Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New Search for Erebus and Terror

As we are approaching late July, I started wondering how Parks Canada's search for the Erebus and Terror was progressing. At this time of year Lieutenant Schwatka's expedition witnessed the ice break up in Victoria Straight. Expedition member Heinrich Klutschak wrote that on July 24 the ice near Erebus Bay began to fracture and pile up on shore. However Klutschak does not make it clear how much, if any, water was opened at the time.

The bad news is that Parks Canada's search has been called off since the designated ice breaker is needed elsewhere (understandable and somewhat expected). The good news is that a private search expedition Finding Franklin 2009 (pdf file) is scheduled to start shortly and will try to search the bottom of Victoria Straight, to the northwest of Victory Point. The area is known as "Larson Sound." The search team plans to use side scan sonar and forego any metal detecting.

There seems to be a good probability that one of the ships went down somewhere West or northwest of Adelaide Peninsula to the South of KWI. This ship is sometimes referred to as the "Utjulik" wreck. Over the span of decades, the Inuit told and retold a story about boarding a deserted ship in this area. This would account for the location of one ship with the other generally presumed to lie somewhere in Victoria Straight.

Robert Grenier, leading the (now stalled) Parks Canada search, outlined a plan to estimate the drift of the ships down from the north of KWI and towards the RGS Islands. This estimated drift path would then be used to define a search area. This method has always been my first choice though it is expensive.

If the second Franklin ship was crushed by the ice what traces could we expect to find? Would it be nothing but a debris field? Or more intact like the Breadalbane (side scan sonar image)? Or perhaps somewhere in between?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Jens Munk's 1619 Expedition

A translation of Jens Munk's account can be downloaded from Google Books: Danish Arctic Expeditions 1605 to 1620, by C. C. A. Gosch 1897.

I became aware Danish explorer Jens Munk when reading "Dead Silence." The story is amazing. Munk's expedition left Denmark in 1619 with the goal of locating the northwest passage. The expedition sailed into Hudson Bay where their progress was halted by ice. Munk and his men were forced to winter over. It was not long before the expedition experienced a severe outbreak of scurvy. Munk himself became so ill that he wrote a farewell letter (included in the book).

Eventually the ice broke up in the summer of 1620 allowing a very few survivors to sail back to Denmark. Only Munk and two others survived the expedition.

This was almost the first arctic expedition to be completely wiped out. One hundred years later James Knight's expedition would become the first arctic expedition to be lost with all hands. The expedition of Sir John Franklin met a similar end in the 1840s.

Munk's expedition gives some insight into what life might have been like for the very last Franklin survivors. The tale of a handful of scurvy stricken men trying to sail out of danger is similar to some evidence of the Franklin expedition's end.