There are more famous names than Tom Crean’s from the “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration, but there are few stories as compelling as his. The Antarctic is a harsh place of bitter cold and darkness, where only the strong and resourceful can hope to survive. Crean was such a man. Time and again he was one of three--at times the only one--whose courage in the face of insurmountable odds saved the lives of his companions.
Had he weakened and failed the lives of all might well have been lost, and their stories remained untold. He left no diary or book; his few letters speak modestly of his exploits, if at all. Sailor on Ice: Tom Crean tells the story of a common man in uncommon circumstances, who met every challenge as it came with steadfast purpose. If he knew fear, he never showed it. Sailor on Ice goes with him from England to the Antarctic plateau, and back. We share his trials as they happen—the thrill of discovery, the danger of the sea-ice, the terror of extreme isolation, the tragedy of the deaths of his closest friends.
Tom Crean was not most renowned of the explorers during those early years of Antarctic discovery. For that, the palms go to Shackleton, Amundsen, and Scott, with the names of other leaders not far behind. Other men, better educated and connected, would publish the stories of hardship and adventure that astonished the world. Crean’s name is occasionally mentioned in these works, as it should be; his was a distinguished career of service, not as a leader, but as a seaman. His story is not one of trial and privation leading to a tragic end, because without one man’s endurance and unflinching resolve in the face of hopeless adversity, there would be no survivors. The familiar names belong to those who claimed to lead, but those who lead are nothing without those who come a few steps behind, hauling the gear, pitching the camp, walking the long walk, steadfast, enduring. Without them, there would be no leaders. There would be no survivors, and no story to be told.