For as long as there have been ships plying the seas, there have been enduring legends and tall tales to go along with them.  In the earliest days of seafaring, many of these elaborate stories were spread like land-based tales of ghosts and sightings of the supernatural, while others may have been constructive attempts to keep the men in line and maintain discipline, much the way Grimm’s fairy tales would have kept a six-year old from wandering off into the woods alone.

While stories like the Flying Dutchman are largely based on hearsay and speculation, the story of the Baychimo is all too real.

The Baychimo beset in the ice, somewhere in the Canadian Arctic. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

She was built in Gothenberg, Sweden in 1914 as the Ångermanelfven, and would have spent her days delivering goods between Hamburg and Sweden had it not been for the onset of World War I.  Instead, the Ångermanelfven found herself up for grabs as a war prize, with Great Britain seizing her and passing her on to the Hudson’s Bay Company, which placed her on a high-arctic run to deliver trading goods and supplies to Inuit settlements in Canada’s High Arctic, and along the Alaskan and British Columbia coasts.

With a single funnel and a low, squat profile that was unimaginative even for the time, chances are the Baychimo never turned a single head as she slowly sailed into and out of ports on the Alaskan and Pacific coasts, where larger and vastly more luxurious passenger steamers regularly called on their runs from the Orient.  But her low, squat profile would be seen in this area far longer than any other ship sailing the ocean.

On October 1, 1931, the Baychimo was heavily loaded with a cargo of furs when she became trapped in the ever-shifting Arctic pack ice.  After two days of being trapped aboard the ship, and without any sign of relief in sight, her crew made an arduous overland journey across the ice to the isolated town of Barrow, Alaska – the northernmost city in the United States.  After a few days in Barrow, word came that the ship was beginning to free herself, and the crew returned.

Only seven days later, on October 8th, Baychimo was beset in the pack ice again, this time more soundly than before.  As it became more apparent that Baychimo would remain trapped for the winter, the Hudson’s Bay Company sent an aircraft up to retrieve 22 members of the crew.  A skeleton crew of 15 would remain with the ship throughout the winter.

Because of the danger of remaining onboard a ship trapped in the ice, which can puncture or even rupture the hull without warning, the remaining crew constructed a crude wooden shelter a safe distance away from the stranded ship. Their foresight proved to be fateful: on November 24, during a ferocious blizzard, the Baychimo simply disappeared.

Assuming the ship had likely sunk during the storm, the Captain and his remaining crew were poised to return to warmer climates when an Inuit hunter they met along the way informed them the ship was indeed afloat, some 72 kilometers from where they stood.  Deciding the cargo of furs was worth their time and effort, they tracked the ship down and removed the most valuable furs before abandoning her and flying back to civilization on a plane sent by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

But the Baychimo refused to sink.

Over the next 38 years, she would be sighted numerous times.  Several people were even able to board the abandoned vessel, but all would be unable to free her. She was seen drifting as far south as the Alaskan coast, and was last sighted in 1969, trapped once again in pack ice between Point Barrow and Icy Cape.

While the ship has been presumed to have sunk in the ensuing years, in 2006 the Alaskan Government began to search for the ship, hoping to find it either adrift or on the ocean floor.

To this day, her fate remains unknown.

From the Deck Chair will return tomorrow with some exciting news…and a new upcoming Live Voyage Report!

 

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