Thursday had been a long day; up early, Lynne and Pete D’Angelo had climbed into a Zodiac inflatable dinghy and dodged icebergs, had approached the very place on Antarctica’s Elephant Island where, early in the 20th century, the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton had left his men to go for help, then returned four months later to rescue them. Now, at day’s end, the D’Angelos were tired. As they said their good nights, someone teasingly called out, “Sunrise is at 3:41.” Pete laughed and told them not to count on him to see it. That was one of the details he would remember. That the sun would rise at 3:41.
Sleep did not come easily. Their cabin was in the belly of the boat, half of it below the water line. Pete was distracted by the sound of bits of ice scraping along the hull. Brash ice, he thought it was called. He lay there thinking about all the different names for ice in the Antarctic—pack ice, fast ice, growlers—until he sank into a fitful sleep. Then a sharp noise, a bang against the side of the ship, and a gurgling sound seeped into his drowse, water running down a drain somewhere near his head, above and behind. He should wake Lynne, ask her about the sound. He touched the wall. Dry. Good. Then he dropped an arm over the side of the bed to the floor.
Bolting upright, he called out to his wife and, in one long motion, hit the red emergency button on the wall between their beds, and began pulling on clothes. “Our eyeglasses,” he reminded her as she grabbed their Wellington boots and threw a coat over her nightgown. He opened the door to the passageway and ran into a crew member; a few steps behind was the ship’s sturdy Swedish captain, who blurted, “My God, we’re sinking.”
It was early last November when the 91 adventure travelers—most in their 50s and 60s—who had signed on for the “Spirit of Shackleton” cruise began to head down the long spine of Argentina to its southernmost port, Ushuaia. There, they were to board the M.S. Explorer and venture into the icy wastes at the bottom of the world: Antarctica. For 19 days the ship, owned by G.A.P., a Canadian adventure-travel company, was to trace a sector of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 191416 expedition, one of the world’s great survival stories (see box “Shackleton’s Rescue,” below).
They joined a crew of 54, along with 9 guides, who were to lecture on the marvels of a continent beyond anyone’s imagination, then guide them ashore in the Zodiacs, to see for themselves, up close.
At first, the engines were able to pump out water. Then the power failed.
Lynne D’Angelo, a newly retired dietitian, and her husband, Pete, 61, a retired engineer, had set out from their home in Oakland, California, to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary by adding the last notch on the list of continents they had visited. Among their fellow travelers were 12 other Americans. Plus, there were contingents from England, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and at least ten other countries. A twentysomething honeymoon couple came from San Diego; a retired schoolmaster, from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Also boarding that day was a Danish couple, Mette Larsen, 29, and Jan Heikel, 42; he planned to propose when they actually set foot on Antarctica, late in the trip.
All the passengers had been certified as fit by their doctors. Kay Van Horne, 64, a retired Denver middle-school teacher and an inveterate trekker, spoke for many of her fellow passengers when she offered her reason for signing on: “I love adventure.”