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Elephant Island

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We’ve been forewarned that the weather here can be capricious. The last cruise here on the Star, just prior to ours, arrived in a thick fog, so thick that the stern of the ship could not be seen from the bow. The bridge knew they had arrived because the island was visible on radar, but totally obscured from sight.

Once again we’re lucky. The sky is leaden, as is the reflecting sea. The air, however, is crystal clear. Elephant Island rises straight out of the sea, its black, austere cliffs etched by a recent snowfall, every crack and crevice adding to the dramatic effect.

Elephant Island has a prominent place in the history of Antarctic exploration. It was here that Ernest Shackleton’s expedition made its first landfall after some 16 months of survival against all odds. If you are unfamiliar with the story, I cannot recommend highly enough that you learn a bit about it. Two good sources are “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing and “Shackleton” the television miniseries with Kenneth Branagh. It is an astonishing story of human survival, of almost unbelievable courage and tenacity, and of truly remarkable leadership.

We linger off Point Wild for awhile, the second landing site and the one which was home to most of the expedition party for 4 months. While they waited in the harshest of conditions, Shackleton and two others undertook the almost impossible task of sailing 850 miles in a 22 foot boat through the worst seas in the world to the whaling station on South Georgia Island.

Point Wild, named after Shackleton’s second in command, Frank Wild, treated us to a sight rarely seen – the memorial to Luis Pardo, the captain of the harbor tug from Punta Arenas that sailed back to Elephant Island with Shackleton to rescue his men. Our Ice Captain, Bob Parsons, comments that this is the first time he has seen it in 8 seasons.

As we continue to sail around the island, past Cape Valentine, the first but ultimately untenable landing site, the clouds lift, the sun comes out., and the massive face of Endurance Glacier sparkles. A cloud bank literally roils above the peaks, cotton in motion. This experience is transformative!

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Point Wild, Elephant Island

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Elephant Island

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