Shackleton – a Man among Men
What an honour to stand next to the grave of the intrepid polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and toast his extraordinary life.
Shackleton, also called “The Boss”, was among the greatest explorers to ever walk on this earth. A great leader who inspired others to strive for greatness, while always putting the safety of his team first.
From humble beginnings in Ireland he made four epic voyages to the land of ice and snow – Antarctica – during his short life of 47 years. A life full of daring exploits and survival against impossible odds are the stuff of which legends are made.
A toast with Shackleton at Grytviken, South Georgia should be on everyone’s itinerary for an Antarctic trip. To stand next to this man’s grave and be enthralled at his daring and incredible polar expedition achievements is humbling to say the least.
Arrival at Grytviken
But… before the whisky toasts, our trusty ship, the “MS Ushuaia” needed to lower her zodiacs to transport 80 passengers to the shores of Grytviken, South Georgia.
Luck was with us weather wise, sunny and mild at 6 degrees. Quite opposite to the day before at Stromwest where we were met with sleet, galeforce winds and snow.
Grytviken was one of the major seal and whaling stations in the 1930s where approximately 1.3m whales were harpooned. The statistics are depressing and you are better off speaking to Mrs Google for more details of this horrible whale devastation.
The small settlement is now the administrative centre on South Georgia with a handful of permanent residents at a British Antarctic Survey Research Station.
But…as they say it’s now history and Grytviken is a really interesting little community to explore.
Somehow I got sidetracked on the way to the cemetery by taking so many photos of seals (a firm favourite), boat wrecks and abandoned machinery used for processing of whale blubber, meat etc.
Tripping over umpteen times on massive whale bones scattered all around the foreshore didn’t help my progress to the cemetery either!
All this procrastination meant I was the last to arrive at Shackleton’s grave for a whisky (at 11.30am!). This meant I hadn’t heard we were supposed to wait until AFTER the quotes about Shackleton’s life had been read to everyone present BEFORE we drank the whisky.
So….when the toast was made to this truly heroic Antaractic explorer I had nothing left in my glass!
Plus we were supposed to save a bit of whisky to throw onto his grave out of respect. I immediately prayed for forgiveness from this intrepid polar pioneer and later bought a book on his life from the souvenir shop to catch up on what I’d missed. (SHACKLETON THE BOSS by Michael Smith.)
The Boss was laid to rest high on the hill at the Whaler’s Cemetery on 5 March 1922 with his head facing south towards his exploring ground of Antarctica. There are 63 other people buried there, all facing east which is a Christian custom carried down through the ages.
The simple granite headstone is inscribed with a quotation from one of his favorite poets, Robert Browning, “I hold…that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life’s set prize”.
Next to Shackleton’s grave the ashes are interred of Frank Wild with an inscription on the rough-hewn granite block that reads “Frank Wild 1873–1939, Shackleton’s right-hand man.”
South Georgia Museum
Because I’d missed so much of Shackleton’s life by arriving at the cemetery late, the South Georgia Museum down the hill seemed the obvious choice to stop and gather more information on the explorer.
Here you will find the entire Shackleton chronicles which include:
- Four intrepid polar expeditions
- Stories of defeat and determination
- Ships crushed with pack ice and mighty icebergs
- Crossing the rocky mountains and glaciers mountains of South Georgia in freezing temperatures to get help for his men
This, together with stories and displays on the general life and history of South Georgia make for a well worth stop.
Norwegian Lutheran Church
You can’t miss this pretty Grytviken church that is a standout at the base of the mighty and humbling mountains of St Georgia. Also known as the “Whalers Church” (part of the Church of Norway) it was built in 1913 and still has some church services but not on a regular basis.
Do you remember the animated Happy Feet movie made in 2006? Well this little church with its cameo appearance was the background for one of the shooting days.
With the cold creeping back into our bones, it was time to zodiac our way back to the ship.
Back on board you stop and think of the successes this courageous explorer could have had in the world of technology today with access to:
- Marine navigation systems
- GPS receivers
- Satellite phones
- Gyro and magnetic compasses
- Automatic track and electronic chart displays
- Long range tracking system – and the list goes on.
Well it was then time for one more toast to:
Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton CVO, OBE, FRGS
15 February 1874 (Ireland) – 5 January 1922 (Falkland Islands)
Next Stop – Salisbury Plains
The next exciting stop was to get up close and personal with the King Penguins at Salisbury Plains but that’s for another post.
What to take on an Antarctic visit:
Fact: It’s super important to keep your head, hands and feet warm at all times. These are the bits that lose heat quickly.
- Wellington boots that come at least up to the knee. Otherwise when getting out of zodiacs the water will slosh into your boots!
- Warm wind and water proof jacket and trousers – waterproof and breathable. These need to be large enough to fit thick woollen jumpers/clothing underneath. I bought a size larger– as much as my ego was bruised in doing this! NB – My cheap trousers split after the third day and I was reduced to making the seams stronger with duct tape This didn’t work so a garbage bag was raided from the kitchen to wear over the torn trousers like a skirt. Not the most attractive look! Better to buy quality jackets and trousers)
- Windproof warm gloves or mittens. (Mittens can be pulled over the warm gloves)
- Warm scarf or neck warmer
- 2 pairs of long woollen underwear, tops and bottoms – preferably Merino
- 3 pairs of woollen socks
- 3 long sleeve tops, shirts.
- Sunscreen and lip salve. You can get burnt very easily with the reflection off the snow on a sunny day.
This is the outdoor list. When indoors your usual casual clothes are all you need, e.g. on the ship.
Your Own Antarctic Expedition
So…when are you booking your own Antarctic Expedition for a toast to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s life? Jo Van Os Tours and Natural Habitat Adventures can be recommended from first hand experiences!