing when they wish to rest. In this case they may be seen first of all rising high out of the water and looking over the edge of the floe, obviously noting its nature, and searching for a shelter from the wind. They land with the same heavy flop, but show none of the excitement when up.
On one occasion at my base in Queen Mary’s Land during the Mawson Expedition I was standing on an ice foot with Mr. Harrison, my biologist, when I saw a killer actually attack a seal which, however, escaped and effected a landing on the ice foot. It was bleeding profusely and was in a very exhausted condition. On close examination we found six large wounds, all of which had penetrated the blubber to the flesh, none of them less than three inches deep. At first I was inclined to put the animal out of its misery, but my biologist asked me to let it remain so that we might see whether or not it would recover. It lost an amazing amount of blood, which melted its way into the ice beneath, but on the fourth day it had recovered sufficiently to enter the sea again. Nearly all seals bear the scars of old wounds in vertical strokes down their sides. Wilkins collected a number of skins in which these scars were more extensive than usual, and prepared them for sending back as specimens to the British Museum.
The water in the hold had increased so much by now that it required four hours of hard pumping to reduce. It was hard, monotonous work.
In the afternoon we encountered the first Adelie penguin which we had seen on this expedition. It was standing alone on a flat piece of floe, and at sight of us evinced the most marked surprise, looking at us first with one eye and then the other, and finally started towards us at a run. Its waddling gait resembled that of a fat old white-waistcoated gentleman in a desperate hurry. Many times it fell forward, but, picking itself up, hurried on till, reaching the edge of the floe, it tumbled rather than dived into the water. In a few seconds it shot out, to alight upright upon another floe where it continued the chase, but by this time we were drawing away and he gave it up, uttering a last “Cl-a-a-k,” as much as to say, “Well, I’m jiggered!” Later we saw many more who showed the same interest, some of them taking to the water and coming about the ship or following in our wake.
We entered a broad belt of large flat pieces of one-year-old floe interspersed with thinner new ice which the Quest was able to crack, although it usually required several blows to split it widely enough to let her through.
Following on this we entered a broad lead of open water, but about 10 P.M. encountered very thick and solid floe. Owing to the dim light it was impossible to distinguish rotten mushy ice which we could safely ram from solid pieces which badly jarred the ship. About midnight I lay to till more light should give me a chance to get a better view from the mast head.
We obtained a sounding of 2,163 fathoms in position lat. 68° 3´ S. and 16° 12´ E. long., and as soon as the light improved we set off again and spent the whole of February 11th energetically pushing south. The temperature fell rapidly, reaching 18° F. at midnight. All the open water started freezing over and was covered with a skin of ice which offered little resistance to the ship when she was well under way, but impeded her considerably when in the dense pack she was forced to be continually stopping and restarting again.
As far as the actual weather was concerned the Antarctic can offer nothing better than that which we were experiencing, fine and clear, the air crisp and cold, yet not sufficiently so to be unpleasant. As the sun sloped down to the horizon with the gentle decline it takes in these latitudes, in contrast to the suddenness with which it disappears in the tropics, we had a beautiful long sunset, the sky taking the most wonderful colours, crimson, amber and gold. The snow surface was a lovely pale pink except where each hummock threw a long black shadow. The surface of the newly freezing parts, still and polished, reflected a pale green. Across the vault of the sky were little fleecy rolls of pink cloud, while nearer the horizon were heavier banks of a deep crimson. Stretching away behind in an ever-narrowing ribbon one saw the lane cut by the passage of the ship disturbed only in the foreground by the ripple of the screw. In contrast to the vivid colouring ahead that astern had the black and white effect of a pencil sketch. A perfectly wonderful evening and yet—timeo Danaos—I do not like the pack when it smiles. The prospect was not good. I knew that unless we got a rise of temperature things might be bad for us, for it would be quite impossible to forge through the thickening ice, which had the effect of cementing together the heavier floes so that a much more powerful ship than the Quest would have been quite unable to make any impression upon them.
There was one thing I knew I must avoid. The Quest was not suitable for “freezing in.” Her shape was not such as would cause her to rise with lateral pressure, and it was almost certain that should she become involved in any of the heavy disturbances which frequently occur she was not likely to survive. The hazard of a boat journey was not likely to meet with the same fortunate ending that we experienced in the _Endurance_ expedition, where our escape was indeed a miraculous one. Nearly all our special winter equipment was at Cape Town, which was to have been our base of operations. But weighing even more than these factors was another on which one can only briefly touch: in spite of a solid nucleus of old, tried Antarctic men, and others of proved worth in different fields, there was a discordant element in the personnel which I was anxious to adjust before I exposed the party to the trials and vicissitudes of a polar winter.
During the afternoon Worsley took a sounding, finding in lat. 68° 52´ S. and 16° 55´ E. long. a depth of 1,555 fathoms, which showed a shoaling of 608 fathoms in 49 miles of southing. The snapper contained a specimen of grey mud which was handed to the geologist.
I had no rest during the night, for I realized that on the next few hours hung the fate of this effort. Unless the temperature rose and the ice showed signs of loosening it would be necessary to turn back, little though I liked the prospect. I was in the crow’s nest the moment that the dim midnight light began to improve, searching all round the horizon with binoculars. Everywhere the ice lay tightly packed and solid. McIlroy reported a further drop of two degrees Fahrenheit. The filmy, freezing surface of the leads had become definitely frozen over, so that there was not a drop of water to be seen anywhere. Even to the northward the outlook was bad, and I began to fear that after all we might be beset. That we could push no farther into the heavy ice was certain. I decided to remain where I was for the day, but longer than that would be fatal unless a change occurred in the meantime. I manœuvred the ship to a large solid floe to enable the scientists to take their instruments over the side, and give all hands a chance of exercise after the cramping spell of shipboard. Near by a fat Weddell seal lay asleep. I shot it, and McIlroy and Macklin skinned it and took the blubber to the bunkers. Carr, with the assistance of Marr, Naisbitt and Argles, brought in some ice for use as drinking water.
Sea ice, although salt, has the peculiar property that if piled up for two or three days, either naturally as pressure ridges or artificially by heaping up a number of frozen slabs, the salt leaves the upper pieces, which can be melted down and freely used as drinking water. Physicists have not been able to explain fully the phenomenon. It is, however, an easily demonstrable fact, and it is by this property of the ice alone that ships have been able to winter in the pack. In the height of summer, when the sun beats down strongly upon the ice, pools of water form on the surface of the floes. They are fresh and can be used for drinking. It is necessary, however, if water is being taken from this source, to see that the floe is a good solid one, not “rotted” underneath, in which case it may be brackish. During some of our marches over the ice of the Weddell Sea after the loss of the _Endurance_ the going was very bad and the work tremendously hard on account of soft snow, which let the men down to the hips and the dogs to their bellies, and we suffered severely from thirst. When we encountered any of these pools they were freely used by men and dogs for drinking, and we never noticed any salty flavour.
[Illustration: The track of the Quest as compared with the tracks of Biscoe and Bellingshausen.]
The eating of snow is bad; of this there can be no doubt, though I have seen it stated in the writings of some explorers that it is quite suitable for quenching thirst, and all that is necessary is to overcome the prejudice against its use. The eating of a little snow is harmless, but if one indulges in the practice for a long time the mouth becomes very dry due to the paralysing effect of cold on the salivary glands. The result is that more and more of it is required and the dryness of the mouth is intensified. Any weak spots which may have developed in the teeth are at once discovered, with consequent severe facial neuralgia. The swallowing of the scarcely melted water tends to upset digestion, as is well seen in the United States of America, where the frequent taking of iced drinks is a national practice and dyspepsia is the national complaint. This is not a theoretical observation, for as an enthusiastic young man in my early days of exploration I made the experiment to my sorrow, and I have noted the effects upon other members of the different expeditions which have entered these regions.
Worsley, with the assistance of Dell and Watts, took a sounding, finding bottom at 1,089 fathoms in lat. 69° 17´ S. and 17° 9´ E. long. This showed a shoaling of 466 fathoms in twenty-nine miles, and certainly indicated the approach to the continental shelf. Once again I climbed to the crow’s nest and scanned the horizon to the south. The sky in that direction had a hard white look such as one would get over snow-covered land, but is also seen over densely packed ice. I felt sure that if we could only work our way for another fifty miles to the south we should sight or find indications of land, but no ship ever built could possibly have pushed through the ice to the south of us, not even the most powerful ice-breakers.
Of animal and bird life there was very little, but though if present they would have been additional evidence in favour of the proximity of land, their absence did not necessarily negative it.
Looking backwards to the north I saw that the ice in that direction, though less dense than that to the south, was settling firm and hard, and I decided that as soon as the scientific staff had completed their observations I must beat a hasty and energetic retreat.
Few people can realize what an effort it had been to force the little Quest to this position. It was hard to have to turn back. It was necessary, however, to make every effort to escape this freeze up, but once in loose pack I was determined to seize the first chance to push south again.