Wooden boats. Frostbite. Dysentery. Not knowing where you’re going while being 100% cold all the time. 7:00pm. My place. BYO-1,700 litres of whisky.
Arctic explorers from the 16th to 20th century… were ridiculous. I’m not sure if you’ve been following the news lately, but an incredibly old mystery has been partially solved; One of the ships from the Franklin Expedition of 1845 was found in the Queen Maud Gulf, near King William Island. Coincidently, I just moved to the city (to put it mildly) of Iqaluit, which is on the southern tip of Baffin Island. So, the discovery of a ship of a doomed expedition from 170 years ago, now essentially in my backyard, got my rusty braingears slightly cranked over.
Needless to say, I’ve been reading up on all the (super cool only) arctic expeditions of the past. Now, I’ve been pretty enthralled my explorers of old, and I have a couple books… But this doesn’t make me any sort of expert… nor have I read said books yet, because let’s face it, I suck at reading. Not because I’m illiterate, but it’s more related to my short attention span, which is why I stick to magazine articles instead… By the time my mind wanders, I’m done reading! Huzzah! Win-win. However, lately I’ve been picking up these before-mentioned books, and wouldn’t you know it, I’m reading a little more each time.
Currently, I’m reading a book called Fatal Journey, which even though I’m only 30 pages in, I wouldn’t recommend so far. I started reading it to learn of Henry Hudson’s final journey to find the northwest passage (which ended in mutiny and was left to fend for himself in the Bay that bears his name… technically this isn’t a spoiler), which they basically covered already, and the rest of the book appears to chat about why they took the journey, which doesn’t involve as much tragic-ness and mayhem as I would’ve liked. But I’ll keep reading it, because I’m committed like that.
However, the mention of so many other explorers that were solely looking for the Northwest Passage, got me going. I mean come on, I live on Frobisher Bay for crap’s sake… Martin Frobisher being one of the first explorers paddling after the passage in the 1500s. He didn’t find it (after three tries). What he DID find was a shatload of “gold”, which he flled his boat up with and brought back to England…. Only to find it was the fooliest of minerals…. pyrite*. Fell for one of nature’s oldest tricks in the book. I’m pretty sure if I did that with any of my jobs, my career would be over.
*Pyrite being “fool’s gold”. Utterly worthless and found absolutely everywhere… Super pretty, though.
Henry Hudson being the next super man to head off in a northwesterly direction in 1609. He attempted a couple times, I believe, and utterly ended up in James Bay (just below Hudson’s Bay), where his crew said “forget you”, and dropped him and 8 others off in a rowboat, and then headed back to England in 1611. Needless to say, people were suspicious of the whole story that the “survivors” of the expedition weaved together.
Then there was the most famous and newsworthy explorer of them all… Sir John Franklin. Why he was more newsworthy than all the others, I’ll never know. I figure any explorer who’s willing to tackle the relentless hardships of the arctic, deserves equal recognition. Also, Hudson’s journey had mutiny and murder, so why not?! Regardless, Franklin’s expedition involved two ships, forever destined to explore together: the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, who set sail in May of 1845. Long story short, they were technically on the right track to finding their way through the NW Passage, however their ships were frozen in at Queen Maud Bay, which is just off the northern coast of present day Nunavut. The crew wintered for two years, where the ships never sailed again and eventually, all were lost to the winter cold.
While all of this is super fascinating to me, I kept asking myself, “After all this searching for the Northwest passage, who actually “discovered” and sailed it?”. Enter Roald Amundsen. A name I can honestly say I’ve never heard of… Know why? Probably because unlike all previous explorers, he survived.
Granted, he traveled the Passage in 1903-1906, which you think would’ve been slightly more advanced, technologically, but really it sounds like it was just a different approach that determined the outcome. For instance, Franklin (and others) embarked on his adventure with over 126 men on quite the large ship… Heavy, awkward, and full of… dudes. Amundsen, a Polish explorer, had only a fishing trawler that he had just recently purchased, named Gjoa, with a total of….. 6 men. Supposedly, one of the biggest reasons the Gjoa made it was due to the fact that the boat was small and light enough, that it could pass through the many shallow passages through the North.
So, this post turned out to be much much longer than I thought, so I’m going to end it there. There’s a little history, and just overall awesomeness…