The Endurance. Painting by Sarah Barnard

We are all in Patience Camp: Lessons from Shackleton for 2022

Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, was trapped on a large ice floe in the Weddell Sea, near Antarctica. The year 1915; there was no hope of rescue, and all attempts at cutting through the sea ice failed. All they could do was make the best of the situation, waiting for the ice floe to slowly drift northwards into warmer water and then break up. If the ship was unharmed, they could continue with their planned expedition – to be the first to walk across the Antarctic continent.

The ice was unforgiving and slowly — over the course of several months— crushed the wooden ship. During this time, Shackleton and his men set up camp near the ship’s wreckage – a location Shackleton named ‘Ocean Camp’.  The men rescued what they could from the Endurance and made the best of their environment.

To achieve their own rescue, Shackleton decided the men should put the three lifeboats on wooden sledges and drag them across the ice, to the floe’s edge which was many miles away. They minimized provisions and started to man-haul the lifeboats. It was an excruciatingly difficult task as shown in Sarah Barnard’s (@sarahb_polar) painting below. They were thwarted by the extreme difficulty and futility of the task, and the damage the lifeboats were incurring getting bounced around over the uneven ice. During the process, Shackleton had to put the unruly carpenter McNish in his place, before the grumbler incited a mutiny.

They set up another encampment. Now miles from what was left of the Endurance, and with fewer supplies, this situation was more primitive than what they had at Ocean Camp.  Shackleton named it Patience Camp.  It was here they would need to wait out the many months of ice floe movement to make an escape attempt towards one of the remote islands more than 100 miles (160 km) away, and even then, they’d be far from civilization.

There were constant risks and dangers. Tensions at time ran high as survival seemed uncertain, and the future was unpredictable. If the ice floe broke quickly or at night, men could be drowned getting from the slippery edge into the lifeboats. Some, like Shackleton, were optimistic. Others not so much. One thing Shackleton knew: Wishing away the problem was not a solution. Keeping the men focused on a single goal: that they would all get home, and developing an action plan, would enable them to survive Patience Camp.

With Covid now circulating around the world for almost two years, it seems like we are all in Patience Camp.  There is nothing to do but wait. Look after one another. Keep our spirits up. One day Covid will be behind us, and we might look back in wonder at how we survived such an ordeal. 

As for Shackleton, after four and a half months in Patience Camp, the ice floe did break up. They scrambled into the three lifeboats, and survived a perilous, freezing 5-day and 5-night journey to Elephant Island. From there Shackleton and a few others sailed one lifeboat to South Georgia across 800 miles of the roughest seas in the world to seek rescue. In one of the greatest survival stories in the history of exploration, Shackleton and all his men lived to tell the tale.  All it took was optimism, courage, luck and above all, patience.

#alwayslearning #resilience #Shackleton #decisions #leadership #covidrisk #endurance #goals #overcomingadversity #PatienceCamp #ShackletonLessons #whenyourlifedependsonit

Brad Borkan is co-author of two books: When Your Life Depends on It: Extreme Decision Making Lessons from the Antarctic, and Audacious Goals, Remarkable Results: How an Explorer, an Engineer and a Statesman Shaped our Modern World. Sarah Barnard is an award-winning polar artist.

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