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the protective care of God or of Nature as a spiritual power.

Map of Shackleton's 1914 expedition

Map of the routes of the ships Endurance and Aurora and the planned trans-Antarctic route of the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Ernest Shackleton in 1914–15.

 Voyage of Endurance
 Drift of Endurance in pack ice
 Sea ice drift after Endurance sinks
 Voyage of the lifeboat James Caird
 Planned trans-Antarctic route
 Voyage of Aurora to Antarctica
 Retreat of Aurora
 Supply depot route

Credit - Finetooth, Like tears in rain, U.S Central Intelligence Agency, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1914 Ernest Shackleton and his hand picked crew sailed for Antarctica aboard the ship Endurance with a plan to cross the continent via the South Pole.

It was his second attempt, some years earlier he had got close before being forced into a controlled retreat.
But this time they would not have the luxury of staying in control of events but instead desperately fighting to save their lives.

It was a bold plan, the main party would cross the whole of the continent via the South Pole starting from the Weddell Sea carrying enough food etc for the first half of the journey and then pick up more on the second half from caches deployed by the Aurora support team travelling inland from the other side of Antarctica in the Ross Sea.

However disaster struck, before they could begin the attempt to cross the continent, Endurance got stuck in ice in the Weddell Sea and was eventually crushed and sank with everyone escaping in three open heavily laden lifeboats to Elephant Island, as remote a spot as any on Earth. This journey was not easy, they drifted north on sea ice, camping on ice floes that collapsed underneath them with men still in their sleeping bags waking up in pools of freezing water.
Eventually they had to abandon the melting ice and row the boats for several days, the boats sheltering behind icebergs to gain some respite from the minus 20 degree wind, rowing against headwinds, their damp clothing frozen hard like armour.

On reaching Elephant Island it was the first time they had stood on land in over a year.
There was good news and bad news, seals and penguins were plentiful ensuring they would not starve.
But it was all taking it's toll, tough men wondered as to the point of it all, were they simply prolonging the inevitable?
Knowing that their chances of being found by a passing ship were virtually zero and with the winter pack ice already beginning to advance which would trap them for many more months, Shackleton ordered the best lifeboat to be modified into a sailing boat and with five men went with the westerly wind and currents to South Georgia where he knew there was an outpost and eventual rescue for the main group of men left behind.

Launching the James Caird
Launching of the James Caird at the beginning of it's 800 mile journey.

Credit - Probably Frank Hurley, the expedition's photographer,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
They sailed over 800 miles in this 20ft boat surviving a hurricane that sank a 500 ton steamer also en-route to South Georgia sadly with all hands lost.
It was a "one shot" trip, if they missed the island due to navigation error the chances of returning upwind were tiny.
They only had rations for four weeks as more were deemed pointless.
Worsley the navigator describing his task as "a merry jest of guesswork" trying to take fixes from the rarely seen sun as the boat was tossed in heavy seas with force 9 winds being the norm.
He advised Shackleton that he could not be sure of their position within ten miles meaning they could miss the target.
In order to get sun fixes they had to be alert to breaks in the clouds, at one point whilst on the helm Shackleton thought he saw a break in the clouds only to realise he was looking at the crest of a massive freak wave which filled the boat with water soaking everything including themselves.

The six man crew was split into two three man watches, one man dedicated to bailing.
They would take it in turns to crawl forward on top of the deck and chip off the ice threatening the boats stability.
Their clothing wasn't waterproof and with the constant drenching from the sea, sores aggravated by freezing salt water became a problem, two of the crew being described as "weakening", one as "collapsed and no longer active".
Shackleton described the journey "as one of supreme strife", it is now considered to be one of the greatest boat journeys ever accomplished.
Launching the James Caird
Nearing South Georgia in hurricane seas.

Credit -  Probably George Marston, the expedition's artist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On successfully sighting South Georgia fourteen days later they still had problems, the wind developed into "one of the worst hurricanes any of us had ever experienced" making a landing impossible and for 24 hours they fought to keep the craft on station sheltering behind a mountain range and away from the rocks.

But eventually the storm subsided and they landed and hauled the boat ashore inverting it to provide shelter, naming the area "Peggoty Camp" from Charles Dicken's David Copperfield.
Another problem was that in order to mitigate the potential navigation error and not simply sail past the island to their doom they had chosen to target the South side for landfall but their final destination, the manned outpost was on the North side of the island.

Shackleton had to make a decision, sailing around the island or make a short crossing (about 30 miles) overland by foot.

The passage had taken it's toll on the boat and the crew and he decided the best option was taking two able men and navigate the snow covered mountains and glaciers thousands of feet in height.
The route would take them a day and a half.
All they had in the way of climbing gear was a 50 foot rope, a carpenters adze to use as an ice axe and screws pushed through their boots to grip the ice.

It is probable that no human had ever walked that route before, a frozen wasteland at the bottom of the world.
As lonely as walking on the moon.

When they finally reached the outpost, the first people they encountered were children who all ran away from them, from these men who hadn't washed or shaved in many months covered in soot from burning seal blubber as lamp fuel, wearing layers of clothing slowly becoming rags encrusted in dirt.
They were lucky, shortly after reaching safety the next hurricane hit the island it being unlikely they would have survived it, exposed out there in the mountains.

Mountaineers with modern equipment have since retraced this route and expressed their complete admiration.

Panorama of South Georgia.

Credit - Frank Hurley,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Now you might be wondering why as interesting as it is, i'm relating this story on this website and in some detail.

The purpose of the detail is to try and give some indication of the resourcefulness, tenacity and level headed nature of the individuals involved, men who could face extreme adversity and calmly operate.

One of the two men accompanying Shackleton on the trek across South Georgia was Frank Worsley, the captain of the Endurance.
The other was Tom Crean a veteran of three Antarctic expeditions who had been awarded a medal for bravery on a previous expedition by saving a man's life with a solo trek of 35 miles across the Ross Ice Shelf.

In modern parlance they were the "right stuff".

But the purpose of the above isn't to describe them or the adventure but to set the scene for what comes next.

Whilst on that trek across South Georgia all three men seem to have had a "strange experience" and even stranger they all independently had the same "strange experience".

This is what Shackleton says in his book "South" :-

"When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia.
I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.
I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea.
One feels “the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech” in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts."

In 1922 the poet T. S. Eliot published a poem - The Waste Land, wikipedia stating that it is "widely regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th century and a central work of modernist poetry".

It contains a verse apparently inspired by Shackleton's experience, but instead of refering to "the fourth", it refers to "the third".
It is suggested by, that the reference is from the Bible (Luke 24), a resurrected Jesus joining two disciples as they journeyed along the road.

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

And hence it seems the label - "The Third Man" was born, of people suddenly experiencing the presence of another person who isn't really there.

As the 20th century rolled on, the number of third man reports seems to have snowballed, probably as a result of several factors, a culture of extreme exploration in smaller and smaller groups, two world wars regularly placing people in extreme situations, modern medicine increasing people's chances of survival post traumatic events and a cultural shift with more prepared to share these experiences.

As the number of reports has grown so has the interest of scientists.

In 2009 John Geiger wrote a book - The Third Man - Surviving the Impossible which documents many cases like Shackleton's team in South Georgia and also recent theories and research into the subject.
Some of the modern experiences being recorded first hand in interviews.
The experience can be extremely vivid, a mountaineer eating a snack turns around to offer some of it to his non existent "companion".
A feature of these "companions" is that they seem to be benevolent, they increase the chances of survival, sometimes considerably :-

Ron DiFrancesco the last man out of the Twin Towers in 911 was led downstairs into and through a fire by an insistent voice whilst others held back.

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh when making the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean found that his biggest challenge was not drifting into (fatal) sleep as the monotony wore on in a flight of 33.5 hours.
After 22 hours into the flight he was really struggling to stay awake as the plane droned on above a featureless ocean when suddenly he found that the fuselage behind him was filled with ghostly presences making conversation, taking an interest in the plane and the mission and offering reassurance.
Although they were behind him he could see them without turning his head.
Their interest kept him awake and alert.
Then later he spotted a fishing boat and knew he was close to Ireland and now with a changing landscape and the challenges of navigation the presences were gone.

Joshua Slocum the first man to circumnavigate the globe single handed described a phantom sailor "of ancient cast of visage" that helmed the boat through a storm whilst he stayed below seriously ill with food poisoning.
When the storm finally abated and he felt improved he came up on deck and found himself to be alone with the boat perfectly setup and still on course.

The book relates many other accounts of similar experiences, sailors and airmen adrift at sea, Antarctic explorers, mountaineers including the most famous mountaineer of all Reinhart Messner.

But note, most of these experiences are individual ones, for a party of three men to all share the same experience seems to be very rare.

Geiger's book also discusses advances in science which have found that the sense of a presence can be reproduced by stimulating parts of the brain with electricity and electromagnetic fields, one device being christened the "God Helmet" an interesting term as the book also connects Third Man experiences with historic cases including those that have founded world religions, with similar experiences to "The Third Man" but labelled as - "Revelations".

Definitely a very interesting read, recommended.
A fascinating list of references, checkout the chapter on Julian Jayne's theory of the bicameral mind.

Now I could end this article there but to do so would be slightly dishonest of me as I have a personal experience of my own to tell.
Relating it I do feel a little reticence and note that according to Geiger's book Lindbergh did not publicly discuss his above experiences until nearly thirty years later.
It seems Shackleton, Worsley and Crean were tight lipped about South Georgia, they don't seem to have given any further detail on a subject that must have stimulated great interest.

So here's my story.

About fifteen years ago I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, a cancerous mole on my back.
For those who don't know the tumour grows on and down into the skin until it reaches the lymph system and blood capillaries and begins to spread.
Once it has spread (metastasis) apparently there is no chance of long term survival, unlike many cancers where doctors talk of treatments and survival probabilities, with metastatic malignant melanoma there aren't any positive outcomes, just a long term probability of zero.
Your only hope is to have the tumour correctly diagnosed and surgically removed before it begins to spread.
Fortunately in my case my wife was alert to all of this, and that saved my life, incidentally even after a first medical consultation failed to diagnose it.

Providence indeed, "it's better to be lucky than rich".

So there was a period before the second correct diagnosis when I was unknowingly carrying a timebomb on my back, it slowly ticking away until it would be my doom.
During this period I bought a little sailboat, a thirty footer.
One day I drove from my home to the coast where the boat was kept.
It was an exciting time for me with my first boat, it was a lovely sunny day by the sea, I was full of beans, happy as larry.

But whilst sat in the cabin on my own I had the experience of a presence close to me.
Nothing visual or aural but the strong presence of an external consciousness that was anguished.
Strongly so, this sense of anguish being so strong that it was clearly recognisable as feminine.
Remember I'm full of beans but this is slowly turning my day upside down.
The anguish was clearly directed at me, a maternal caring female presence that felt as if it had some special knowledge about me but it was unable to communicate it and hence was very, very sad.
The anguish came in several waves, some minutes apart.
Definitely a presence, definitely external to me but close, very sad and clearly female.

And that's all i've got to give you.
Other than perhaps one more thing, the name of the boat - Shewitch ...

Nigel Evans, June 2023.

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