Stranded

The other island that is be connected to Shackleton, is Elephant Island. This fairly small rocky island just north of the Antarctic Peninsula (and one of the easternmost of the South Shetland Islands) is the place where on 15 April 1916 he made the first landfall since their departure from South Georgia with his 27 fellow expedition members. As most of the coastline of Elephant Island consists of steep mountains or glacier fronts, they picked a very small beach on the northern side of the island to set up camp.

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Point Wild on Elephant Island

This tiny beach, now overtaken by a colony of Chinstrap Penguins, was one of the very few places they could find where they could live. This place is now known as Point Wild, after Frank Wild, who was left in command of the people in the camp. Knowing this island is only visited by very few ships, Shackleton decided to go out for help. He picked 5 men to join him in one of the lifeboats and set course to South Georgia, the nearest place where they knew people would be. The last trip we did the same journey in reverse order, it took us over three days to do this almost 800 nautical miles. Not too bad, considering we had a nicely heated ship, good food, beds and all comforts you need for a long journey at sea. Besides this, we could use the latest navigation tools like GPS to guide us in the right direction. For Shackleton and the other 5, it took 16 days to cover the distance between the two islands and they were lacking both comfort and good navigational tools. They were mainly depending on shooting the sun to get an accurate position, however, they only saw the sun twice during their trip. It turned out to be one of the most heroic small boat journeys ever undertaken. They managed to land on South Georgia, cross it and get help for the others.

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Replica of the James Caird, the rescue boat Shackleton used

But imagine being one of the 22 left behind on Point Wild, Elephant Island. Knowing your only real hope on survival are six men in a small boat heading for an island 800 nautical miles away, through one of the roughest seas in the world. They had to wait for nearly five months before the Yelcho arrived and rescued from this tiny beach…

 

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

5 comments

  • I read Shackleton’s book and it was incredible. It’s great to see Elephant Island ‘in the flesh’, I didn’t imagine that Point Wild could be so small.

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  • Yes Arjen…seeing this place was the highlight of my last trip. Clearly the only reason they survived, was the fact it was still winter and the sea state was dampened by ice otherwise they would have been washed of by huge seas. Not knowing if help was coming for 5 months and yet they struggled on, gives us all inspiration.

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    • True, though on the other hand, when we were there were penguins breeding on this small stretch next to the bust. Don’t think they would be breeding there if a big wave would wash them away every now and then.
      Maybe it’s more protected as we thought at that point?

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