Saunders Carmichael-Brown is an award winning digital and broadcast presenter who was an integral part of the small media team on the 2022 Endurance Antarctic Expedition that found Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous shipwreck. A feature documentary made about the expedition from his media team has since been commissioned by National Geographic.
We are delighted to have Saunders joining us as a Special Guest on Deep Weddell following Nordenskjöld, departing 24 March, 2024. We sat down with him to find out more about his fascination with the early explorers, his highlights from the landmark expedition, the challenges his media team faced broadcasting from one of the most remote places on earth, and what expeditioners joining him in Antarctica can expect to learn from him.
Have you always been interested in polar history and the early explorers?
The world of adventure has always fascinated me – in particular stories of discovery, pushing human limits and going to the most remote areas of our planet. The age of discovery and the turn of the 20th century has been a point of interest since learning about Robert Falcon Scott’s expeditions to the south pole at school, but this turned into a true obsession once I learned about the Shackleton story and the Endurance shipwreck. When I heard the news that there would be an expedition to find the lost ship, I had to know everything about it.
It was only before leaving for the expedition when talking to my aunt that I discovered I was related to a member of Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition. My great uncle was Victor Hayward, a crew member on the Aurora, the supply ship on the other side of the continent in the Ross Sea charged with leaving supply drops for Shackleton and his men for the crossing. Three crew members, including my relative, didn’t survive the ordeal. The Ross Sea party are a part of the Endurance story often left out.
What is it about Shackleton's tale that people find so captivating?
It’s honestly one of – if not the greatest – survival stories of all time. The idea of being able to survive in such treacherous and inhospitable conditions for the length of time they did defies all understanding. But to then also launch a death-defying small boat crossing of almost 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) over the most storm-ridden sea on the planet, only to then traverse a mountain range to reach help… there really isn’t any other story like it. The genius of other crew members, namely photographer and cinematographer Frank Hurley, who was able to capture the events as they unfolded and bring it to life, and Frank Worsley, arguably the greatest navigator to have ever sailed, just add more intrigue to the story. With Shackleton himself there’s so much to explore, including his showmanship, chancery and leadership, which combine to make him one of the most iconic characters in the age of exploration.
How did you come to be on the 2022 Endurance Antarctic Expedition?
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that everything I had done previously in my career came together to allow me the greatest opportunity I’ve had to date. I’m somewhat of a jack of many trades, with expertise in diverse fields. My skills in videography, directing, producing, social and digital media creation, editing, drone piloting, combined with a passion for travel, adventure, the sea and climate change, meant that when the media team of six was being assembled, my ability to take on different roles made me the perfect fit. My experience as a digital and broadcast presenter also allowed me to be the face of the expedition across certain social channels and educational documentaries.
Were you confident that you would find the shipwreck?
The team was confident that the shipwreck would be in the search box suggested by marine archaeologist Mensun Bound, however getting to that box and being able to search the area was no guarantee. In truth, the odds were very much against us. Constantly moving sea ice, icebergs and pack ice made it difficult to stay on top of search locations and a change in weather or ice movements could have jeopardised the mission at any point. I personally always had a positive outlook as the idea of coming back empty handed was too painful to accept.
What did the discovery mean to people who tuned in from around the world?
The Endurance is known by the shipwreck community as second only to the Titanic in terms of the most interesting and sought after wrecks. So in that regard it was one of the largest historical discoveries of the past few decades, if not longer. We were able to engage so many people in the story of Shackleton and the Endurance that finding it allowed history to continue and bring back to life one of the greatest survival stories ever. Finding the Endurance connected the modern day world with that of the age of polar discovery.
The discovery was also a welcome change amongst the awful news coming out of Ukraine at the time. Most of the broadcasters we sent content to were grateful to have a positive news story to tell. It was a timely reminder of what a crew of more than 10 nationalities can achieve when working together, and what humans can achieve for good.
What were your highlights and favourite memories from the expedition?
Every day was an adventure, filled with the the unique sound of the ship breaking through ice, the huge waves of the southern ocean, an abundance of wildlife and a talented crew hailing from all over the world. It was a privilege to bring this story to such a large global audience while being part of the story myself. Among my favourite memories are the camaraderie between the crew and the incredible wealth of knowledge and skills – one day I would be having dinner with a helicopter pilot and the next morning it would be breakfast with one of the world’s leading ice scientists. The days we were able to step out on to the ice and engage with the scientific work and meteorology were highlights, as were the countless wildlife encounters with whales, seals and Emperor and Adelie penguins, playing football on the sea ice as Shackleton and his men did, experiencing the conditions as they did, and being in places where few, if any, had stood before.
What challenges did you face trying to broadcast the expedition from one of the most remote places on earth?
The challenges involved in creating content varied, from operating cameras in -36°C (-33°F) to natural obstacles like white-out days, pack ice temporarily trapping the ship, and not being able to get to certain areas because of the ice or weather. We were working 24 hours a day as a team on shifts, as were the sub-sea team trying to locate the wreck, so keeping positive and motivated was a challenge as the days passed.
Other challenges involved satellite communication and difficulties sending content back to the UK, news outlets and broadcasters. There were days where we had no connection, or the ship was forced to face in the wrong direction because of ice, blocking our signal.
What was your biggest achievement on the expedition?
Directing, producing and shooting a three-part history documentary fronted by Dan Snow on Shackleton and the Endurance from the locations of the original story. While talking about death-defying sea voyages we were in the midst of a storm in the southern ocean; while talking about the icy conditions they faced we were surrounded by sea ice; while talking about the wreck we were 3000 metres (10,000 feet) above it.
Personally it challenged me as a creative and professional in such a rewarding and inspiring way. I was able to learn a great deal about other areas that interest me, from everything from climate change to ship technology, from specialists and leaders in their fields.
Tell us more about your credentials in climate science and sustainability.
Climate change and sustainability started as interests, developed into passions and now they are obsessions. In addition to a certification in Global Science and Climate Change from the University of Pennsylvania, I have completed several corporate sustainability courses which led me into a role as a sustainably consultant for the media industry. This role involves helping agencies and production companies operate with reduced impact and finding pathways for more sustainable operations. Since doing this I have helped many companies become carbon neutral and set them on a rapid pathway to net-zero and B-Corp certification. My work in this space has given me a firm understanding of human-caused climate change and what individuals and companies need to do to hit science-based targets and reduce their impact.
Why do you want to go back to Antarctica?
My first visit left my hungry for more. I want to keep learning and continue sharing stories from this fascinating place and educating others. This is especially important now, more than ever, because of the rate the region is changing and the impacts this will have on the the rest of the world.
I’m also looking forward to experiencing this surreal location from the comfort of an incredible and luxurious ship, the Sylvia Earle. It will also be a nice change not having to work 24 hour shifts and share a bunk bed cabin!
What can expeditioners onboard expect from you?
Expeditioners joining Saunders on Deep Weddell following Nordenskjöld interested in polar history will enjoy learning about Shackleton, the Endurance and the historic expedition that found the ship. Through my stories I will help bring the epic survival story to life for expeditioners. I will also be on hand to help expeditioners capture their most memorable moments on camera and video in the challenging environments we visit.
Join Saunders on Deep Weddell following Nordenskjöld
Brace yourself for unforgettable adventures as we navigate as far as possible into the Weddell Sea on this exploratory expedition following in the footsteps of Nordenskjöld’s Swedish Antarctic Expedition (1901-04). Be entranced as our onboard experts bring to life the remarkable story of Nordenskjöld and his men, who spent two years exploring this region in a grand adventure to rival Shackleton’s Endurance expedition for its feats of survival against unthinkable odds. Be awestruck by abundant wildlife – from minke and humpback whales to porpoising penguins to ice seals. Experience the enormity of Antarctic ice and horn your photography skills capturing enormous glaciers and icebergs in various shades of blue.
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