SCOTT & The South-Pole

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7 - "The Sail South"

Full Map of Antarctica

The Terra Nova had transversed, in that year, the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean; and now, she had the Southern Ocean to cut through to achieve her objective. The Southern Ocean surrounds the Antarctic Continent. It goes all the way around the world, with the wind blowing non-stop from west to east, in keeping with the revolving world. In the days of sail, going east was a fast ride; going west almost impossible. The Terra Nova had to get through this ocean going south, across the westerly winds. South, through the 40 degree latitude and into "The Roaring Forties," through the 50 degree latitude and into the "Furious Fifties," and through the 60 degree latitude and into the "Screaming Sixties."

Scott described the storm encountered on her way to the Antarctic:

"Friday, December 1. -- A day of great disaster. From 4 o'clock last night the wind freshened with great rapidity, and very shortly we were under topsails, jib, and staysail only. It blew very hard and the sea got up at once. Soon we were plunging heavily and taking much water over the lee rail. Oates and Atkinson with intermittent assistance from others were busy keeping the ponies on their legs. Cases of petrol, forage, etc., began to break loose on the upper deck; the principal trouble was caused by the loose coal-bags, which were bodily lifted by the seas and swung against the lashed cases. 'You know how carefully everything had been lashed, but no lashings could have withstood the onslaught of these coal sacks for long'; they acted like battering rams. 'There was nothing for it but to grapple with the evil, and nearly all hands were labouring for hours in the waist of the ship, heaving coal sacks overboard and re-lashing the petrol cases, etc., in the best manner possible under such difficult and dangerous circumstances. The seas were continually breaking over these people and now and again they would be completely submerged. At such times they had to cling for dear life to some fixture to prevent themselves being washed overboard, and with coal bags and loose cases washing about, there was every risk of such hold being torn away.'"
As a result of the storm: "besides the damage to the bulwarks of the ship, we have lost two ponies, one dog, '10 tons of coal,' 65 gallons of petrol, and a case of the biologists' spirit ..."
"I would record here a symptom of the spirit which actuates the men. After the gale the main deck under the forecastle space in which the ponies are stabled leaked badly, and the dirt of the stable leaked through on hammocks and bedding. Not a word has been said; the men living in that part have done their best to fend off the nuisance with oilskins and canvas, but without sign of complaint. Indeed the discomfort throughout the mess deck has been extreme. Everything has been thrown about, water has found its way down in a dozen places. There is no daylight, and air can come only through the small fore hatch; the artificial lamplight has given much trouble. The men have been wetted to the skin repeatedly on deck, and have no chance of drying their clothing. All things considered, their cheerful fortitude is little short of wonderful."
So, as one might see, getting to the landing spot in the Antarctic, was no easy matter. Not only did these explorers run straight into a raging storm at sea after leaving New Zealand, but as they negotiated the Ross Sea (See Map) they got into drifting ice packs which were to be entirely expected.16 These packs hang about in certain areas even through the summer months, indeed, just the summer months, as the Ross Sea freezes-up stiff in the winter and will not accommodate vessels, at all. In the Ross Sea, the ice pack, by all appearances, are pushed by prevailing westerly winds and currents, to the east. So, once in the pack, all efforts (this is where the auxiliary steam engine came in) were devoted to moving the vessel southwest. It was on December 9th, that the Terra Nova entered into the ice pack and spent 20 days making her way through it. On December 30th, she was in comparatively clear water and was able to carry through to McMurdo Sound.

McMurdo Sound, is a body of water which is generally open in the Antarctic summer (November to March), but, like the rest of the Ross Sea, frozen hard during the other months. We might observe, here, that the Terra Nova was to return to New Zealand before the Ross Sea froze-over locking her in, tight; that is to say, she must depart by March 1st, leaving the shore party of 20, to winter-over. To complete the picture, it was intended that the expedition should arrive in the comparably better weather to be found in the middle of the Antarctic summer; winter-over; and at the very start of the spring/summer season of the next year, by November of 1911, to be off to discover the South-Pole on what was calculated to be a trek on foot of 1800 miles (out and back again) over a four month "summer" journey.

Before we deal with the arrival activities, let me make reference to certain of Scott's remarks contained in his published journal. These remarks referred to the sea journey from New Zealand to Antarctica; however his journal was full of like remarks, throughout -- all was wonderful with the men.

"Everyone is wonderfully cheerful; there is laughter all day long. ... The spirit of the enterprise is as bright as ever. Every one strives to help every one else, and not a word of complaint or anger has been heard on board. The inner life of our small community is very pleasant to think upon and very wonderful considering the extremely small space in which we are confined."



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Peter Landry