SHACKLETON NEWS ARCHIVE
DAVID HIRZEL'S NEW BOOK ABOUT ONE OF THE BRAVEST AND TOUGHEST OF ANTARCTIC EXPLORERS
Sailor on Ice is part of an emerging Tom Crean Trilogy: David Hirzel will go on to investigate Crean's role, triumphing against the odds, in the Imperial Transantarctic Expedition (1914-16) led by Sir Ernest Shackleton, and his contribution to Scott's first expedition of 1901-4.
His other website, 'Antarctic Discovery', offers a wonderful day-by-day evocation of life in the Antarctic as it was a century ago. He achieves this by allowing the Golden Age explorers - not just the leaders but the crew members - to describe day to day living in their own words, by means of evolving everyday diary entries, each dating from exactly a century ago.
Tom Crean: Sailor on Ice tells the story of a common man in uncommon circumstances, who met every challenge as it came with steadfast purpose. If he knew fear, he never showed it. Sailor on Ice goes with him from England to the Antarctic plateau, and back. We share his trials as they happen—the thrill of discovery, the danger of the sea-ice, the terror of extreme isolation, the tragedy of the deaths of his closest friends. Tom Crean was not most renowned of the explorers during those early years of Antarctic discovery. For that, the palms go to Shackleton, Amundsen, and Scott, with the names of other remarkable leaders - Nordenskjöld, Larsen, Filchner, Mawson, Shirase, de Gerlache, Charcot - not far behind. Other men, better educated and connected, would publish the stories of hardship and adventure that astonished the world. Crean's name is occasionally mentioned in these works, as it should be; his was a distinguished career of service, not as a leader, but as a seaman.
'A sailor's world is defined by the boundaries set by the rail of his ship. The call of the ice is not so different from the call of the sea. The horizon is much the same, the sky above as blue. The ice below has taken the place of water as far as the eye can see. The ice can assume many colors: azure, lemon, topaz, aquamarine. Its undulations and sudden motions are as treacherous as a rogue wave to the unwary traveller. Some men are born with a love of this.
'The sound of brash ice scraping along the side of the ship with a sound like broken glass shaken in a box is a lullaby to their ears, a familiar song they know long before the first time the hear it. The ever present knowledge that their ship might be gored by a floe and sink without a trace only serves to heighten their desire.
'"What the ice gets, the ice keeps": Sir Ernest Shackleton was referring to more than the doomed Endurance splintering under the irresistible pressure of sea-ice in motion. Shackleton had known the siren call of the unbroken plain of the Barrier ice, the slow-motion rapids of the glacier, the bleak white desert of the plateau, the coldest place on earth. A host of other explorers had followed the call of the ice and come home with tales of wonder and suffering, as though the two experiences were somehow unalterably linked. Tom Crean heard it too.'
'Naval and merchant sailors have always had a professional disdain, each for the others' service. The Navy seemed always to have on hand far more seamen for the job than were actually required, while the merchant service had far too few. "What is drill for the Navy is a job of work for a merchant sailor", goes the saying; and there is some truth to it. But the Navy offers more consistent training and advancement, and by 1900 far better treatment to its sailors, and better protection of their rights at sea and ashore.
'When Scott was assembling the crew for his 1901-1904 Discovery expedition, he was most interested in recruiting 'bluejackets': men with Royal Navy experience, devoted to duty and amenable to the demands of naval discipline that would be needed in the close quarters of the ship during the long dark polar winters of the far South. The career seamen of the Royal Navy would be well adapted to the novel routines that must be imposed in this strange and dangerous new land.'