Sir Ernest Shackleton lost no time in going ashore to make arrangements for the necessary work, and set it going with the least possible delay. Messrs. Wilson, Sons & Co. were appointed agents, and their engineer, Mr. Howard, came aboard the same day. In addition, a consulting engineer was employed to make a report on the condition of the engines. The crank-shaft was badly out of alignment, and from this had resulted all the other disabilities which had so continuously cropped up during the voyage. It was considered also that the heavy four-bladed propeller was too great a strain for the small engines, and that a lighter two-bladed propeller, giving of a greater number of revolutions, would prove more satisfactory. The scarfed topmast, which had been badly strained, required renewing, for which purpose it would be necessary to take out the foremast.
It was decided also, whilst this work was in process, to recaulk and tar the hull.
On the second day we moved across the harbour to Wilson’s Island, where the ship was emptied of all stores and equipment, which were placed for the time being in a large covered lighter. A large floating crane, of which we were allowed the use by courtesy of the Brazilian Government, was placed alongside, and the foremast taken out and placed in the sheds. This completed, the ship was placed on the slips and the work proceeded rapidly, the firm concentrating their resources to get us ready for sea in the shortest possible time. Mr. Howard worked unceasingly on our behalf, and we received at all times the greatest help from all responsible members of the firm.
Sir Ernest Shackleton decided during the early part of the voyage that the living accommodation, which had been adequate for his original scheme, was insufficient for a programme which entailed prolonged periods aboard ship, and planned an addition to the deck-house. The existing structure was carried forward to within a few feet of the foremast and the new portion made two feet broader on each side. This meant enclosing the main hatch, but the difficulty was overcome by building another hatch in the roof of the deck-house and cutting the coamings of the original hatch flush with the deck. Although an uncomfortable arrangement in many ways, it had the advantage that Macklin could open it up at any time he wished to go below independent of weather conditions, for under the old arrangement the getting up of stores was limited to fine weather, there being no other access to the hold than through the hatch, rendering the work in other conditions very dangerous.
Whilst this work was in progress it was impossible to live aboard, and a number of the British residents offered to billet the different members of the expedition in their houses. To Mr. and Mrs. Causer, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd, the Secretary of the British Club, and the members of the Leopoldina Chacara I must take this opportunity of offering my most sincere thanks for their kindness and hospitality. Thanks are due, not only to these “godparents” (as we called them), but to others too numerous to mention, from the British Minister downwards, from all of whom we received the greatest hospitality and who took a keen interest in our project.
In spite of all the energy employed in getting the Quest ready for sea, it became apparent that it would take fully four weeks to complete the work. The delays caused through repairs since leaving England had now amounted to six weeks. It would be quite impossible to carry out the programme and reach Cape Town in time to enter the ice this season. It was this factor which caused Sir Ernest to decide to abandon, or postpone, the first part of the programme and make direct for South Georgia. Unfortunately, much of our scientific apparatus, stores and nearly all the special winter equipment, clothing, sledges, etc., had been sent to Cape Town, which was to have been our base of operations. Sir Ernest decided, however, that much of the foodstuff necessary to make up the deficiencies could be obtained locally, and hoped to get sledges, dogs and winter clothing at South Georgia. The German Deutschland expedition, under Filchner, had been abandoned there, and when we visited the island in 1914 we found that the whole of the equipment had been carefully stored and was in excellent condition. Sir Ernest hoped that much of this would still be available. Previous to this, in the belief that we should still be carrying on the full programme, the aeroplane had been sent on to the Cape by mail steamer, and we should therefore be compelled to do without it at the time when it would be of the greatest value. At the end of the month most of the essential work had been completed, but there was still much that required doing. Mr. Howard was anxious that we should delay another week to enable him to put in the necessary finishing touches, but already we were late, and the Boss decided that further delay was impossible.
The new addition to the deck-house, intended as a forward messroom, was a mere unfinished shell. Four bunks were hastily and roughly knocked up, and we left with no other furniture than a plain deal table, which was built round a central stanchion, and two benches. I may say here of the work put in for us at Rio by Messrs. Wilson & Sons that it was all good and reliable, and withstood all the usage to which it was subjected, and Kerr never again had any trouble with the engines beyond minor adjustments. Mr. Howard had done all that was possible short of building new engines, which he maintained was what we required, making no secret of his opinion that the present ones were unsuitable for the work to be undertaken. There was nothing for it, however, but to go forward, and Sir Ernest, though fully alive to the Quest’s disabilities, determined to do the best possible under the circumstances. He had that peculiar nature which shows at its best under difficulties. He was the most undefeated and unconquerable man I have ever known. His whole life had been spent in forcing his way against what to most people must have seemed unsurmountable obstacles. Yet he had always triumphed, and I, who knew him, felt no doubt that he would carry this expedition through to a successful conclusion. Yet, if the reader will but cast his mind over the part of this book which he has read and think of how, since the inception of the expedition, one difficulty after another had risen to baulk the enterprise, and how on board the ship one thing after another had gone wrong and required repair, he will agree that the Boss might well have thrown in his hand and retired from the unequal struggle. But nothing could have been more foreign to his mind—each obstacle but strengthened his resolve to carry on, and we who served with him never for one moment felt distrust or doubt that under his leadership all would go well.
Whilst at Rio a change was made in the personnel. Eriksen returned home, and three new men were taken on: Young and Argles as stokers, and Naisbitt as cook’s mate.
We left Wilson’s wharf on December 17th, and lay at anchor for the night in a small bay on the Nictheroy side, close to the entrance to the harbour. In the morning we made a final complete stowage, lashing securely all the loose articles on deck and getting the ship trimmed ready for sea. Whilst we were engaged in this an urgent message was sent by motor boat for Dr. Macklin to go to Sir Ernest, who had slept ashore as the guest of the Leopoldina Chacara, and who had been taken suddenly ill. Macklin went off at once, but on arrival found him fully recovered, saying that he had merely felt a slight faintness and had really sent for him to know whether the stores were complete. That this attack had a greater significance than was appreciated at the time later events showed.
We set off on December 18th. Sir Ernest, who had naturally worried a good deal over the continual troubles which cropped up, became once more his old cheery self, looking forward to a respite from further alarms regarding the welfare of the ship.
On the day of sailing Jeffrey suffered an injury to his leg which Macklin pronounced serious, and ordered three weeks’ complete rest in bed, to which Jeffrey, being an active man, none too willingly assented. As a matter of fact, as a result of this injury he was incapacitated for nearly six weeks. Sir Ernest kept his watch.
The first few days at sea were fine and pleasantly cool. The old system of watches was altered, the men taking their turns at the wheel in rotation, following alphabetical order. For the day’s work they were called at 7.0 A.M. and knocked off at 5.0 P.M. The messes were divided. Sir Ernest, myself, Hussey, McIlroy, Worsley, Macklin, Kerr, Jeffrey, Carr and Douglas messed in the new wardroom forward, and Smith took charge of the after messroom, with Dell, McLeod, Marr, Young, Argles and Watts. Green and Naisbitt messed in the galley.
Three of the bunks in the forward messroom were occupied by McIlroy, Kerr and Carr, the fourth being used as a locker for their personal gear.
Although we had increased the accommodation, it was still far from being commodious, and the bare, unfinished condition of the new quarters offered little comfort. “Roddy” Carr was appointed to make some cupboards and shelves, and his work, though a bit rough and ready, answered its purpose well, which was the main thing. Hussey congratulated him on his new appointment as joiner, calling him thereafter “Roddy Carr-penter,” which I can assure my readers is the least of the atrocious puns which we endured from him. Always a cheery soul, his very presence was worth much to us on the trip, for it is the small jest which goes farthest and still sparkles when the more subtle wit has fallen flat.
On December 22nd we saw our first albatross, a fine “Wanderer” which attached itself to the ship and followed us on our way South. We saw also a “Portuguese man-o’-war.” The two form a combination rarely seen in the same latitude (30° 47´ S.).
The albatross has a wonderful flight, and our flying experts, Carr and Wilkins, watched the bird as it soared and dipped and “banked” and “stalled” and performed numerous evolutions, for each of which they had a technical or a slang expression.
I had the 4.0-8.0 A.M. watch on December 24th, during which the wind blew up wet and misty and came ahead. The Boss gave instructions to call the hands to take in sail. Whilst the square-sail was being taken in a corner carrying a heavy block and shackle was whipped across the deck, catching Carr a violent blow in the face. He was badly stunned, but picked himself up, with hand to face, blood flowing freely from between his fingers. When examined, it was found that his nose was broken. After some trouble the surgeons replaced the bones in position, but Carr, standing in front of a looking-glass, attempted to improve the work, with the result that the operation had to be carried out a second time, with pertinent remarks from Hussey as to the effects upon his personal appearance if further interfered with.
Later in the day the mist cleared and the sun came out. In the evening we were able to set sail again.
This being Christmas Eve, we sat after supper and talked of the various Christmases we had spent. Each man pictured the Christmas he would like to spend to-morrow if he got the chance. It is funny how we cling, in spite of long years of disillusionment, to the mind-pictures of our childhood, and conjure up visions of a snow-covered countryside, with robins, holly trees, waits, and all the things that go into the Christmas card. We forget the warm, wet, miserable Christmas days; and perhaps it is just as well.
Our position, situated as we were in the midst of a waste of stormy waters, was not an ideal one, but we looked forward to celebrating Christmas in a cheery way. Mr. and Mrs. Rowett had sent us as a parting gift a big box of Christmas fare, which included such delicacies as turkeys, hams, plum puddings, and muscatels and raisins. The evening was fine, and in spite of sundry croakings from Hussey, our weather prophet, we anticipated a cheery Christmas dinner.
During the night it became apparent that a gale was brewing, and Hussey’s prediction seemed to be only too correct, for by Christmas morning the Quest was heaving and pitching and behaving in such a lively manner that we saw that any attempt at festivity on this day would be futile. At breakfast-time it was almost impossible to keep anything on the table; cups, plates and crockery generally were thrown about, and the fiddles proved useless to keep them in position. We therefore put away Mrs. Rowett’s delicacies for a more favourable occasion. Green had a hard and trying time in his galley. The Boss told him not to bother about serving a decent lunch, but to serve out each man with a good thick bully-beef sandwich. This we ate in the shelter of the alleyways, well braced against the roll of the ship. It was a pleasant surprise when Green was able to produce some hot cocoa, which from its taste I suspected to have been made from engine-room water. It was, however, hot and wet and comforting to our chilled bodies.
For our Christmas dinner we had a thick stew, which was not bad. Two bottles also materialized, one of rum and one of whisky. Each man was allowed a tot of whichever he preferred. Rum, being the stronger, was generally selected. The Boss gave us the toast of “Our good friends, John and Ellie Rowett,” which we drank enthusiastically. Afterwards the Boss asked each man where he had spent the last Christmas, and it was interesting to find how much scattered over the globe we had been. The Boss was in London, McIlroy and myself were in Central Africa, Worsley in Iceland, Macklin in Singapore, Jeffrey in New York, Kerr in Hamburg, Carr in Lithuania, McLeod in Mauritius, Naisbitt in Rio, and Young in Cape Town. Green was wandering somewhere round the East as steward of a tramp steamer, and of all of us only the Boss, Hussey and Marr, the Boy Scout, seemed to have spent theirs at home.
During the day we were visited by numbers of sea birds which seemed to be in no way perturbed by the high winds: albatross, whale birds, Mother Carey’s chickens, Cape pigeons and a Cape hen. It was cheering to see them again, these old friends of ours, and to watch their flight as they sailed cleverly from the shelter of one wave to another, rarely meeting the full force of the gale.
On the 26th the weather had abated somewhat, though a strong wind continued to blow from the west. The temperature dropped to 60° F., making the air quite chilly, and we were glad to don heavier clothing.
Kerr came to me with a report that the forward water tank was empty. He had sounded several times, and had gone below to tap the sides, the tank yielding a hollow note, so that there was no doubt about it. The small after tank, which had been freely used since leaving Rio de Janeiro, was also nearly empty, so that there was very little fresh water left on the ship. It was necessary to report this to Sir Ernest, though I did not like doing so, for I knew that the former troubles had caused him much worry, and he was now in hopes that he had heard the last of them. Though he took the news, which was serious enough, in all calmness, I could see that it caused him some uneasiness. We had to economize rigidly in the use of what water was left, using it for cooking and drinking purposes only, and making the best use we could of sea water for washing and cleaning. There was a small exhaust tank in the engine-room, which collected the steam after it had passed through the cylinders. The amount of water from this source was small, and tasted somewhat oily, but it helped to eke out the supply. Kerr removed the tank lid and made a search from inside for the site of the leak, which proved fortunately to be not in the walls of the tank itself but at the junction with the feed pipe.
During the night of the 27th-28th the wind again freshened. I had the middle watch. By 2.0 A.M. a furious gale was blowing from the W.N.W. Rapidly rising seas came along in quick succession with big curling tops, and breaking with a roar ran along our rails with a venomous hiss. The wind was on our starboard quarter, and under topsail and square-sail we made good speed before it. The ship’s log registered nine knots. With each drive forward of the big seas the ship overran her engines, ultimately compelling us to shut off steam. We were making such good headway that I was loath to heave-to, and we continued to rush along in a smother of foam and spray, veering and twisting to such an extent that the man at the wheel had all his work cut out to maintain a course and prevent her from broaching-to. I was afraid that some of the gear might carry away, and strained continuously into the darkness ahead. There was, however, something about the leap and swing of the ship as she tore along that caused our spirits to rise and created a tremendous feeling of uplift.
I was relieved at 4.0 A.M. by Worsley, who carried on for another two hours. At 6.0 A.M. the seas had risen to such an extent that Sir Ernest decided to heave-to, and all hands were called to take in sail. Putting the ship straight before the wind we let go the square-sail with a run, all hands rushing forward to gather up the canvas and stow it securely. Dell, jumping to assist another man, got his foot caught in a coil of rope, which, running out at high speed, threw him violently off his feet, causing an injury from which he took months to recover. We let go the topsail sheets and started to clew up, the wind causing the sail to flap with loud reports and bending the yard like a bow. Worsley and Macklin clambered aloft to take it in and pass the gaskets which secure it to the yard.
The gale increased in violence. I was agreeably surprised with the Quest’s behaviour, for she lay-to much more comfortably than I had expected, and took comparatively little water over her sides. There was enough, however, to make things uncomfortable, for it filled the waist of the ship, flooded the cabins, and sweeping along the alleyways entered the galley and extinguished the fires. Green stuck valiantly to his post and managed at each meal-time to serve us out some good solid sandwiches and, what was of especial value under the circumstances, a good hot drink, which sent a warm glow through our arteries and put new life into us. We considerably reduced the amount of water coming on board by placing a series of oil bags over the bow, which subdued the seas in a manner scarcely credible except to those who watched its effect upon them, as with breaking tops they rushed angrily upon us, suddenly to lose all their sting and slip harmless under our keel. With regard to the use of oil bags, if they are to be used at all, it is necessary to let the oil run freely, though not necessarily wastefully. Small driblets are valueless and not worth the trouble of putting over the side.
The next day there was still a strong sea running, but it was merely the aftermath of the gale, which lost its sting about midnight. In the morning the sun came out and brightened things up considerably. Later in the day we were able to set sail and proceed on our way. Our friendly sea-birds, which had disappeared during the worst of the storm, returned and followed in our wake.
We had not long been under way when Sir Ernest approached, saying quietly: “Wild, you came to me with bad news the other day; I have some news for you.”
“Good or bad?” I asked.
“Bad,” he replied; “worse than yours; bad enough perhaps to stop the expedition.”
He then told me that Kerr, who had been the harbinger of so much evil tidings, had again to report the discovery of a most serious condition. Whilst cleaning fires he had discovered a leak in the furnace from which the water bubbled out and ran in a thin stream down the sides. He was unable to state definitely the exact condition, which could not be examined until our arrival in South Georgia, as it required that the fires should be drawn to enable him to creep bodily into the furnace. He explained that it might be a small matter which could be repaired, or it might prove to be so serious that the boiler could not be used further. In spite of the quiet way in which Sir Ernest took this news, and the calm which he outwardly exhibited, I think it proved to be a pretty severe blow and the cause of a good deal of worry.
Indeed, all this recurrence of trouble from below decks, in departments which he personally had not been able to supervise, must have proved very trying. From the very first inception of the expedition he had had difficulties innumerable which might well have broken the spirit of a lesser man.
For the present Kerr was instructed to keep a watchful eye on the condition and, unless it appeared to be getting worse, to carry on under reduced pressure.
The wind again blew up to a moderate gale from the westward on December 30th, much less severe, however, than the last one, though with very violent squalls. We ran off before it, making good speed, and though the rising seas rushed down upon our stern as if to poop us, the Quest rose to let them pass frothing and sizzling, but harmless, under our counter.
Towards evening, however, both wind and sea had increased, and Sir Ernest decided to take in sail and heave-to. Much water came on board and found its way into Sir Ernest’s cabin and my own, the doors of which opened on to the waist of the ship. The bunks were sodden, so much so that Sir Ernest left his and made up a bed on one of the benches in the wardroom, refusing to deprive any other man of his bunk. During the long spell of bad weather he had spent nearly the whole time on the bridge, and though I repeatedly suggested to him that he should lie down and rest, he would not do so. On this particular night he took Worsley’s watch as well as his own, so that Worsley’s rest might not be disturbed. He was always doing little things like this for other people.
About this time I began to feel a little bit uneasy, for it seemed to me that he was doing too much and subjecting himself to too great a strain.
Macklin’s diary shows that he had the wheel during the second dog-watch, and was relieved at 8.0 P.M. by Sir Ernest, who told him to lash the wheel and go to bed.
Macklin noticed, however, that the Boss was looking tired and ill, and urged him to call Worsley (whose real watch it was) and turn in himself. The Boss would not hear of it, saying:
“You boys are tired and need all the sleep you can get.”
The diary says:
He was looking so tired that I offered with some diffidence, for I am not a trained seaman, to stay on myself, saying that on the least sign of anything untoward happening I would blow a whistle. Somehow or other a long conversation ensued, in which he told me many things. He said:
“If this crack in the furnace proves serious I may have to abandon the expedition—my reputation will stand it—but I am not beaten; John Rowett understands me, and will trust me to make the best of things, even if I have to get a new ship.”
He reverted to his original northern scheme, saying:
“The Quest would have been suitable for that; in the Davis Strait, even if we lost her, we should have had no difficulty in reaching land, where we could subsist on game and carry on without her.”
So ended the Old Year. New Year’s Day brought us a calm sea with long oily swell, and over all a drenching mist. Being a Sunday little work was done, and all hands were allowed a rest after the somewhat trying days we had just experienced.
With the new year Sir Ernest Shackleton again commenced to write in his journal, which I insert verbatim.
January 1st, 1922.
Rest and calm after the storm. The year has begun kindly for us; it is curious how a certain date becomes a factor and a milestone in one’s life. Christmas Day in a raging gale seemed out of place. I dared not venture to hope that to-day would be as it was. Anxiety has been probing deeply into me, for until the very end of the year things have gone awry. Engines unreliable; furnace cracked; water short; heavy gales; all that physically can go wrong, but the spirit of all on board is sound and good.
There are two points in the adventures of a diver,
One when a beggar he prepares to plunge,
One when a prince he rises with his pearl.
January 2nd, 1922.
Another wonderful day, fine, clear, a slight head wind, but cheerful for us after these last days of stress and strain. At 1 P.M. we passed our first berg. The old familiar sight aroused in me memories that the strenuous years had deadened. Blue caverns shone with sky-glow snatched from heaven itself, green spurs showed beneath the water.
And bergs mast high Came sailing by,
As green as emerald.
Ah me! the years that have gone since in the pride of young manhood I first went forth to the fight. I grow old and tired, but must always lead on.
January 3rd, 1922.
Another beautiful day; fortune seems to attend us this New Year, but so anxious have I been, when things are going well, I wonder what internal difficulty will be sprung upon me. All day long a light wind and clear sky was our happy portion. I find a difficulty in settling down to write—I am so much on the qui vive; I pray that the furnace will hold out.
Thankful that I can
Be crossed and thwarted as a man.
January 4th, 1922.
At last, after sixteen days of turmoil and anxiety, on a peaceful sunshiny day, we came to anchor in Gritviken. How familiar the coast seemed as we passed down: we saw with full interest the places we struggled over after the boat journey. Now we must speed all we can, but the prospect is not too bright, for labour is scarce. The old familiar smell of dead whale permeates everything. It is a strange and curious place.
Douglas and Wilkins are at different ends of the island. A wonderful evening.
In the darkening twilight I saw a lone star hover
Gem-like above the bay.
These were the last words written by Sir Ernest Shackleton.
I continue my own narrative.
Early in the morning of Wednesday, January 4th, we sighted Wallis Island, and soon after the main island of South Georgia opened into view, with its snow-clad rocky slopes and big glaciers running to the sea. With fair wind and in smooth water we passed along the coast. Sir Ernest at sight of the island had completely thrown off his despondency, became once more his active self, and stood with Worsley and myself on the bridge, picking out through binoculars, with almost boyish excitement, the old familiar features, and recognizing places with such words as, “Look, there’s the glacier we descended!” or, “There, do you see, coming into view, the slope where we lit the Primus and cooked our meal?” He kept his spirits throughout the day, and it was with the greatest pleasure that I recognized once more the old buoyant, optimistic Boss.
The day cleared beautifully, and we entered Cumberland Bay in bright sunshine, with not a ripple on the surface of the water. How familiar it all seemed as we rounded the point and entered Gritviken Harbour, with the little station nestling at the foot of the three big peaks, the spars of the Tijuca, the small whalers along the pier; all exactly as we had left them seven years before. The Boss, looking across at the slopes above our “dog-lines,” remarked, “The Cross has gone from the hillside!”
The poles which had been set up by us to mark the north and south direction were still standing; we were informed that they were used regularly by the whalers in adjusting their compasses.
We passed the spit with the little Argentine meteorological station, behind which lay the house of the Government officials, and dropped anchor in the Endurance’s old anchorage.
One familiar landmark was missing—the little hospital hut in which I had lived with McIlroy, Macklin, Hussey, Crean and Marston, the dog-drivers of the last expedition. We found later that it had been moved from its old site close to the “dog-lines” to a more central position amongst the huts of the station.
Mr. Jacobsen, the manager, an old friend of ours, came aboard, and shortly afterwards returned to the shore with Sir Ernest, who was full of vigour and energy.
I had the boat lowered and went ashore with McIlroy, Hussey, Carr, Macklin and some others to look about our old quarters.
The season was now midsummer, the snow had disappeared from the lower slopes, and with the bright sunshine and warmth the place had a very different aspect from what it had when we were here in 1914, much earlier in the season. In other respects there was little change, and we recognized amongst the workers at the station a number with whom we had been familiar; in particular, one of the flensers, a hard-bitten individual who was standing with spiked sea-boots on a huge whale carcass, assisting the stripping process by deft cuts here and there with his long-handled knife.
We visited our old hut in its new situation. It was now being used as a hospital again, and a young Danish doctor was in charge. We passed along to its old site beside the stream, which runs clear and icy cold straight from the snows. There was much less volume of water than when we were here before, but the little basin we had cut out as a bathing place was still there. Here, with the others, I used to take a morning dip. That was in the days of my hardihood. Macklin used to lie down in it, and stand in the snow to dry himself.
We went on to the “dog-lines,” passing en route the little cemetery, which we glanced at casually enough. The stakes to which we had secured the tethering lines were still standing as we had left them, as were also the boards with which we had made a flooring for the tent. We climbed the hill to a lake, on the frozen surface of which we used to exercise the dogs—it was now a sheet of open water. We sat down on the banks, enjoying the lovely sunshine, and watched the countless skua gulls and terns which, attracted by the unwonted visitors, flew close down over our heads. The younger spirits, full of exuberance, and revelling in the change from the confinement of the ship, threw stones at them, and tempted Query, who had accompanied us, to retrieve pieces of wood from the lake.
On our way back we were accosted by an incongruous figure—a coal-black gentleman, on whose head was perched a bowler hat many sizes too small. He addressed us with a marked American twang:
“Say, you boys from the Quest, you goin’ to the South Pole, ain’t you? Wal, guess I’m comin’ along with ya!”
We guessed he wasn’t, and passed on. We learned from Mr. Jacobsen that he was a stowaway from St. Vincent, who was a perfect nuisance to them, and who was being sent away at the earliest opportunity.
This being the first time we had been on an even keel since leaving Rio de Janeiro, we had dinner in comfort and spent a cheery evening, the Boss being full of jokes. At the finish he rose, saying, “To-morrow we’ll keep Christmas.” I went on deck with him, and we discussed a few details of work. He went to his cabin to turn in. I arranged for an “anchor watch” to be kept, and also turned in early for a good sound sleep.