Voyage of the James Caird
(April 24 - May 10, 1916)

Voyage of James CairdLaunching the Caird
"As we were getting her of the beach a heavy surf came up & owing to us being unable to get her up of the beach she almost capsized as it was she emptied Myself & Vincent overboard." (McNish, diary)

The Voyage:
April 1916, Shackleton and the five strongest sailors-Worsely, Crean, McNish, McCarthy, and Vincent set sail in the 22-½ foot lifeboat, the James Caird, from Elephant Island. Knowing that the risks were extreme, they set out to cross 800 miles of the roughest seas on earth in order to reach the whalingSextant Instrument stations on the East side of South Georgia Island. Their navigational equipment consisted only of a sextant and compass. Given that the skies were perpetually gray and overcast, their chance of a clear and accurate celestial sighting, in order to plot their position, was slim. Accuracy however, for this journey was critical. If they were off with their calculations by the slightest amount, this could translate into an error of many miles. This kind of error would have them missing South Georgia entirely and heading out into the open ocean.

In the small boat, which pitched and rolled in the heavy seas, Worsely was held steady by two shipmates while he sighted the sun between thick gray clouds. The horizon which is also necessary for a position calculation, had to be estimated due to the large swells. As the boat was pounded by wind and waves, he calculated at the bottom of the boat and consulted the tables in his Nautical Almanac. Over the 17 days, which they were at sea, Worsely was only able to take four sightings.

Despite the overwhelming odds against success, on May 10,1916 the James Caird landed on South Georgia Island.The boat which was beginning to fall apart, the lack of fresh drinking water, and ill health of the crew forced Shackleton to land on the West side, while the whaling stations, and rescue, were on the East side.

Ten days after landing, with frostbitten feet, Shackleton, Crean, and Worsely headed out on foot for the whaling stations, 22 miles away. With only a compass to guide them, they trekked over the mountainous interior of the island, with screws from the Caird sticking out of the soles of their boots for traction. Along with the compass the men carried only enough food for three days, a carpenters adze, and 90 feet of rope. Shackleton’s drive to return to his men was great as he states in his book "South", "Over on Elephant Island 22 men were waiting for the relief that we alone could secure for them. Their plight was worse than ours. We must push on somehow."

List of Provisions:
30 bx. Matches
8 gals. Petroleum
1 tin Spirit
10 bx. Flamers
1 bx Blue Lights
2 Primus Stoves
1 Cooker (complete)
6 Sleeping Bags
Spare Apparel

Food:
3 cs. Sledgling Rations
(300 rations)
2 cs. Nut Foods
(200 rations)
2 cs. Biscuits
(300 /cs)
1 cs. Lump Sugar
30 pkts. Trumilk
1 tin Bovril Cubes
1 tin Cerebos Salt
36 glns. Water
112 lbs. Ice

Instruments:
Sextant
Binoculars
Compass
Candles
Blubber Oil
Sea Anchor
Charts
Fishing Line
Twine & Needle
Baithook
Aneroid
Dbl. Barrell Shotgun
2 Axes

 

 

Chronology - The Voyage of the James Caird
1916
Event
 
1916
Event
April 24
James Caird is launched from Elephant Island
 
May
2
Gale gaining strength for 8 hours, heavy cross sea, snow squalls.
April 25
Fine WSW breeze running all day, sky overcast."
 
May
3
444 miles from Elephant Island. After 48 hours bitter gale at last subsided. Worsley takes sighting (first in 6 days)
April 26
"WSW gale, squally & cloudy, run 105 mile"
 
May
5
96 miles covered. Best of journey in lumpy swell that raked the boat.
April 27
"Northerly gale, overcast & heavy squalls hove too"
 
May
6
Return of heavy seas and NW gale
April 28
Light NW-W winds misty, high NW swell"
 
May
7
Kelp spotted, keg of water discovered to have become brackish from seawater, thirst mounts
April 29
"Fresh W-SW breeze, squally running high seas"
 
May
8
Pigeons and cormorants spotted, heavy fog persists, lumpy cross swells
April 30
"Hove too at 8a.m. & put out sea anchor at 3p.m., heavy sprays breaking over the boat & freezing solid"
 
May
8
Noon - "We've done it" - land spotted at last
May
1
1st SSW gale laying to sea anchor & mizzen
 
May
10
After 17 days in stormy seas, the James Caird miraculously arrives on the west coast of South Georgia