The Great Boat Journey main content.

The Great Boat Journey

Part of the Shackleton exhibition.

"Thurs. April 20th. A bitter day with ocasional snow squalls. I don't think there are ever many fine days on this forlorn island... I dont think there will be many survivers if they have to put in a winter here."

- Henry "Chippy" McNish, Diary

A map of Antarctica showing the boat route taken between South Georgia and Elephant Island in April 1916.

In early March, Orde-Lees reported feeling seasick--the ice was so thin that the swell of the ocean was now apparent. On April 9, 1916, the 28 men struck camp and piled into the three life boats. At the mercy of prevailing winds, the boats set course for a splinter of land called Elephant Island, some 100 miles north. This terrible journey, made in heaving seas, nearly cost many of the men their lives; it did cost some their sanity. On the seventh day out from Patience Camp, the boats arrived at Elephant Island.

Knowing that rescue would never come to the remote island, Shackleton made a momentous decision: selecting five of the toughest and best sailors--Worsley, Crean, McNish, McCarthy, and Vincent--he announced that they would sail the largest lifeboat to the whaling stations of South Georgia, over 800 miles away across the most dangerous ocean on the planet. Navigation of this desperate journey would be by sextant--and yet stormy skies could well prevent a single celestial sighting. As blizzards raged, McNish, the carpenter, labored to equip the 22-1/2-foot James Caird for the ordeal ahead.