On the 24th April 1916, Sir Ernest Shackleton and five companions set off in the James Caird, a recovered lifeboat, to sail from Elephant Island to South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Their mission was to organize a rescue party for the shipwrecked crew of the Endurance.
The crew had been forced to make their way to Elephant Island after the Endurance sank due to pack ice the previous October. Having made their way off the ice in the Endeavour’s lifeboats at the start of April, Shackleton decided to take the strongest lifeboat – the James Caird – on the perilous mission across the Southern Ocean to South Georgia.
Despite all the odds stacked against them, the crew of the tiny boat reached South Georgia in 16 days. A smaller team of three, led by Shackleton, then had to undertake a 17-mile, 36 hour journey by foot across South Georgia’s mountainous interior to reach the whaling station at Stromness where they summoned help.
Historian Carol Alexander has since said that the voyage of the James Caird is one “one of the greatest boat journeys ever accomplished.” However, the final word on the achievement of the crew must go to Shackleton himself. In “South: the story of Shackleton’s last expedition 1914-1917” he said this:
“We had suffered, starved and triumphed, grovelled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole…We had reached the naked soul of man.”