A long winter on the ice

archive photo of ship leaning over on the ice

The Endurance keeling over © Royal Geographical Society

Shipboard life

"On February 24 we ceased to observe ship routine, and the Endurance became a winter station."
Sir Ernest Shackleton, 'South'

Shackleton knew his ship was beset for the duration of the long night of Antarctic winter. Next to ice pressure, he most feared demoralization of his men. Many of them - such as the sailors - now had little to do. A strict routine of meals and duties gave structure to the days, while unlikely pursuits such as football relieved the tedium.

Above all else, the men were diverted by the care and exercise of the sledging dogs. After the Endurance was beset, the dogs were housed on the ice beside the ship in ice kennels, dubbed by the sailors 'dogloos'. Mrs Chippy, the carpenter's cat, slept the winter away with the sailors in the fo'c'sle, the ship's forward quarters.

In mid-March, the officers and scientists moved from their exposed deck house cabins to the better insulated after-hold. Winter temperatures would get as low as -30°F, excluding wind chill. The new quarters, consisting of two rows of cubicles with a long table in between, were nicknamed 'The Ritz'. The sailors remained in the fo'c'sle, the forward quarters, which was already insulated between decks.

Although living in separate quarters and taking meals apart, the men of the wardroom and fo'c'sle were not entirely segregated. Sports, occasional entertainment 'events' and ship duties were shared by both groups. Most importantly, from his early days in the merchant marine, Shackleton was known for his social ease with both officers and men. On the Endurance he took pains to defer to the sailors, ensuring that they received the first allotments of winter clothing and respecting that, no longer the crew of a working ship, they were not required to perform night watchman duties.

Science and study

Shackleton was drawn to exploration by his romantic, questing nature, not by scientific interest. He was aware, however, that an expedition was formally sanctioned by its perceived scientific goals. Accordingly, he had recruited a core scientific staff that included a biologist, geologist, meteorologist and physicist.

Shackleton's original plan had been that the scientists, working from their base on the Weddell Sea, would investigate Graham Land to the west and Enderby Land to the east. The optimistic words of Shackleton's expedition prospectus pledged to;

"...carry out geological and scientific work on a scale and over an area never before attempted by any one Polar expedition."

These plans were quickly frustrated. Although the scientists doggedly continued their work, the expedition's most significant contribution to science was unforeseen: its careful record of the drift of the notorious Weddell Sea.