The stern of the ship is out of the dark. The wooden rails are made of soft wood, and one pale anemone clings to the plank. As the camera moves closer, the shape of a star rises from the gloom, and a word on the ship beneath the anemone's white fronds becomes legible.

On March 5th, the expedition team from the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust located Ernest Shackleton's ship, which had been lying on the bed of anAntarctic sea for over 100 years. As I watched the video released by the expedition, I followed it all from my desk. As I sat there, I wondered why I care so much about this.

My obsession with historical polar exploration began during the early part of 2021. Stan Rogers is a Canadian folk musician. John Franklin led a doomed expedition in 1845 to discover the fabled Northwest Passage, which was supposed to take him to the Pacific Ocean. It tells of the two ships of Franklin's expedition, theHMS Terror and theHMS Erebus,tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage. Franklin and his crew died when their ships became locked in the ice.

I listened to that song over and over again. I lost a lot of time listening to it. There is a novel based on this expedition. There were books to read, websites to browse, and other polar expeditions to discover. I was hooked.

I pored over maps of parts of the Earth I had never seen before, parts carelessly pinched on maps by the Mercator projection, because who could need to see these regions, where unimaginably huge swaths of nothing were? The promise of adventure. I lay in my bed each night, listening to Rogers's song and the story it told, knowing in those last moments that you should not stray too far from where man should be. I'm with you if that sounds overblown. I get a kind of poetry poisoning from polar narratives. They bring part of me to the surface.

I'm not the only one. It is possible to get addicted to the poles. There are many stories of people going to hell and finding they can't stay away. Franklin's doomed trip north in 1845 was not his first: on an 1819 expedition to the Canadian Arctic, more than half of his party died of starvation or exhaustion. He came back. Science usually accounts for arcane magnetisms in these places. I am not the first person to wonder why that should be.

I want to yell at strangers when I read things like the epitaph on the monument to Franklin. There is a dome. The sea is called the Beaufort Sea. The Brunt Ice Shelf has ice on it. Repulse Bay. Come on!

Is it a hunger for something bad? Many narratives are horror stories. One sailor lost his mind so much that he tried to walk across the ice to get back to Belgium. I am not a fan of horror. I don't think there is an appetite for stories of derring do. The idea of the glory of exploration is absurd, especially in the case of the Inuit who have been living in the area for thousands of years.

I think that I am most interested in the polar expeditions that failed. They are not stories of people plundering and bringing back the spoils of a foreign land. The tables were turned on them. In some cases, the explorers' bodies became the spoils of the foreign land, and the foreign land kept them.

I find accounts of men coming to terms with the reversal of fortunes, often with extraordinary forbearance. We knew we took them. The explorer Robert Falcon Scott wrote in his diary that things have come out against him and that he has no reason to complain.

The irresistible draw of the unknown is what keeps me coming back to polar stories. Hester, a lifelong polar fanatic, was asked what had held her attention for so long. She said that people had the idea that there might be something else over the rim of the Earth.

All these men are trying to answer a question: what lies beyond the world we know? In the case of the Franklin voyage to the Northwest Passage, the ships they sailed in became answers to their own questions. The Erebus and the Terror were lost for more than a century.

If polar landscapes make us think of space, polar wrecks make us think of time. Life feels rushed and chaotic on a daily basis. There is something bracing about knowing that there are parts of the world where time doesn't last very long, and that a ship can sit in perfect cold and silence for a hundred years. It is like looking at a diamond, it is evidence of the inconceivable expanse of time, cold and beautiful.

  • West-Knights is based in London.