Leading British maritime archaeologist Mensun Bound told his incredible story on Tuesday at the Kenton Theatre as part of the Henley Literary Festival on rediscovering Eric Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, in March 2022 which sank after being crushed in the Antarctic in November 1915.
Mensun started his talk by describing how the expedition to the Weddell Sea in 2019 had been thwarted because of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) conducting the seabed search failed to arrive at a programmed rendezvous point with the ship.
Using photos and video Mensun then went on to recount the days leading up to the momentous rediscovery of Endurance on the 5 March. With the weather deteriorating and temperatures plummeting to -40◦C Manson said, “The captain said, ‘no man or machine can take much more. The Meteorologist said that we have 2 days of good weather before we will be locked into the ice.”
When the first abstract images came through, it didn’t look like the ship and Mensun was not the first to find out. He said, “I had switched channels on my radio and I hadn’t told them so they couldn’t reach me. The captain asked me to come to the bridge over the tannoy. I thought it was something bad again that had happened and when I got there everybody was smiling from ear to ear! Nico, the engineer thrust a phone into my face and said let me introduce you to Endurance.”
“At that moment I felt a sunburst of undiluted euphoria. People were jumping up and down. When the captain put out his hand and said the quest is over how do you feel? I said I felt a breath of Shackleton on the back of my neck.” Then the ship had to go into the protocol of closing communications down and no-one was to suppose to communicate with anyone until phone calls had been made to Falklands Maritime Trust, the Foreign Office and the South African government who had supplied the search boat. Mensun said, “I however had agreed with my wife that I would send a 1 word text ‘Bingo’ followed by lots of !!! if it was in good condition! My wife was at the New Theatre in Oxford and she spent the first half in the bar in tears. It was the best moment of my life.”
Mensun retold how the project to rediscover Endurance started 10 years before and described the lessons they had learned from the 2019 expedition. This time they took a Saab AUV with a tethered system which had 8km of cable which provided real time contact and data. Mensun said, “I’ve seen hundreds of wrecks but never as bold and beautiful. You could still see the paint and the grain on the timber. It was like she went down yesterday. It was a pinnacle of my life looking through the portholes into Shackleton’s cabin.” They found lots of crockery on board along with a telescope, a sewing machine and flair gun that was lying on the deck probably where Shackleton had fired it from.
Mensun finished the talk with a very fitting end describing a ceremony that was held on Shackleton’s grave in South Georgia to celebrate the rediscovery of Endurance. Knowing that Shackleton had died in 1922, he then phoned a friend to find out what date he was buried. He phoned him back and to his surprise he told Mensun that it was 5 March 1922, the same day of the rediscovery; 100 years later, with the incredible coincidence of the timing of the funeral being around the same time too.
The audience as always were invited to buy a copy of Mensun’s book, The Ship Beneath the Ice afterwards which Mensun would sign but also be stamp with a special ‘Endurance Found’ stamp that Mensun had ordered before leaving on the expedition in 2022!
Photo credit: Scarlet Page