The Endurance set off in December 1914. It carried a crew of 28 men. The expedition was led by British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. The men wanted to be the first to travel across the continent of Antarctica.
The journey was extremely dangerous. The sea around Antarctica is covered in ice floes. These floating sheets of ice can stretch for miles. High winds and ocean currents can move the ice unexpectedly. When the floes collide and freeze together, a ship’s path through the water can suddenly disappear.
In January 1915, the Endurance became trapped in ice. The ship began drifting with the floes. The crew stayed aboard the stuck vessel for the next nine months. But the ice slowly crushed the ship, tearing holes in its sides. Water flowed in through the holes and filled the ship. The men got off and camped on the ice. Finally, the Endurance sank on November 21, 1915.
After losing their ship, the crew piled onto three small lifeboats. They sailed to Elephant Island, where no people lived. Then Shackleton made a desperate plan. He and five men sailed a lifeboat 800 miles. They made it to South Georgia, an island off the coast of Argentina. A small community of people lived there and could help.
The journey to South Georgia took 17 days. It was extremely dangerous. In the lifeboat, the men were exposed to strong winds and freezing waves. They navigated using the positions of the sun and stars. There was no room for error in their calculations. If they had missed South Georgia, they likely would have died. The crew they had left behind might have been lost forever.
Amazingly, though, the men reached the island. They later rescued the rest of the crew. “It was probably the most incredible small boat journey ever made,” says Shears.