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The James Caird Voyage and Sea Survival Success

The James Caird Voyage and Sea Survival Success

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Colm Kerr. Originally submitted for Maritime Medicine at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Nora McCarthy in the category of Medical Sciences
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Colm Kerr. Originally submitted for Maritime Medicine at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Nora McCarthy in the category of Medical Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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04/04/2014

 
The
 James Caird 
voyage and Sea SurvivalSuccess
Abstract
In 1916, six men in a 22 foot lifeboat embarked on an 800 mile voyage across themost dangerous seas in the world in a desperate and heroic attempt to save not onlytheir own lives, but also the lives of their 22 marooned comrades. Among them werethe Irish Antarctic explorers Tom Crean and Ernest Shackleton. This essay seeks toinvestigate the physiological stresses placed on those stranded at sea, examine themain causes of death at sea as well as exploring the sea survival success of Shackleton, Crean and the crew of the
 James Caird 
.
Introduction
In 1916, six men in a 22ft lifeboat embarked on an 800 mile voyage across the mostdangerous seas in the world in a desperate and heroic attempt to save not only their own lives, but also the lives of their 22 marooned comrades.Their voyage had its origins in the autumn and winter of 1914, when Irishman TomCrean set sail from Plymouth bound for the Antarctic along with 27 other men, elevenscientists and 17 seamen, as part of an exploratory Antarctic expedition. Theexpedition was named after the crew’s ship,
 Endurance
, and was led by another Irishman, Sir Ernest Shackleton, known to his men as “The Boss”. Their remarkablevoyage has gone down in history as a triumphant victory of human survival in theface of extreme adversity at sea. Few accounts of survival at sea can match their account of bravery, courage and success, and none are likely to surpass it.Over the following few paragraphs, I aim to explore the range of physical and mentalchallenges faced and braved by the men of the 22 ft
 James Caird 
from a physiologicaland survival point of view. I shall also endeavour to discuss the main causes of deathat sea and examine why the men of the
 James Caird 
didn’t succumb to such a fate.
Marooned
Firstly, we must understand why Shackleton felt such a treacherous journey waswarranted across 800 miles of freezing, stormy seas. In October of 1915, Shackleton’sship,
 Endurance
, became beset in heavy Antarctic pack ice. A week later, the boatfinally became crushed by the ice and the 28 men of the
 Endurance
expedition wereleft to camp on ice floes in lightweight tents. They had managed to save 3 lifeboatsfrom
 Endurance
, the largest of which was the 22ft
 James Caird 
. Drifting ice floescarried the 28 stranded men to the uninhabited Elephant Island, a desolate islandwhere penguins and seals provided their main dwindling source of sustenance.Stranded and with no hope of contact with the outside world, and hence of beingrescued. Shackleton, choosing 5 of his men, decided to launch the
 James Caird.
Theyset sail for the closest inhabited island towards which prevailing winds wouldconceivably allow them to navigate to; South Georgia, 800 miles to the North East. A
 
seasonally operating whaling port on South Georgia became their only hope of survival and rescue of their 22 marooned comrades. Food and supplies on ElephantIsland were dwindling. The crew’s carpenter set about the task of covering the deck of the
 James Caird 
using salvaged scraps from the two other lifeboats to protect it fromthe waves of the Southern ocean. Extra ballast was added to help brave the waves andthe boat was laden with enough food and water to last 6 men for 30 days. Shackletonalong with his 5 selected crew members, including Tom Crean, set sail from ElephantIsland in search of South Georgia.
Drowning
Drowning is the main reason that accounts for those “lost at sea”. Drowning isdefined as death through suffocation by submersion, and is caused by an inability tomaintain the airway clear of water to breathe. It is the third most common cause of accidental death worldwide. Unfortunately, 40% of drowning victims in the US areyounger than 4 years and the vast majority drown in backyard swimming pools(Orlowski 1988). Total submersion in water is not necessary for drowning to occur;sufficient water may be aspirated during intermittent submersion of the face or evenwave splash. In 1971, Modell showed that death from drowning can occur if only 22millilitres of seawater per kilogram body weight is inhaled into the lungs. Immersionvictims who suffer from “near drowning” experiences and who inhale only ½ or ¼ of a pint of seawater may die days later. This delayed physiological effect of sea water on the lungs is known as “secondary drowning”. Large volumes of aspirated water will cause inflammation of the lungs which will diminish the alveoli’s ability toexchange gases. Blood flow gets redirected to undamaged alveoli and fluid leaks intothem. Inspired air mixed with aspirate forms a pinkish froth, termed “pulmonaryoedema”, which can then enter and damage otherwise healthy alveoli. This can thenlead to victims drowning in their own leaking body fluid if it remains untreated.The crew of the
 James Caird 
endured fierce conditions on their 800 mile voyage.Shackleton later said that he never encountered such waves in 26 years experience of the sea as he did during that voyage (Smith 2001). The
Caird 
and her crew also had to battle hurricane force winds that sank an Argentinean shipping vessel, the
 Argos
, off the coast of South Georgia, a tragedy which claimed the lives of all aboard. Through acombination of Shackleton’s gallant leadership, the determination and teamwork of his crew, excellent navigation and the improvised decking of the
 James Caird 
(providing enhanced shelter from the force of crashing waves), Shackleton and hiscrew managed to avoid succumbing to the wind and waves of the Southern ocean.The
 James Caird 
remained afloat. No men were lost overboard for the duration of thevoyage and as a result, Shackleton’s crew didn’t suffer any drowning casualties.
Cold Shock 
Having avoided immersion in water, Shackleton and his crew also avoided fallingvictims to “Cold Shock” (Tipton 1989), a phenomenon which has claimed the lives of many experienced swimmers. A sudden lowering of skin temperature followingimmersion in cold water (less than 15°C) leads to several physiological responses,which peak during the first 30 seconds of immersion and last for several minutes. Theresponses predominantly affect circulation and breathing. Peripheral vasoconstrictionoccurs over most of the body and heart rate and blood pressure rise significantly.
 
Catecholamines released by this response can also elicit cardiac arrhythmias whichcan lead to sudden death. Cold shock also leads to an increased respiratory drive anduncontrollable hyperventilation. An individual’s ability to hold their breath issignificantly reduced from an average of 1 minute to about 10 seconds, leaving themvery prone to aspiration and drowning. Again, the organisation and preparation of thecrew of the
 James Caird 
was such that immersion in the freezing waters of theSouthern ocean and exposure to cold shock was kept to a minimum. The crew thusavoided the potentially fatal perils of cold shock.
Hypothermia
Hypothermia was another huge problem faced by the crew of the
 James Caird 
.Studies have shown that hypothermia is more likely to be a cause of death in life craftsurvivors (similar to the crew of the
Caird 
) than those who are immersed in water (Golden & Tipton, 2002), even though body cooling occurs five times faster duringimmersion in water compared to air at the same temperature. This is because deathdue to hypothermia following immersion in water as cold as 5°C is likely to take 30minutes, a time frame in which the immersed victim is more likely to perish fromdrowning or cold shock. However, hypothermia can become much more of a problemfor those on board a life craft, especially those who cannot stay warm and dry fromthe elements. Normal body temperature is 37°C. People become hypothermic if their core body temperature drops below 35°C where after the compensatory mechanism of shivering begins to shut down and consciousness begins to decline. Unconsciousnessmay occur at 30°C and death at 24°C. Hypothermia can lead to death through anumber of ways as it can impair manual dexterity which may be necessary for survival and can lead to death through incapacitation and subsequent drowning or cardiac arrest.Shackleton and his men were not prepared for a sea voyage. They longed for water- proof oilskins, but alas, they didn’t have them. Each man wore a heavy suit of “Jaeger” underwear and a large, loose fitting “Jaeger” sweater (“Jaeger” was the nameof a popular brand of clothes at the time that comprised of animal fibres). Over this,they wore a suit of burberry overalls, a woollen helmet and a burberry over helmet.Unfortunately, the burberry outer-wear was designed for the dry cold of an Antarcticexpedition and wasn’t waterproof. But wearing layers of thick clothing like thisserved a purpose in the freezing temperatures and spray of the Southern Ocean.As garment layers increase, so too does insulation, with the air trapped between the body and layers of clothes acting as a heat buffer and insulator. The area of the bodywhich loses most heat is the head, due mainly to the absence of cold constrictionfibres in the blood vessels of the scalp. This means that blood vessels in the scalpcannot constrict to conserve heat in the presence of low temperatures. In coldenvironments, about 50% of total body heat production may be lost through theunprotected head of a lightly clothed individual. It is interesting to note that whenmore clothing is worn, a relatively higher percentage of total heat loss can be lostthrough the unprotected head (Golden & Tipton 2002). Keeping the body andespecially the head covered and dry is vital when hypothermia is considered to be arisk factor for survival. Shackelton’s men wore as many layers of clothes as possible,and their reindeer skin sleeping bags further insulated them at night and protectedthem from wave splash. Immersion in or exposure to the freezing waters of the

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