Sunday, January 12, 2014

The doomed Karluk in the ice pack 1914

Pierre Berton.  Prisoners of the North.  Anchor Canada, 2005.
The Canadian Arctic Expedition in 1914.  The largest scientific expedition to the north of its time, its aim was to sail north of the Yukon to Herschel Island, gathering data and establishing Canadian sovereignty.  It was headed by experienced arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson.  Under the category of "so what else is new?", the Canadian government decided not to opt for a new steel-hulled icebreaker, but instead equipped the expedition with an old, under-powered, wooden barkentine that had been converted into a whaling vessel in 1899.  The ship was ultimately caught in the ice, stranding the expedition.  On January 11, 1914, the hull was penetrated by the ice and the ship went down.  The captain, Bob Bartlett, stayed on the ship until the last possible moment, playing dozens of records on the ship's Victrola, ending with Chopin's "Funeral March," during the playing of which he stepped off of the ship and watched it go down.  Bartlett ultimately undertook a remarkable overland trek to get help, but most of the crew were stranded for 13 months, and 11 died, including the first and second officers.  Also dead were the 30 Huskys, but Nigeraurak, the ship's cat, survived, probably with the loss of 8 of its 9 lives. 

For more detailed information, see The Karluk Disaster.

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