Back in 1911, the stories of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and British Navy officer Robert Scott became intertwined. They didn’t know each other, but both men were determined to conquer the South Pole, a place no one had ever reached. What had started as a personal ambition to reclaim the South Pole for their respective countries, suddenly turned into a race when they found out about the plans of the other. They embarked on a mission, almost at the same time, to be the first person in one of the most remote locations on the planet. The exhibition Race to the End of the Earth, currently open at the Seaplane Harbour, is a fantastic journey through the remarkable attempt of these two people and their teams to make it to the South Pole.
The exhibition displays many of the tools, instruments, clothing and equipment that they used. It also has an enormous amount of information about the expedition: it explains how both teams got prepared, cites some excerpts of the team members’ diaries, shows the chronology of both expeditions highlighting their achievements and the hardships they endured as well as the biographies of the members of both teams. The final part of the exhibition shows the modern equipment used nowadays for trips to the Antartic as well as the research activities that take place there and the role of Estonians in them.
The layout of the exhibition is arranged so as to compare the widely different approach that both leaders of the expeditions took; for example, while Amundsen used many of the traditional techniques he had learnt from the Inuit like using sledge dogs bred in Greenland to carry their supplies thoughout the trip, Scott chose a more modern approach and relied on motorized snow vehicles and ponies as well, while relegating sledge dogs to fewer activities. These decisions proved critical to the success or failure of the expeditions, because even though both made it to the South Pole, one of the teams perished on the way back.
The story about the conquest of the South Pole is fascinating. Taking into account that by that time the technologies available were minimal and that very little was known about the Antartic, the journey that these courageous expeditioners embarked on is worthy of admiration. The rather rudimentary tools and instruments they devised like special compasses and sextants, goggles to avoid snow blindness, sleeping bags made of reindeer skin, etc., are very interesting, as well as learning about their state of mind, their feelings, their fears and the decisions they had to make to survive in one of the harshest environments a person can be in. So even though there is a lot of reading to do throughout the exhibition, it is very enjoyable and one can easily spend two hours there going through every single detail.
This exhibition is also enhanced by the place it is in. The Seaplane Harbour is a great museum by itself; formerly a seaplane hangar, it now houses a collection of ships, boats, yachts, military equipment and the jewel of the museum: a submarine. Although somewhat claustrophobic, being inside the submarine is an interesting experience; one can almost feel what it must have been like to live there, sleeping on a matress suspended right above the torpedoes and making the most out of every cubic centimeter available. In contrast, the museum is an impressive space, it is so big that it was designed in a very smart layout with three levels: air, surface and underwater. From the first (surface) level, one can see the exhibits as they would look like if a person was floating on water, whereas from the floor (underwater level), exhibits are seen from below.
A visit to the Seaplane Harbour is strongly recommended not only because of its interesting collection, but especially because of the Race to the End of the Earth exhibition, an incredible and inspiring story of determination and courage that will not be forgotten by those who see it.
The exhibition is open until April 3, 2016.
More information here.