The ‘Quest’ is complete | Polarjournal
The first image of the Quest in 60 years. Found after a five-day search, the wreck lies at a depth of 390 meters off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, in northeastern Canada. Photo : Canadian Geographic

The wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s last ship, the Quest, has been found in the Labrador Sea. And the good news is that, with the exception of a broken mast, the wreckage is intact.

It’s a blurry, orange image that has come down to us, and yet it will have unleashed the enthusiasm of polar aficionados and other enthusiasts of the history of Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. This is the first image of the Quest ship, sunk over 60 years ago and recovered on June 9 by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS). The ship lies 390 meters deep in the Labrador Sea.

” I can definitively confirm that we have found the wreck of the Quest. She is intact. “said David Mearns, the expedition’s research director and wreck hunter, in a press release issued by the RCGS on June 12. “Data from high resolution side scan sonar imagery corresponds exactly with the known dimensions and structural features of this special ship. It is also consistent with events at the time of the sinking”.

Led by the RCGS, the Shackleton Quest Expedition was made up of an international team of oceanography, history and diving experts from Canada, the UK, Norway and the USA. In addition to David Mears, the team also included John Geiger, RCGS director and expedition leader.

The RCGS team on the deck of the LeeWay Odyssey the day after the discovery. Absent from the photo, the expedition also included Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of the famous explorer, and Mi’sel Joe from the Miawpukek First Nation, who were both co-patrons of the project. Photo: Jill Heinerth / Can Geo

To find the Quest, the RCGS conducted a meticulous search based on logs, maps and historical data. Although the Quest ‘s sinking was relatively well documented, these records were unable to determine if and where currents and weather conditions might have carried the wreck. The SGRC team used modern technology to determine these factors. Successfully. The wreck was found 2.5 km from the last reported position of the ship when she sank.

The last ship of a polar hero

The history of polar exploration includes many legendary ships. Names like Discovery, Fram, Aurora, Endurance and Terra Nova are intrinsically linked to iconic expeditions and prestigious explorers. The Quest ship is one of those.

Built in Norway in 1917 and originally named Foca I, this steam schooner was renamed Quest when Sir Ernest Shackleton bought the ship in 1921.

The Quest leaving London on September 17, 1921 for Antarctica. Photo : Popular Mechanics Magazine 1921 / Wikicommons

Well-versed in polar exploration, Shackelton had found international fame seven years earlier with the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Aiming to cross the white continent from one end to the other, the story had come to nothing when the expedition’s ship, the Endurance, became trapped in the ice and sank. What followed was one of the most incredible epics in the history of polar exploration.

For months, Shackleton and his men drifted on the pack ice before finding refuge on Elephant Island. Realizing that no rescue would come for them on this isolated and inhospitable piece of rock, Shackleton gave it his all and boarded a whaleboat, the James Caird, with five men for a surreal crossing to South Georgia.

Once on the island, they eventually reach the whaling station at Stromness, after another mad dash through the mountainous, unexplored interior of South Georgia. The rescue of the men left on Elephant Island was organized. With incredible efforts and an extraordinary tenacity, Shackleton managed to bring his entire crew safely back to Europe.

With the Quest, the explorer planned to explore the Beaufort Sea, but had to abandon the project due to lack of funding from the Canadian government. Shackleton revised his plans and headed for Antarctica. The Shackleton-Rowett expedition probably aimed to circumnavigate the continent and map the sub-Antarctic islands.

After Shackleton’s death, which marked the end of the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, Frank Wild, second-in-command and veteran of the Endurance expedition, took over as expedition leader. But the ship was struggling to fulfill her mission. Slow, fuel-hungry, pitchy and with a persistent waterway, the Quest could hardly venture into the Antarctic ice. The expedition was aborted.

The Quest then became a sealing ship, an expedition and rescue vessel, and a minesweeper during the Second World War, before becoming a sealing ship again. This would be her last mission: on May 5, 1962, the Quest was damaged by ice and sank off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Norwegian crew on board escaped unhurt.

Thanks to the perseverance and meticulous work of the RCGS team, we now know where the Quest rests as we celebrate, this very year, the 150th anniversary of Shackleton’s birth. The work of the RCGS will not stop there, however. A further expedition is already planned to photograph and document the wreck.

Mirjana Binggeli, Polar Journal AG

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