Failure can slow you down. Make you dull. Demotivate you and shut you down. Or, likewise, it can be something that enables you to gain even more strength. It can boost you up, show new ways, make you think creative and search for other solutions. Which type of guy are you, dearest reader? I think I am the latter one. I always have a Plan B, I always see the light when there is darkness, the good, the chance. Well, what a beautiful coincidence: In light of my recent failure, the cancellation of my #atlanticloop-project a news headline of the past week kind of reminded me that indeed, seeing the chance where other find failure is the way to go: Sir Ernest Shackleton´s ENDURANCE has been found.
Which are absolutely fantastic news! This ship may well be one of the most important ships in human history, her name is of equally importance than that of EREBUS and TERROR, SANTA MARIA of Christopher Columbus, USS CONSTITUTION or Admiral Nelson´s HMS VICTORY. That modern scientific equipment and high tech paired with human persistence and determination made it possible to find a tiny, tiny dot at a depth of more than 3.000 metres under the ice … is absolutely incredible. But why am I writing about this? Well, that is because the story of Shackleton and ENDURANCE can teach a lot about failure and chance.
Seeing a door getting opened when one other had closed
Ernest Shackleton was one of the superstars of the last wave of the great scientific explorations of the twentieth century. He already has been a veteran of Antarctic science and had attended two big expeditions. With World War 1 ramping up, a world in turmoil, a society about to be fundamentally changed by modern technology, Shackleton and his mates were the astronauts of their time – Antarctica the last white spot on the charts. His goal: Crossing this huge continent by foot. As his first attempt had failed, he again managed to raise money and gather a crew of less than 30 bold men around him about ENDURANCE to take on the challenge once more.
He failed. With winter being especially hard that year, 1914, and the ice especially thick and way up North, he was too determined, too persistent and too courageous. ENDURANCE sailed south, pushed much further south than he should have gone and so the inevitable happened: They got caught by the relentless grip of the ice and held hostage for almost 2 years. Shackleton and his crew held out whilst drifting west and north again, still held by the ice. Nevertheless, finally, the unconceivable pressure of the pack ice crushed ENDURANCE, forcing the crew to leaver her behind and find a way by foot. Carrying with them the last provisions and three life boats.
The story is as gripping as it makes you chill: Nearer to death than to life, the crew had to suffer unimaginable pain. Walking by day over the pack ice, pulling then heavy boats, finding a safe spot for the night, they had been held together and alive by sheer force of will. And by the motivation and energy of Ernest Shackleton, the expedition leader. It was his charismatic and visionary leadership that had inspired the crew initially, which he now used to over and over again instill a new spark of life inside his men. New hope every morning, a belief that all can be saved. That was his true talent, his one big capability: He truly was a great leader, a big inspirator.
As the story goes – and you, dearest reader, might find a load full of very good documentaries and feature films out there as well as a ton of books – these brave men made it to open water and sailed in their tiny boats hundreds of miles through the stormy Southern Ocean where they reached Elephant Island and later, sending out just a few men, Southern Georgia where a Whaler finally went out to collect the rest of the crew on the small island between Argentina and Antarctica. “All men are save”, the fateful and truly historic sentence that was going to enter the history books. But there is more to this story. More than just Shackleton and his determination. Much more inspiring than this enigmatic figure is another character of this story – the Captain. Frank Worsley.
True heroes, brilliant seamanship
As a true leader, Shackleton knew very well how to do it. He was a brilliant PR-man, as we should say today, knowing exactly how to gather people around him bearing talents and capabilities he did not have. Adding more and more quality to his expedition. He also understood very well how to utilize modern techniques like film and photography because he also understood that he´d need material to enthuse the public and – most important – the sponsors. But in his quest for the best possible crew, he hired one man that was absolutely crucial for the whole expedition and I shall say it is suffice to state that without this man it is very likely that the story would have taken a different spin – with all men lost.
Captain Frank Worlsey, the New Zealand born man, was a true sailor and already an experienced “Old Salt” when volunteering and applying for the mission. It was his brilliant leadership, absolutely stunning seamanship in mastering the tricky task of stellar navigation on these tiny life rafts in the midts of the Roaring Fourties, already beaten and enfeebled by 2 years of hardship in the ice. It was his capabilities and experience in sailing small boats that made the wonderous journey to Elephant Island and the whaling station on Southern Georgia happen – and had the 22 crew members being rescued all alive.
What I wanted to state with this article, next to my admiration for the scientific crew behind Mensun Bound and John Shears, who finally found ENDURANCE, that even in their darkest hours, even in the midst of the biggest catastrophe and failure, it is a quality of man to find a way, to seek for a solution. To not giving in and resign, surrender to agony but to be creative and seek for a way out. This is one of the best character traits of human beings and – by chance – exactly the right name for a ship that sets sail to conquer the Antarctic: Endurance!
Pictures (c) Copyright by Wikipedia and Bound/Shears Expedition
Interesting articles you might also read:
The unbelievably sad and exciting story of Donald Crowhurst
EREBUS – a ship´s name never to be forgotten
Legendary racing boat still sailing: ILLBRUCK