Endurance by
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In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackelton and his crew sailed The Endurance to the Antarctic. It was crushed in the ice pack and sank in the Weddell Sea but all of her crew survived. Frank Hurley, the photographer onboard, captured incredible photographs of the entire experience.

My husband is fascinated by this story and has read at length about it, hoping some day to travel to that region. For his 70th birthday last May, our son David gave him a model of the ship to build.

As a middle-schooler, Dan made a wooden salad bowl that his mother used her entire life, and a set of shelves that even now resides in our basement. When David left for graduate school at Columbia, the two went to IKEA in Red Hook and bought the requisite furniture for his apartment, which Dan helped him assemble, but he had never undertaken a task like building this ship model.

This was not a beginner model. It came from Spain with limited instructions and no tools. At every turn, Dan discovered he had to buy more, or he made a mistake and had to try to undo something that was glued in place. He has invested hundreds of dollars in tools, paint, and other random items along the way so far. He keeps digging into my sewing kit for needles, thread and I’ve taught him the joys of a needle threader. He’s broken three so far.

His July 1st accident meant he was too injured to even begin. The basic sawing/sanding motion hurt his broken neck, but here is what the model looked like in early September, as he worked on the hull.

He packed everything up when he returned to Newton in November, set up work space in the basement (very happy this did not wind up on the dining room table – he dripped black paint on the basement carpet). He was obsessed. He would be there, working for hours each day. He set up his iPad so he could run a video of how the next step should look because the written instructions were so poor.

By Thanksgiving, it looked like this.

You can see the iPad to the right rear, paint can, glue, good lighting above the model. He estimates that he has 300-400 hours into the model. He continued to work right up until the time we left for London in early December. He wanted to have a good quality photo to show David how far he’d gotten and how much he appreciated the thoughtful gift. It also gave him something to do as his injuries healed. He hadn’t built the life boats or rigging, but had completed the rest of the ship by December 6, 2021, the day before we left for London for a month, to celebrate my birthday with our family and await the birth of our granddaughter.

With flags flying, she looks ship-shape. Some small part he ordered, which came from Australia, arrived while we were gone. Since we were not home to sign for the delivery (he had waited weeks for it – supply chain issues), it was returned across the world.

Now, he has hit the doldrums. He needed a few items, but they weren’t available at the local craft store. I drove the half hour to a sewing store to pick them up, but he hasn’t returned to do more work. It is unclear if he will. The ship looks great as is, and Dan says some people never set up the sails (which is complicated and delicate work).

So the model sits amid the tools, needles, thread, glue, paint and other paraphernalia…waiting for resolution.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    What an amazing project — certainly worthy of the endeavor it honors (bad pun intended). And as someone who has made models over the years, but not well, I am in awe of what Dan has already done. I hope he finishes after all this effort, but would understand if he did not. (I still have not dared to begin the intricate model of the Mets’ Citi Field that my daughters gave me many months ago.)

    Not vintage pictures this time, of course, but, as always, your recent pictures beautifully illustrate your story — and the Endeavor.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, John. He was telling me last night how he plans to get it to MV in one piece so he can continue working on it, though he had it set up on the dining room table last summer. We will have lots of company this summer, so I’m not sure we will want the work set up in such a public space. Maybe it is now better suited for the garage. We shall see.

  2. Ah Betsy, what a great story about a well-named rig!

    Wishing Dan – and you – endurance until all is ship-shape!

  3. This is so beyond anything I could even think about doing! It’s truly amazing. WIth our without the final resolution. What a thoughtful and generous gift from you, so well-timed, given his circumstances. Wow.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I agree that he has done an amazing job, Dale. He sees every flaw, but is starting to believe that it truly looks good. It was a gift from our son, David (who lives in London) for Dan’s big birthday, which was 5 weeks before the accident. I’ve just supplied some of the tools (like the needles and thread), though he’s had to figure out most on his own.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    I admire the persistence needed—maybe it has helped him through his recovery too. Nothing like something to get lost in, using your skill and concentration with a goal in mind. I hope someday he might visit those places where the Endurance went, but the pictures that were taken on that voyage are wonderful and the story is vivid, so the imagination can take it from there. Impressive model, even if sails never get added.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I think you are correct, Khati. Working on the model did give him something to really concentrate on, rather than just being unhappy that about all the things he couldn’t do yet. He does talk about going to Antartica. Perhaps someday he will. We have seen Hurley’s large-scale photoghraphs from the expedition at the Royal Geographic Society in London. They are astonishing.

      • Khati Hendry says:

        Hey Betsy, I am sure you are well aware, but they just FOUND the ENDURANCE at the bottom of the Weddell Sea. Dan must be enjoying the high resolution pictures coming out. Pretty amazing.

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          Thanks, Khati. Dan saw the story on Monday, Vicki texted us at 3:45am, Dan’s sister at 7:30am, Chas also sent me the NYT article. What an amazing find. Dan says that because the water is cold (and salty), it is perfectly preserved. He can’t wait to see more as it comes up.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I’m impressed Dan got as far as he did. I’ll bet he will finish it someday. That’s quite an undertaking!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      He just told me that he was not happy with the photos that I used. He didn’t think they showed off the ship in it’s best light. But I do think it looks great now and that he will finish it later this year. He just needs to get back in the right frame of mind.

  6. Jeff Gerken says:

    I have thought about doing a model like that, but I already have too many projects on my list. I admire your husband’s tenacity.

  7. Marian says:

    I hope Dan can finish the model, Betsy, and it’s awesome in its current condition as well. What a tribute to persistence. That spirit must be helping Dan to recover as well. We’ll look forward to the model’s progress.

  8. Suzy says:

    As everyone else has already said, this was a great project, and the work he has done on it is truly amazing. I do hope he puts the sails on, but it would be perfectly understandable if he decided not to. Sorry he isn’t happy with the photos you used – you could challenge him to take better ones, saying you will substitute them in if you like them.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Suzy, Dan almost never reads my stories. He only saw this one because a mutual friend who receives my weekly email with the link responded to both of us, so Dan saw the link and actually read the story (and didn’t think the photos captured the ship very well). We talked about the project over dinner. He asked what comments came in. I told him that people were impressed with his perseverance. He said he’d thought about that. He isn’t by nature a patient person, but had to have a lot of it to stick with this project and it really does show in the amount of work he did get done and the astonishing details. As for the photos…well, that’s just the way it is. I wasn’t going to move the ship without his approval and the photo of it on the dining room table was taken while he was also photographing it to show to David before we went to London. He hasn’t touched it since.

  9. Jim Willis says:

    Wow, Betsy, what a testament to Dan’s persistence, determination, and talent! Thanks for sharing this saga!

  10. I’d say Dan came very close to completion. Perhaps he was willing the memories of Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition to complete their voyage. He certainly got far enough to make the Endurance look seaworthy. An admirable undertaking! Be careful. Don’t let him watch any episodes of NCIS. In his spare time, the series’ lead character, Leroy Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon, assembles a small flotilla of full-sized boats, working only with hand tools. As a carpenter, I can testify that he’s using the tools correctly, but we never learn how he gets his hand-made vessels out of the basement. So beware of NCIS!

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