Puerto Williams. 20th December 2017

Puerto Williams is a remote village in the Beagle Channel with a population of 2784, and important as a Chilean Naval base. There are a handful of shops and a school, and its principle feature is the bow of the Yelcho, which rescued Shackleton's crew from Elephant Island in 1916.

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The bow of the Chilean Navy's "Yelcho".

In January 1915, Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship Endurance became trapped in the ice in Antartica. Nine months later the Endurance was crushed by the ice and sank on 27th October 1915. Shackleton and his crew of 27 made their way by foot, sledge and lifeboats to Elephant Island at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula facing South America.

On 24th April 1916 Shackleton and five of his men began an epic 800-mile open-boat voyage to South Georgia, leaving the remaining 22 men behind on Elephant Island, while he sought help to rescue them. After three frustrated attempts to rescue the Elephant Island group, Shackleton persuaded the Chilean Government to provide the Yelcho (a 36.5 meter steam tug) under Captain Luis Pardo. With Shackleton aboard, the Yelcho sailed on 25th August. By now the Antarctic winter was at its height, and ice conditions were difficult as the Yelcho neared Elephant Island. On 30th August 1916 the 22 men on Elephant Island were indeed rescued, and the Yelcho returned to Punta Arenas on 3rd September 1916 to an enthusiastic reception from the population of the city as well as Chilean Naval authorities.

Letter from Captain Luis Pardo to his father.

"The task is great, but nothing scares me: I'm a Chilean. Two considerations make me face these dangers: to save the explorers, and to add glory to my country. I would be happy if I could achieve what others have failed to do. If I fail and die, you will take care of my Laura and my children who would be left without support except yours. If I succeed, I shall have fulfilled my humanitarian duty as a seaman and a Chilean. When you read this letter, either your son has died or he has arrived at Punta Arenas with the castaways. I shall not return alone…".

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