Replica of James Caird

Object Number: 2008.11

This replica was built by Robert Wallace in Massachusetts, USA, in 2000. It was used in the Shackleton IMAX movie released in 2001, Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, which tells the story of the hero’s greatest triumph. Robert sailed the replica as Sir Ernest Shackleton. The replica was purchased by the South Georgia Heritage Trust in 2007.

The replica is built to represent how the lifeboat James Caird would have looked on the journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia. The sides of the original were heightened and canvas covered decking was added prior to their departure to give some protection from the elements during their trip. Shortly after their arrival in South Georgia the topsides were removed to make it easier to pull the boat above the waterline.

The boat is 7.3 m in length and has a 1.93 m beam.                          

The hull is mahogany planked over steam bent oak. The deck is mahogany and the masts and spars are made from fir.

Stranded on Elephant Island following the loss of Endurance, Shackleton and his men faced a desperate struggled for survival. After debating their options with crewmembers Frank Wild and Frank Worsley, Shackleton eventually decided that they should attempt to reach the whaling stations of South Georgia, over 800 miles to the north east.

To make the crossing, Shackleton selected the heaviest and strongest of the party’s three boats -the James Caird. The boat was prepared for the crossing by the expedition’s carpenter, Harry McNish, who raised its sides and created a makeshift deck of wood and canvas. Further alterations were made to make her more stable and less likely to capsize in the rough seas that they would inevitably encounter.

In their small boat, battling with winds, weather and the relentless swells, and with meals gulped as they crouched beneath the decking, and sleep snatched lying on the hard ballast boulders, they were constantly wet and thirsty – uncertainty ruled their every hour. That they reached South Georgia is one of the great acts of navigation, and endurance. 

But having rested, and fed on albatross chicks, another journey had to be made across the mountains and glaciers to the whaling stations on the other side of the island. Leaving McNish, McCarthy and Vincent under the overturned boat, Shackleton with Worsley and Tom Crean made the land crossing in 36 hours.