Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 24, 1931

Ghost ships are the stuff of legends and Halloween stories. But some ghosts are real...




The S.S. Baychimo


The Baychimo was a small, sturdy, freighter owned by the Hudson Bay Company. Her job was to travel the coast of Victoria Island in the Canadian arctic, trading supplies with the local Inuit people for valuable fur pelts. She worked during the area's brief open water season (July to September) spending the rest of the year in Vancouver.

The winter of 1931 came early, and Baychimo was frozen in ice several times while returning home. By mid-October she was stuck fast near Point Barrow, Alaska. Most of her crew were evacuated by aircraft (the first time a long-range air rescue was accomplished).




The Baychimo trapped in ice, November, 1931.


A group of hardy souls decided to stay with her until the spring thaw, as they'd collected a particularly valuable fur cargo that year. They built a shelter ashore, and settled in for several months of night.

On November 24 an exceptionally violent blizzard struck, surprising even the arctic veterans with its ferocity. In the morning, mountains of ice 70 feet high were piled where the ship had been. The Baychimo was gone, crushed under tons of ice and snow and sent to the bottom.

Or so they thought...

The men radioed for rescue, but it would take a few days. As they waited a passing Inupiat told them the ship was adrift several miles down the coast. They set out on foot, finding her again trapped in ice. They took as many pelts as they could before returning to the shelter. Another violent storm was coming, and they assumed it would sink her.

The Baychimo had other ideas.

The second storm pushed her out of the ice and into the open sea, free to wander the icy north alone.

Over the next several years she was infrequently seen, and rarely boarded. Some of the valuable furs were even removed. But no one was able to bring her in. Attempts to restart her engines failed, and storms (which some claimed the ship had summoned) always drove would-be salvagers away. In one harrowing case a group of Inupiat boarded her, only to have a sudden storm trap them on the derelict for 10 days.

She was seen every few years, and each time the assumption was made that it would be the last. Only to have her show up again. Scientists, hunters, and fishermen. Inupiat tribe members. Russian, American, & Canadian ships and planes. All reported her at one time or another as she wandered the Arctic waters.

She was last seen in the Beaufort Sea in 1969, having survived 38 years afloat and alone in one of the world's harshest environments.

Today it's assumed she's at the bottom, and I suspect they're right. But who knows? Alaska has begun trying to catalog the estimated 4000 wrecks along the state's shores, and maybe she'll be found.

Or maybe not.

14 comments:

Flavius said...

I liked this one, gave me a bit of the spookies!

-Flavius

The Mother said...

Now, that's a good ghost story!

clairesmum said...

a tribute to the shipbuilders of days gone by, and to the vagaries of Mother Nature, whose processes we seek to understand but will never fully comprehend or reproduce.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

The Baychimo herself had an interesting history.

She was built in 1914 in Sweden, for a German company. After WWI she was given to Britain as part of war reparations, who in turn sold her to the Hudson Bay Company.

So if you think about, she floated for at least 55 years, 38 of them without any maintenance, in one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth.

me said...

Wonderful story ~ TFS!

Mari-Ann said...

You are such a wonderful writer. When is the novel coming out?

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Thank you!

I wish I had time to write one!

Seeds in the City. said...

Fantastic story, I loved it! Will be sharing this with family on TDay.

ERP said...

They don't build 'em like that any more.

Anonymous said...

awesome story, grumpy. doctor not a shipwright, but i bet a hull designed for baltic shoals and ice had a shallow draught rounded hull. a dangerous puke bucket in a sea, but able to ride up and avoid being crushed in arctic sea ice. but why did you edit? did the terms sweden, baltic, germany, wwi, or reparations offend someone?

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Wasn't edited, I just left it out, as it wasn't part of the main story. That's all.

Anonymous said...

sorry, my brain got confused between what i learned from the post and the comment. oops. on call brain. happy thanksgiving.

Rhamantus said...

You write up the most interesting history lessons! Where do you find out about all this stuff? :)

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Random reading over the course of a lifetime.

 
Locations of visitors to this page