A Day of Disaster

We are gradually getting to know Scott's team through these posts. And we are gaining insight into his grand strategy for the Pole. There was nothing new in the forward planting of depots for the main assault, to take place in the coming year. Perhaps the most innovative facet of Scott's plans was the diversity of means he intended to employ in attaining his objective. As noted yesterday, he hoped to rely on various sledging techniques, including the classic man-haul sledges, dog teams, and his ill-fated ponies. But his hopes were most stirred by the mechanical sledges he's helped design. The loss of one of these, on 8 January 1911, counted as the day's "disaster." The heavy thing simply fell through quickly deteriorating ice near the Terra Nova's mooring one mile and a half off the shore of Cape Evans. As the "motor" - as Scott called the motorized sledges - was lowered from the ship's side it settled on the softening ice and fell through. Brave members of the crew held fast to a rope anchoring the sledge but had to abandon, one by one, as the weight of the sinking motor-sledge forced the rope to cut towards them through the soft ice until "nothing remained but a big hole. . . . It's a big blow to know that one of the two best motors, on which so much time and trouble have been spent, now lies at the bottom of the sea." (Journals, p. 81, Carrol & Graf [1996]). An exciting account of the dramatic loss can be found in Apsley Cherry-Garrard's incomparable narrative account of the Terra Nova polar expedition:

Everything possible was done to hang on to the rope, but in the end we had
to let it go, each man keeping his hold until he was dragged to the lip of the
hole. Then we made for the fast ice, leaving the rotten bit between us and the ship. (Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, p. 93-94, Carrol & Graf [2nd. ed 1997])

The idea of using motor-sledges was born in Scott's contact with Reginald Skelton on the Discovery expedition. Roland Huntford reported that Skelton was on to the possibility of using an adapted "car" in Antarctica's inhospitible conditions, planting a "seed in Scott's mind." (Roland Huntford, The Last Place on the Earth, p. 144-45, Modern Library [1999]).