Tuesday 21 August 2012

One Ocean Expeditions - Northwest Passage - Beechey Island

Ship: M/V Akademik Ioffe
Operator: One Ocean Expeditions
Itinerary: Northwest Passage 12-26 August 2012

Date: Mon 20 August 2012. Temp: 3°C
Location: Beechey Island, Nunavut, Canada.
74deg 42.3'N, 091deg 45.8'W
Distance travelled: 1475NM

Ioffe landed here just after breakfast and we spent some time walking into a stiff and chilly breeze pondering the fate of the many men who came here on such a fruitless search and of those who never saw home again.

Forlorn Beechey Island is the last resting place for three of Franklin's men who died in early 1846 during the expedition's first winter as they camped on this desolate shore. A fourth grave was added ten years later when one of the men from the search vessel, Investigator, died. Beechey Island is technically not really an island as a sandy spit joins it to the much larger Devon Island on the northern perimeter of Lancaster Sound.

Beechey has become something of a shrine for mariners and adventurers with many makeshift cairns and memorials added over the years. Ray, one of our expedition crew, found a marker left by his shipmates aboard HMCS Labrador in 1956 when they called here during a cold war submarine patrol. There are also the remains of a winter refuge hut imperiously dubbed 'Cumberland House' built in 1852 from timber salvaged from a wreck. It served for 50 years until it too finally succumbed to the fierce elements of Lancaster Sound, leaving scattered tins, wood, nails and assorted debris as a memento to man's struggle against the forces of nature.

The weather holds while we're ashore (just), but the afternoon's Zodiac tours are erased when a nasty bit of wind and sleet blows up. Ioffe heads due south into Prince Leopold Inlet toward the final link in the tortuous Northwest Passage.

Image: The anguished face of John Torrington frozen in time. The 20 year old from Franklin's expedition was buried in January 1846 and Ray McMahon examines a cairn laid by his navy shipmates in 1956.

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