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Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for December, 1910

Saturday, December 31st 1910 New Year’s Eve Evening

Saturday, December 31st, 1910

Evening. – Our protection grew less as the day advanced but saved us much from the heavy swell. At 8 P.M. we started to steam west to gain fresh protection, there being signs of pack to south and west; the swell is again diminishing. The wind which started south yesterday has gone to S.S.W. (true), the main swell in from S.E. by S. or S.S.E. There seems to be another from south but none from the direction from which the wind is now blowing. The wind has been getting squally: now the squalls are lessening in force, the sky is clearing and we seem to be approaching the end of the blow. I trust it may be so and that the New Year will bring us better fortune than the old.

If so, it will be some pleasure to write 1910 for the last time. – Land oh!

At 10 P.M. to-night as the clouds lifted to the west a distant but splendid view of the great mountains was obtained. All were in sunshine; Sabine and Whewell were most conspicuous – the latter from this view is a beautiful sharp peak, as remarkable a landmark as Sabine itself. Mount Sabine was 110 miles away when we saw it. I believe we could have seen it at a distance of 30 or 40 miles farther – such is the wonderful clearness of the atmosphere.

Finis 1910

Saturday, December 31st 1910 New Year’s Eve

Saturday, December 31st, 1910

Obs. 72º 54′ S., 174º 55′ E. Made good S. 45 W. 55′; C. Crozier S. 17 W. 286′. – ‘The New Year’s Eve found us in the Ross Sea, but not at the end of our misfortunes.’ We had a horrible night. In the first watch we kept away 2 points and set fore and aft sail. It did not increase our comfort but gave us greater speed. The night dragged slowly through. I could not sleep thinking of the sore strait for our wretched ponies. In the morning watch the wind and sea increased and the outlook was very distressing, but at six ice was sighted ahead. Under ordinary conditions the safe course would have been to go about and stand to the east. But in our case we must risk trouble to get smoother water for the ponies. We passed a stream of ice over which the sea was breaking heavily and one realised the danger of being amongst loose floes in such a sea. But soon we came to a compacter body of floes, and running behind this we were agreeably surprised to find comparatively smooth water. We ran on for a bit, then stopped and lay to. Now we are lying in a sort of ice bay – there is a mile or so of pack to windward, and two horns which form the bay embracing us. The sea is damped down to a gentle swell, although the wind is as strong as ever. As a result we are lying very comfortably. The ice is drifting a little faster than the ship so that we have occasionally to steam slowly to leeward.

So far so good. From a dangerous position we have achieved one which only directly involved a waste of coal. The question is, which will last longest, the gale or our temporary shelter?

Rennick has just obtained a sounding of 187 fathoms; taken in conjunction with yesterday’s 1111 fathoms and Ross’s sounding of 180, this is interesting, showing the rapid gradient of the continental shelf. Nelson is going to put over the 8 feet Agassiz trawl.

Unfortunately we could not clear the line for the trawl–it is stowed under the fodder. A light dredge was tried on a small manilla line–very little result. First the weights were insufficient to carry it to the bottom; a second time, with more weight and line, it seems to have touched for a very short time only; there was little of value in the catch, but the biologists are learning the difficulties of the situation.

Summary of the Pack

Saturday, December 31st, 1910

We may be said to have entered the pack at 4 P.M. on the 9th in latitude 65 1/2 S. We left it at 1 A.M. on 30th in latitude 71 1/2 S. We have taken twenty days and some odd hours to get through, and covered in a direct line over 370 miles–an average of 18 miles a day. We entered the pack with 342 tons of coal and left with 281 tons; we have, therefore, expended 61 tons in forcing our way through–an average of 6 miles to the ton.

These are not pleasant figures to contemplate, but considering the exceptional conditions experienced I suppose one must conclude that things might have been worse.

9th. Loose streams, steaming.
10th. Close pack.
11th. 6 A.M. close pack, stopped.
12th. 11.30 A.M. started.
13th. 8 A.M. heavy pack, stopped; 8 P.M. out fires.
14th. Fires out.
15th.
16th.
17th.
18th. Noon, heavy pack and leads, steaming
19th. Noon, heavy pack and leads, steaming.
20th. Forenoon, banked fires.
21st. 9 A.M. started. 11 A.M. banked.
22nd. ,, ,,
23rd. Midnight, started.
24th. 7 A.M. stopped
25th. Fires out.
26th. ,, ,,
27th. ,, ,,
28th. 7.30 P.M. steaming.
29th. Steaming.
30th. Steaming.

These columns show that we were steaming for nine out of twenty days. We had two long stops, one of _five_ days and one of _four and a half_ days. On three other occasions we stopped for short intervals without drawing fires.

I have asked Wright to plot the pack with certain symbols on the chart made by Pennell. It promises to give a very graphic representation of our experiences.

‘We hold the record for reaching the northern edge of the pack, whereas three or four times the open Ross Sea has been gained at an earlier date.

‘I can imagine few things more trying to the patience than the long wasted days of waiting. Exasperating as it is to see the tons of coal melting away with the smallest mileage to our credit, one has at least the satisfaction of active fighting and the hope of better fortune. To wait idly is the worst of conditions. You can imagine how often and how restlessly we climbed to the crow’s nest and studied the outlook. And strangely enough there was generally some change to note. A water lead would mysteriously open up a few miles away or the place where it had been would as mysteriously close. Huge icebergs crept silently towards or past us, and continually we were observing these formidable objects with range finder and compass to determine the relative movement, sometimes with misgiving as to our ability to clear them. Under steam the change of conditions was even more marked. Sometimes we would enter a lead of open water and proceed for a mile or two without hindrance; sometimes we would come to big sheets of thin ice which broke easily as our iron-shod prow struck them, and sometimes even a thin sheet would resist all our attempts to break it; sometimes we would push big floes with comparative ease and sometimes a small floe would bar our passage with such obstinacy that one would almost believe it possessed of an evil spirit; sometimes we passed through acres of sludgy sodden ice which hissed as it swept along the side, and sometimes the hissing ceased seemingly without rhyme or reason, and we found our screw churning the sea without any effect.

‘Thus the steaming days passed away in an ever changing environment and are remembered as an unceasing struggle.

‘The ship behaved splendidly–no other ship, not even the _Discovery_, would have come through so well. Certainly the Nimrod would never have reached the south water had she been caught in such pack. As a result I have grown strangely attached to the Terra Nova. As she bumped the floes with mighty shocks, crushing and grinding a way through some, twisting and turning to avoid others, she seemed like a living thing fighting a great fight. If only she had more economical engines she would be suitable in all respects.

‘Once or twice we got among floes which stood 7 or 8 feet above water, with hummocks and pinnacles as high as 25 feet. The ship could have stood no chance had such floes pressed against her, and at first we were a little alarmed in such situations. But familiarity breeds contempt; there never was any pressure in the heavy ice, and I’m inclined to think there never would be.

‘The weather changed frequently during our journey through the pack. The wind blew strong from the west and from the east; the sky was often darkly overcast; we had snowstorms, flaky snow, and even light rain. In all such circumstances we were better placed in the pack than outside of it. The foulest weather could do us little harm. During quite a large percentage of days, however, we had bright sunshine, which, even with the temperature well below freezing, made everything look bright and cheerful. The sun also brought us wonderful cloud effects, marvellously delicate tints of sky, cloud, and ice, such effects as one might travel far to see. In spite of our impatience we would not willingly have missed many of the beautiful scenes which our sojourn in the pack afforded us. Ponting and Wilson have been busy catching these effects, but no art can reproduce such colours as the deep blue of the icebergs.

‘Scientifically we have been able to do something. We have managed to get a line of soundings on our route showing the raising of the bottom from the ocean depths to the shallow water on the continental shelf, and the nature of the bottom. With these soundings we have obtained many interesting observations of the temperature of different layers of water in the sea.

‘Then we have added a great deal to the knowledge of life in the pack from observation of the whales, seals, penguins, birds, and fishes as well as of the pelagic beasts which are caught in tow-nets. Life in one form or another is very plentiful in the pack, and the struggle for existence here as elsewhere is a fascinating subject for study.

‘We have made a systematic study of the ice also, both the bergs and sea ice, and have got a good deal of useful information concerning it. Also Pennell has done a little magnetic work.

‘But of course this slight list of activity in the cause of science is a very poor showing for the time of our numerous experts; many have had to be idle in regard to their own specialities, though none are idle otherwise. All the scientific people keep night watch when they have no special work to do, and I have never seen a party of men so anxious to be doing work or so cheerful in doing it. When there is anything to be done, such as making or shortening sail, digging ice from floes for the water supply, or heaving up the sounding line, it goes without saying that all the afterguard turn out to do it. There is no hesitation and no distinction. It will be the same when it comes to landing stores or doing any other hard manual labour.

‘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.

‘The attitude of the men is equally worthy of admiration. In the forecastle as in the wardroom there is a rush to be first when work is to be done, and the same desire to sacrifice selfish consideration to the success of the expedition. It is very good to be able to write in such high praise of one’s companions, and I feel that the possession of such support ought to ensure success. Fortune would be in a hard mood indeed if it allowed such a combination of knowledge, experience, ability, and enthusiasm to achieve nothing.’

Friday, December 30th 1910 8pm

Friday, December 30th, 1910

8 P.M. – Our calm soon came to an end, the breeze at 3 P.M. coming strong from the S.S.W., dead in our teeth – a regular southern blizzard. We are creeping along a bare 2 knots. I begin to wonder if fortune will ever turn her wheel. On every possible occasion she seems to have decided against us. Of course, the ponies are feeling the motion as we pitch in a short, sharp sea – it’s damnable for them and disgusting for us.

Friday, December 30th 1910 2pm

Friday, December 30th, 1910

2 P.M.–The wind failed in the forenoon. Sails were clewed up, and at eleven we stopped to sound. The sounding showed 1111 fathoms – we appear to be on the edge of the continental shelf. Nelson got some samples and temperatures.

The sun is bursting through the misty sky and warming the air. The snowstorm had covered the ropes with an icy sheet – this is now peeling off and falling with a clatter to the deck, from which the moist slush is rapidly evaporating. In a few hours the ship will be dry – much to our satisfaction; it is very wretched when, as last night, there is slippery wet snow underfoot and on every object one touches.

Our run has exceeded our reckoning by much. I feel confident that our speed during the last two days had been greatly under-estimated and so it has proved. We ought to be off C. Crozier on New Year’s Day.

Friday, December 30th 1910

Friday, December 30th, 1910

Obs. 72º 17′ S. 177º 9′ E. Made good in 48 hours, S. 19 W. 190′; C. Crozier S. 21 W. 334′. We are out of the pack at length and at last; one breathes again and hopes that it will be possible to carry out the main part of our programme, but the coal will need tender nursing.

Yesterday afternoon it became darkly overcast with falling snow. The barometer fell on a very steep gradient and the wind increased to force 6 from the E.N.E. In the evening the snow fell heavily and the glass still galloped down. In any other part of the world one would have felt certain of a coming gale. But here by experience we know that the barometer gives little indication of wind.

Throughout the afternoon and evening the water holes became more frequent and we came along at a fine speed. At the end of the first watch we were passing through occasional streams of ice; the wind had shifted to north and the barometer had ceased to fall. In the middle watch the snow held up, and soon after – 1 A.M. – Bowers steered through the last ice stream.

At six this morning we were well in the open sea, the sky thick and overcast with occasional patches of fog. We passed one small berg on the starboard hand with a group of Antarctic petrels on one side and a group of snow petrels on the other. It is evident that these birds rely on sea and swell to cast their food up on ice ledges–only a few find sustenance in the pack where, though food is plentiful, it is not so easily come by. A flight of Antarctic petrel accompanied the ship for some distance, wheeling to and fro about her rather than following in the wake as do the more northerly sea birds.

It is [good] to escape from the captivity of the pack and to feel that a few days will see us at Cape Crozier, but it is sad to remember the terrible inroad which the fight of the last fortnight has made on our coal supply.

Thursday, December 29th 1910

Thursday, December 29th, 1910

No sights. At last the change for which I have been so eagerly looking has arrived and we are steaming amongst floes of small area evidently broken by swell, and with edges abraded by contact. The transition was almost sudden. We made very good progress during the night with one or two checks and one or two slices of luck in the way of open water. In one pool we ran clear for an hour, capturing 6 good miles.

This morning we were running through large continuous sheets of ice from 6 inches to 1 foot in thickness, with occasional water holes and groups of heavier floes. This forenoon it is the same tale, except that the sheets of thin ice are broken into comparatively regular figures, none more than 30 yards across. It is the hopefullest sign of the approach to the open sea that I have seen.

The wind remains in the north helping us, the sky is overcast and slight sleety drizzle is falling; the sun has made one or two attempts to break through but without success.

Last night we had a good example of the phenomenon called ‘Glazed Frost.’ The ship everywhere, on every fibre of rope as well as on her more solid parts, was covered with a thin sheet of ice caused by a fall of light super-cooled rain. The effect was pretty and interesting.

Our passage through the pack has been comparatively uninteresting from the zoologist’s point of view, as we have seen so little of the rarer species of animals or of birds in exceptional plumage. We passed dozens of crab-eaters, but have seen no Ross seals nor have we been able to kill a sea leopard. To-day we see very few penguins. I’m afraid there can be no observations to give us our position.

Wednesday, December 28, 1910 12pm

Wednesday, December 28th, 1910

12 P.M. – Saw two sea leopards playing in the wake.

Wednesday, December 28, 1910 10pm

Wednesday, December 28th, 1910

10 P.M. – We made our start at eight, and so far things look well. We have found the ice comparatively thin, the floes 2 to 3 feet in thickness except where hummocked; amongst them are large sheets from 6 inches to 1 foot in thickness as well as fairly numerous water pools. The ship has pushed on well, covering at least 3 miles an hour, though occasionally almost stopped by a group of hummocked floes. The sky is overcast: stratus clouds come over from the N.N.E. with wind in the same direction soon after we started. This may be an advantage, as the sails give great assistance and the officer of the watch has an easier time when the sun is not shining directly in his eyes. As I write the pack looks a little closer; I hope to heavens it is not generally closing up again – no sign of open water to the south. Alas!

Wednesday, December 28, 1910

Wednesday, December 28th, 1910

Lieut Evans commanding Terra Nova from crow’s nest. December 28th 1910View of crows nest of Terra Nova. December 28th 1910Some of the Terra Nova crew on the fo’castle. Dec. 28th 1910Some of the Terra Nova crew on the fo’castle. Dec. 28th 1910A lead opening in the Pack. Dec. 28th 1910Lead opening ahead of the Terra Nova. Dec. 28th 1910Lead opening, and shadow of bowsprit. Dec. 28th 1910Pack breaking up. Dec. 28th 1910Furling the mainsail of the Terra Nova in the packFurling the upper topsail of the Terra Nova in the pack


Noon, 69º 17′ S., 179º 42′ W. Made good since 26th S. 74 W. 31′; C. Crozier S. 22 W. 530′. The gale has abated. The sky began to clear in the middle watch; now we have bright, cheerful, warm sunshine (temp. 28º). The wind lulled in the middle watch and has fallen to force 2 to 3. We made 1 1/2 miles in the middle and have added nearly a mile since. This movement has brought us amongst floes of decidedly smaller area and the pack has loosened considerably. A visit to the crow’s nest shows great improvement in the conditions. There is ice on all sides, but a large percentage of the floes is quite thin and even the heavier ice appears breakable. It is only possible to be certain of conditions for three miles or so–the limit of observation from the crow’s nest; but as far as this limit there is no doubt the ship could work through with ease. Beyond there are vague signs of open water in the southern sky. We have pushed and drifted south and west during the gale and are now near the 180th meridian again. It seems impossible that we can be far from the southern limit of the pack.

On strength of these observations we have decided to raise steam. I trust this effort will carry us through.

The pony which fell last night has now been brought out into the open. The poor beast is in a miserable condition, very thin, very weak on the hind legs, and suffering from a most irritating skin affection which is causing its hair to fall out in great quantities. I think a day or so in the open will help matters; one or two of the other ponies under the forecastle are also in poor condition, but none so bad as this one. Oates is unremitting in his attention and care of the animals, but I don’t think he quite realises that whilst in the pack the ship must remain steady and that, therefore, a certain limited scope for movement and exercise is afforded by the open deck on which the sick animal now stands.

If we can get through the ice in the coming effort we may get all the ponies through safely, but there would be no great cause for surprise if we lost two or three more.

These animals are now the great consideration, balanced as they are against the coal expenditure.

Detail of pack with penguins. Dec. 28th 1910In the Pack. Sky reflections. Dec. 28th 1910An Adelie penguin leaping out of the water. Dec 28th 1910

This morning a number of penguins were diving for food around and under the ship. It is the first time they have come so close to the ship in the pack, and there can be little doubt that the absence of motion of the propeller has made them bold.

The Adèlie penguin on land or ice is almost wholly ludicrous. Whether sleeping, quarrelling, or playing, whether curious, frightened, or angry, its interest is continuously humorous, but the Adèlie penguin in the water is another thing; as it darts to and fro a fathom or two below the surface, as it leaps porpoise-like into the air or swims skimmingly over the rippling surface of a pool, it excites nothing but admiration. Its speed probably appears greater than it is, but the ability to twist and turn and the general control of movement is both beautiful and wonderful.

As one looks across the barren stretches of the pack, it is sometimes difficult to realise what teeming life exists immediately beneath its surface.

A tow-net is filled with diatoms in a very short space of time, showing that the floating plant life is many times richer than that of temperate or tropic seas. These diatoms mostly consist of three or four well-known species. Feeding on these diatoms are countless thousands of small shrimps (Euphausia); they can be seen swimming at the edge of every floe and washing about on the overturned pieces. In turn they afford food for creatures great and small: the crab-eater or white seal, the penguins, the Antarctic and snowy petrel, and an unknown number of fish.

These fish must be plentiful, as shown by our capture of one on an overturned floe and the report of several seen two days ago by some men leaning over the counter of the ship. These all exclaimed together, and on inquiry all agreed that they had seen half a dozen or more a foot or so in length swimming away under a floe. Seals and penguins capture these fish, as also, doubtless, the skuas and the petrels.

Coming to the larger mammals, one occasionally sees the long lithe sea leopard, formidably armed with ferocious teeth and doubtless containing a penguin or two and perhaps a young crab-eating seal. The killer whale (Orca gladiator), unappeasably voracious, devouring or attempting to devour every smaller animal, is less common in the pack but numerous on the coasts. Finally, we have the great browsing whales of various species, from the vast blue whale (Balênoptera Sibbaldi), the largest mammal of all time, to the smaller and less common bottle-nose and such species as have not yet been named. Great numbers of these huge animals are seen, and one realises what a demand they must make on their food supply and therefore how immense a supply of small sea beasts these seas must contain. Beneath the placid ice floes and under the calm water pools the old universal warfare is raging incessantly in the struggle for existence.

Both morning and afternoon we have had brilliant sunshine, and this afternoon all the after-guard lay about on the deck sunning themselves. A happy, care-free group.

A warm day in the pack