Marine archaeologist describes legendary expeditions

There will always be one question underlying the legacy of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, and that question is “Would he have been as famous if he had succeeded in crossing Antarctica instead of having his ship sink?”

Anyone familiar with Shackleton and his failed attempt to be the first man to reach the South Pole probably knows that he never reached the South Pole, but that he was remarkably able to keep himself and his entire crew alive through the harsh Antarctic winter months after his ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice floes and sank.

Would Shackleton’s reputation and hold on our collective consciousness be as timeless if he had succeeded in his expedition? Certainly there would never have been a need for Mensun Bound to go hunting for the Endurance on the ocean floor or write about his efforts in “The Ship Beneath The Ice.”

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Bound is considered one of the best marine archaeologists in the world, and he readily admits that the universal perception that the wreck of the Endurance was unobtainable attracted him to the venture.

To borrow from Herman Melville, Endurance Bound was Moby Dick. Unlike Captain Ahab, however, Bound got his white whale. (I was torn about spoiling the ending, but anyone who reads the cover will realize that the Endurance was found. Also, I’m pretty sure there would be a small audience for the story of failure, or that Bound outright would have written such a tale, as it would probably have diminished his reputation as one of the best in his field.)

Bound includes a lot on Shackleton’s expedition and has read a lot from the diaries of all the crew members who kept diaries and these parts are the best part of the book because we want to read about Shackleton again. Even the author admits that his writings were sometimes uninspired because he never knew if they were worth publishing.

“When I started holding the record three years ago, I never knew where it would take me. The challenge before us was enormous, and if we did not find Endurance, my comment would not be of interest to anyone. As long as there was still a chance of success, however small, I kept the words flowing, but never with any sense that what I wrote would get beyond myself.”

The crew and technology available to Bound was arguably the largest ever assembled, and the contrast between the images of the Endurance and the ship hunting for its wreckage is striking. Even with the benefits of modern technology, Bound was looking for a needle in a haystack. “The Ship Under the Ice” is the compelling story of finding that needle.

Drew Gallagher is a freelance writer and video book reviewer in Spotsylvania.

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