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Jill Heinerth on Finding Celebrated Polar Explorer’s Famed Shipwreck

Jill Heinerth on Finding Celebrated Polar Explorer’s Famed Shipwreck

Six years in the making, a team of 14 from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society plus a crew of eight have discovered the famed exploration vessel, Quest. It was captained by the celebrated polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who died aboard Quest in 1922 while enroute to Antarctica. His death marked the end of what some call the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Explorer-in-Residence Jill Heinerth was part of the team who made the discovery. She is a deep-sea diver — more people have been to the moon than visited the places she has seen on Earth.

Below, Jill reflects on the expedition and why the discovery of Quest is sending shockwaves through the scientific community.

Jill Heinerth

After six years of preparation and research, our team set off for the Labrador Sea with an ambitious plan to locate Sir Ernest Shackleton’s last vessel, Quest. Our successful expedition revealed the final resting place of the shipwreck, giving us an opportunity to reflect on Shackleton’s lessons for life.

Shackleton is a legend among explorers. His leadership during the famed Endurance Expedition is a timeless lesson in resilience, optimism, and teamwork. When his ship was trapped and crushed by Antarctic ice, Shackleton faced what seemed like impossible odds. Yet, his steadfast optimism and unwavering commitment to his crew turned potential tragedy into an extraordinary survival story.

Born 150 years ago, Shackleton survived the Endurance Expedition but passed away peacefully on January 5, 1922, aboard the vessel, Quest. His death marked the end of an era in polar exploration, leaving a profound legacy of courage and leadership in adversity. Though his physical journey had ended, Shackleton’s spirit lived on, inspiring those, including myself, who followed in his footsteps.

Lessons in Leadership

One key leadership lesson from Shackleton is the importance of maintaining morale. Despite dire circumstances, he kept his team’s spirits high with routines, games, and a sense of normalcy. This relentless positivity kept despair at bay, making every man feel valued and hopeful.

Shackleton also showed the vital quality of adaptability. His initial goal of crossing Antarctica turned into a fight for survival. He embraced this shift, focusing on the safety of his crew, showing that true leadership requires flexibility in changing realities. His empathy and understanding of his men’s needs created a bond of trust and loyalty. Shackleton’s leadership reminds us that it’s not just about command, but about care, compassion, and the relentless pursuit of a common goal.

I felt Shackleton’s presence while hunting for another shipwreck near Battle Harbour, Labrador. Faced with equipment challenges and a narrowing window for weather and finances, we were hours from giving up when shipwreck hunter David Mearns reminded me of an important lesson. He confidently said, “The only way you will not find this ship is if you leave now.” His confidence in our plan urged us to stick to it. Along the way, interesting targets appeared on the sonar, but David advised against deviating from the plan.

This experience reminded me of the diving mantra, “Plan your dive and dive your plan.” If you’ve put in the work to plan for success, endurance and resilience will lead you there.

In her visually stunning presentations, Jill Heinerth draws from her incredible expeditions — from desert oases of the Sahara to Baffin Bay’s cold waters — to empower audiences to reach beyond their limitations, challenge the unknown, and overcome their fears. Having led several technical and dangerous dives, Jill also shares practical lessons on risk management, failure, and the importance of trust and collaboration.

Contact us to learn more about Jill and how she leaves audiences motivated and inspired to take on any challenge ahead.