Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Ice Master Prevented Disaster

"If I had it to do over again, I should be a sailor just the same.  There is nothing so satisfying as the sea." (Bob Bartlett)

Bob Bartlett courtesy en.wikipedia.org.

Robert Bartlett, the eldest of ten children, was born and raised in Newfoundland.  Given his parents were strong Catholics, they hoped that he would become a priest.  However, by the age of 17, Bob knew his passion was for the sea, not for the seminary.  He accompanied Commander Robert Peary on three attempts to reach the North Pole without success.  But the trip that he would make him a hero, was the ill-fated voyage of the Karluk.

Canadian anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson wished to survey the flora, fauna and minerals on Herschel island north of the Yukon.  Robert Bartlett agreed to go along as the captain of the ship, the Karluk.  Once they were in the Arctic, Stefansson left the ship with a party to hunt caribou, never to be heard from again.  That left Bartlett in charge.  

Soon the Karluk crew was trapped in the ice.  Anticipating the worst, Captain Bartlett had his crew build igloos on the nearby ice.  Sure enough, the Karluk drifted across the sea and got trapped again in the ice which punched a hole in its side, leading to its sinking.  

Map courtesy en.wikipedia.org.

The crew set out on an 80 mile march to Wrangel Island where they set up camp.  Two parties of four men were lost but the remainder of the crew survived the journey.  Captain Bartlett and his Inuk companion set off for Siberia to seek help for the stranded crew.  They trudged 700 miles over the frozen Chukchi Sea before reaching Alaska.  Back on Wrangel Island, two more died of illness and one of violence.  But the others persevered.

Because of their captain's heroic efforts, the crew of the Karluk was finally rescued in September 1914, a full eight months after they were first stranded.  Hailed as a hero by his crew and by the public, Bartlett was given the Roayl Geographical Society's highest medal as well as the Honorary Boy Scout medal, an honour also bestowed on Charles Lindbergh.  Numerous National Geographic articles were written about Captain Bartlett as well as a book called The Karluk's Last Voyage.  

Captain Bartlett was shipwrecked a total of twelve times.  But the "Ice Master" always made it home, usually loaded down with photographs, film reels and scientific data from his journey.  

Karluk expedition courtesy upload.wikimedia.org.

Note:  Read The Ice Master:  The Doomed 1913Voyage of the Karluk by Jennifer Niven.  

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