( 1906 -1962 )
BUILT: 1906. G.BROWN & CO. GREENOCK. SCOTLAND
DISPLACEMENT : 467 tonnes.
ARMAMENT : 1 HOTCHKISS 37MM CANON
ENGINE POWER: 350 IHP
TOP SPEED: 10 KNOTS
LENGTH: 120 FEET
BEAM : 23 FEET
WITHDRAWN FROM ACTIVE SERVICE : 1945
CAPTAIN: LUIS ALBERTO PARDO VILLALON ( 1882-1935 )
DUTY : PILOT TUG
The S.S. Yelcho arrives at Valparaiso 27th September.1916. ( photo. By permission of the National Library of Australia. )
Once Shackleton had arrived back at South Georgia he immediately set about trying to organize the rescue of the 22 men left stranded behind on Elephant Island.
Between 23rd May 1916 and 31st August 1916 he made four attempts to return to Elephant Island and secure their rescue:
1. Southern Sky
(Loaned by English Whaling Co.)
23rd - 31st May 1916
2. Instituto de Pesco No1
(loaned by the Government of Equador)
10th - 16th June 1916
( Sealer, funded by the British Club. Punta Arenas)
12th July – 8th August 1916
(loaned by the Government of Chile)
25th August – 3rd September 1916
Shackleton’s first three attempts had failed due to bad weather and adverse ice conditions. By early August 1916 he was desperate to reach his men and was offered a small steam tug by the Chilean Government, the S.S Yelcho . Captained by one Luis Alberto Pardo Villalon.
The Yelcho was totally unsuited for the job in hand, having no Radio, no proper heating system, no electric lighting and no double hull.
This time luck was with Shackleton , as the Yelcho some how managed to find a safe passage through the ice and arrived at a mist covered Elephant Island at around 1:10pm. on August 30th 1916.
Shackleton would not risk landing on the island himself and instead stayed on one of the landing boats close enough to the shore to be able to throw packets of cigarettes to the men massed on the shoreline. He insisted that all were evacuated immediately before the ice started to close in again. By 2:10pm all 22 men were safely on board the Yelcho. Once on board food was arranged and many of the men happily chain- smoked having been without any real tobacco for some considerable time.
Years later, Charlie Green the cook on the Endurance was to write :
“ Shackleton sent me down to the galley to do the cooking – for all their crowd and our crowd too. That was a bit thick I thought ! They had some live sheep aboard and the captain ordered them to be killed. Well, his chef was slicing pieces of meat off and cooking it like bacon. But I chopped the things up and put them in the oven, in three or four sections. They all joined in doing the potatoes and then I made a dumpling and put an onion in it. They couldn’t understand what it was! Then the boss told me to make some puddings. I must have made twelve pounds of macaroni cheese. They all went down well – and then everybody was sick!!
“Dr. Macklin told me afterwards, “That’s just what they needed, Green, that’s cleared their stomachs!”
The 23 crew of The Yelcho that fateful day was:
Captain : Luis Alberto Pardo Villalon.
2nd in Command : Leon Aguirre Romero.
Chief Engineer : Jorge L. Valenzuela Mesa.
2nd Engineer : Jose Beltran Gamarra.
Engineers : Nicolas Munoz Molina and Manuel Blackwood.
Firemen : Herbito Cariz Caramo. Juan Vera Jara. Pedro Chaura. Pedro Soto Nunez. Luis Contreras Castro.
Guard : Manuel Ojeda. Ladislao Gallego Trujillo. Hopolito Aries. Jose Leiva Chacon. Antonio Colin Parada.
Foreman : Jose Munoz Tellez.
Blacksmith : Froilan Cabana Rodriguez
Seamen : Pedro Pairo. Jose del C. Galindo. Florentino Gonzalez Estay. Clodomiro Aguero Soto.
Cabin Boy : Bautista Ibarra Carvajal.
So it was that the Yelcho with her crew of 23 and cargo of 25 men from Shackleton’s expedition ( McNish, Vincent and McCarthy were already on their way home to England) , headed back to Chile and on 3rd September 1916 stood off Rio Seco whilst Shackleton , always the one to seek publicity, telephoned the Governor of Punta Arenas to forewarn him of their imminent arrival. Shackleton made sure that none of the men shaved or cut their hair ,and that they wore their tattered soot covered clothing . Presumably he wanted the outside world to appreciate just what these men had been through.
The welcome they received on arriving at Punta Arenas was unbelievable. Almost the entire population had turned out to welcome them . This was to be nothing compared to the reception they received when the Yelcho arrived at Valparaiso on 27th September. At least 30,000 people thronged around the harbour and nearby streets. Shackleton wrote “ Everything that could swim in the way of a boat was out to meet us “.The Captain of the Yelcho , Luis Pardo had played a great part in the rescue and was quite rightly honoured in his home country of Chile and also by the British Government.
Luis , it seems was a modest man and it is believed that he declined a reward of £25000 ( an absolute fortune at the time ) from the British Government . He said that he had “simply done his duty”. He became a friend of Shackleton, and between
1930 – 1934 was the Chilean Consul to Liverpool . Quite an honour as at that time Liverpool was the greatest sea-port in Europe if not the world.
The Yelcho was retired from active Navy duty in 1945, but was still used as a ship’s tender at the Chilean School for Cabin Boys until 1958. In 1962 she was sold off, presumably for scrap, but her bow remains in the town which is closer than any other to Antarctica, Puerto Williams, Chile.
Shackleton in Punta Arenas, 1916
Rescue from Elephant Island -- Official Chilean Navy Report (original in Spanish)
« A piloto diestro, no hay mar siniestro. »
[old Chilean nautical saying -- literally: «To a skilled pilot, there are no dangerous seas.»]
To the Commander of the Naval Station, Punta Arenas
Report of 2nd Pilot Luis A. Pardo; Patrol Boat "Yelcho"
Punta Arenas, 5 September 1916. No. 23
I have the honour to inform you of the operation carried out by this patrol boat at Elephant Island to rescue the marooned men of Sir [Ernest] Shackleton's expedition.
On Friday at 12:15 A.M., I left this port on a course for Picton, entering the Magdalene Channel and other passes at dawn, anchoring at 5 P.M. the same day at Port Burne without incident.
On Saturday at 6:30 A.M. the journey was continued with good weather, anchoring uneventfully at 5 P.M. at Ushuaia. At this port Sir [Ernest] Shackleton and his two companions were very well looked after, and they returned well pleased to the ship.
On Sunday at 6:30 A.M. I left for Picton Island where I anchored uneventfully at 11:15 A.M. A Guard and equipment were sent ashore; immediately thereafter we started to load coal. I took on board 300 sacks: the bunkers were filled and the rest stayed on deck. At 3:30 A.M. this task was completed and I left immediately at high tide; the weather was very good and the barometer stayed high and steady.
On Monday we proceeded without incident, at a steady ten knots. The weather could not have been better. The barometer remained high and the wind a little fresh from the S.W.. After the corresponding astronomical observations at midday, the journey was resumed without change of course.
The night was starry and the horizon quite clear, the barometer remained above 762 and the temperature was 3 degrees, with a current from the S.E..
On Tuesday we proceeded in the same conditions as the previous day; after making the astronomical observations, it was confirmed that there was no need to alter course. The temperature began to fall steadily, until at midnight it was 9 to 10 degrees below zero. The current continued in the same direction. At 5 P.M. we entered the dangerous zone of fogs. These are generally not continuous since, despite their permanent presence in this region, they move according to the direction of the wind, always leaving a few minutes of clear visibility in which the horizon is visible at 2 to 5 miles. At 11:30 P.M. the fog was thick and constant, so that it was necessary to reduce speed to 3 knots.
Conditions remained unchanged until 5 A.M. Wednesday, when the fog was less thick, with visibility of one mile, permitting full speed ahead. Although we were inside the dangerous zone, not only on account of the breakers and unknown shallows, but also the fog and icebergs, maintaining this speed was considered a lesser risk than not to arrive that same day at the camp on the island, when the night would have taken us by surprise and disoriented us.
At 8 A.M. we met the first small icebergs. At 9:30 A.M. we were in the zone of large icebergs. At 10:40 A.M. we made out the first breakers of the Elephant Island Channel. At 11:10 A.M. we recognized the Seak-Rkse [sic. Seal Rocks] at approximately 2½ miles distance. A keen lookout was maintained all about the vessel to give adequate warning of the large icebergs which formed a doubly high, blackish screen on the prow and sides; this due to the combination of fog and solar refraction.
In this manner we continued rounding the island until 1:30 P.M., when, to the great rejoicing of all, the marooned men were seen located in a hollow, with a prominent, large glacier on one side and, on the other, prominent snowy peaks, characteristic of this island. On approaching the indicated point, we could hear the cries of rejoicing and the hurrahs! of these castaways.
A boat was sent ashore under the command of Sir [Ernest] Shackleton, who was received by them with great shouts of joy. When the first boatload of people, with some bundles, were brought on board, they cheered Chile and its government. The same occurred with the second boat which went to fetch the rest of the people.
At 2:25 P.M. all the people were on board and the boat had been raised; course was then set for the north. At 4 P.M. we had Seak-Rkse [sic. Seal Rocks] in view and at 9 P.M. we left the most dangerous zone, still with fog, the barometer high and low temperatures.
On Thursday at 8 P.M. the wind turned to the N.W. and the barometer began to fall; during the night the sea became rough; the weather turned foul, causing us a lot of trouble, and accompanying us as far as the entrance to the Strait.
On Friday the mist prevented us from taking the Beagle Channel, so I decided to continue and take the Strait.
On Saturday at 6 P.M. we spotted Dungeness Lighthouse and Cape Virgins; I steered for Dungeness, intent on announcing our arrival. Once near, I saw that it was impossible to send a boat ashore, owing to the strong W. wind and rough sea: therefore, I continued on my way, anchoring uneventfully at 4 A.M. Sunday in Río Seco, from where I announced to you our safe arrival, bringing the 22 castaways.
At 10:30 A.M. I left [for Punta Arenas],anchoring normally at 11:30 A.M. at this port.
I take this opportunity to draw to your attention that this commission was brought to a happy conclusion by the efficient cooperation of the officers who accompanied me; by the Purser who enthusiastically helped attend to the 22 persons accommodated in the Officer's Mess, whose lack of conveniences made the task harder; not to mention the Ship's Engineer, who was always on duty and faithfully obeyed commands.
Regarding the crew, the greater part were from the "Yañez", who accompanied me voluntarily: their enthusiasm and zeal to serve are worthy of praise and has earned them the congratulation of their commanders.
I close this with a list of the 25 castaways of Sir [Ernest] Shackleton's expedition. [follows]
2nd Pilot Luis A. Pardo
Sources (in Spanish):
(1) "La Hazaña del Piloto Pardo", Impactos 93, Punta Arenas, 1997
(2) "Revista de Marina", another version (pdf)
The Bow of the Yecho
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