In the story of Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition, at one stage a small 30 foot pull boat with a few men in it attempted to make an 800-mile voyage across one of the most inhospitable parts of the south Atlantic. If the group was to have any chance the navigator needed to take a sighting of the sun against the horizon. The margin for error was limited. Each degree represented 60 miles and the maximum margin of error was 10 miles. By any measure, the odds of success were extremely low.
Making matters worse was the lack of any sun due to the weather. Low clouds, overwhelming waves, and high winds made taking a sighting almost impossible. To combat the winds, two men helped the navigator stand. During the 17 days on the open ocean, he was only able to take four sightings. If I were in their shoes I can imagine the first part of my prayer – “Soar high in the skies, O God! Cover the whole earth with your glory!” (Psalm 108.5) Give me sight! If you cannot rescue me, at least give me a chance to rescue myself.
As different members of the boat talked about their attempt, the following stands out in their words.
Shackleton always had faith in the outcome. While I am sure he wrestled with demons inside, he always acted with faith, in hope, and resolve. While the reasons to give up were overwhelming, the lives of 31 men in his care gave him purpose and courage.
Worsley, the navigator, was always focused on the moment at hand. Preparing relentlessly before each leg of the voyage was instrumental in being able to be fully in each moment. The ability to judge the currents and boat speed along and an internal sense of where he was in any moment, was a crucial element in the eventual success of the team to save themselves.
A willingness to collaborate with others by everyone on the boat was required but could only be given. At the heart of collaboration is trust.