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DR. HAYES' TERRIBLE BOAT TRIP.
After contemplating the comparative comfort and pleasure experienced by Nansen and his men, the reader is again directed to the grim horrors of Arctic travel, which after all are the characteristics features, modern methods notwithstanding. For peril and the exhibition of fortitude, no history surpasses that of Dr. Kane, whose expedition was partly described in an earlier chapter One of the most striking features of that expedition was a boat trip undertaken by a party under Dr. Isaac Hayes, surgeon of the Advance, Kane's ship. The boat journey was for the purpose of getting aid for the men on board the Advance, which was fast in the ice in the region of latitude 78.
The boat journey began in August, 1854, on a small craft called the Hope, on which a sail had been rigged. The little vessel made good progress after rounding Cape Hatherton, near Lyttleton Island, and the crew were in fine spirits, "when," says Dr. Hayes, "the look-out cried, 'ice ahead!' There it was, sure enough, about a mile before us — a long, white line, against which the surf was breaking.
"We ran down within a quarter of a mile of it, hoping all the time that we should find a lead; but no opening could anywhere be seen. The pack was jammed tight together, and against the southern shore of the bay; and stretching off to the southwest, it seemed to block up the channel between Lyttleton Island and the main land.
"The course of the boat was changed to the west, and, although the wind was increasing, we determined to run outside the island and endeavor to reach the cove from the south; but here, again, we were headed off; a tongue of the pack stretched up to the north as far as we could see. To haul close on the wind and run up the edge of the ice was out of the question. With a less heavily laden boat this could easily have been accomplished; but already we were shipping much water, with the wind on the quarter. Two points more around must swamp us. A sea breaking over the gunwale convinced us of the danger of the attempt, and again the boat was headed south.
"It became now evident that we were in great jeopardy. We had run down into a bight, with a lee-shore to the east, and ice to the south and west. We were in the bend of a great horseshoe.
"There was no time to get out the oars and pull up to windward; the boat could not have lived long enough to get her head around to the waves. The cargo was piled upon the thwarts, and a quarter of an hour would scarcely have sufficed to clear them. Something must be done and that quickly. The wind increased in violence, the waves rolled higher and higher. We could only run down upon the ice and trust to luck. Choosing a point to the southwest, where the pack looked weakest, we brailed up the mainsail, took a hasty reef in the foresail, hauled in the jib, and ran for it. John took the steering oar, Petersen conned the boat from the forecastle, Stephenson held the sheet, Bonsall stood by the brail of the foresail, and the rest of us took whatever of boat-hooks and poles we could lay hands on, to 'fend off.'
The boat bounded away.
"'See any opening, Petersen?' 'No, sir!' An anxious five minutes followed. 'I see what looks like a lead; we must try for it.' 'Give the word, Petersen.' On flew the boat. 'Let her fall off a little — off! — Ease off the sheet — so — steady! — A little more off — so! — Steady there — steady, as she goes !' Our skilful pilot was running us through a narrow lead which terminated in a little bight, where the water was, fortunately smooth. We were beginning to hope that it would carry us through the pack, when he cried out, 'It's a blind lead!' 'Tight everywhere?' 'I see no opening!' 'There's a crack to windward.' 'Can't make it — Let go the sheet — brail up — fend off!' Thump, crash, push. The stem struck fair, and the force of the blow was broken by the poles. In an instant all hands sprang out upon the floe. The boat did not appear to have been seriously damaged."
The boat was hauled upon the floe and the party prepared for a terrible night. They determined, in the face of storm and cold, to go to Lyttleton Island, and they did reach it only to suffer more tortures. The temperature was 22 below.
"The water," says Dr. Hayes, "was freezing upon our clothes. We must either land on the island, or run before the wind down under Cape Ohlsen, five miles south. This last would carry us too far from our comrades of the Hope, and we determined to land on the island if possible. Our metallic boat would stand a good deal of thumping. There were no breakers; but the swell, which came in from the west, made the sea anything but smooth. With a wooden boat it would have been dangerous to approach the rocks.
"The shore was steep, almost perpendicular; and it was some time before we found a place which offered the least chance for executing our intention. At length we discovered a little cove, or rather a cleft in the rock, about twenty feet in width and twice as deep. The rocks to the right and behind were vertical; but the cleft ran off to. the left, and there the rock sloped gradually upward. If we could strike this inclined plane, by a fortunate turn of the boat after entering, we should be landed in safety. The boat was headed square for the opening, the men gave way on their oars, and we rode in on the top of a swell which, as it retreated, left us high and dry. Next moment all hands sprang out, and, seizing the boat by the gunwale, hauled her out of danger.
"As we came across the ice, John had discovered a wounded duck sitting behind a hummock, and secured her with an oar. A fire was kindled in a crevice in the rock; the saucepan was half filled with sea-water, and the four quarters of the unfortunate eider were soon boiling in it. The head was knocked out of the bread-barrel, and eight biscuits were added to the contents of the pot.
"We were too cold and too nearly famished to wait with much patience, and the stew was speedily pronounced done. Plates and spoons we had none, so each one handled his share of the duck, and then we took turns with the lid for the soup.
"This hot meal warmed us up a little, but with it vanished our stock of comforts. With a cup of coffee, or even tea, we should have made out very well.
"There was a gloomy prospect for the night. Nowhere could we find protection against the wind, which not only swept in from the sea, but came furiously down upon us through the rocky gorges. We had not as much as a blanket to cover us, and the cold gusts blew most cruelly through our water-soaked cloth coats and canvas pantaloons. We clambered about in the darkness along the rocky ledge, under a great black wall, hunting in vain for a lea; but no sooner had we found a place which seemed to offer us protection, than the wind shifted. Indeed, it seemed to blow, in one and the same minute, from every quarter of the heavens, north, south, east, and west; and when it could not get at us from either of these directions, it rolled down over the cliffs and fell upon us like an avalanche. We returned to the place where we had landed, and "erected an extempore tent. One end of an oar was thrust into a crack in the rock, the other end was supported upon the barrel. Over this was spread the sail. After securing the corners with heavy stones we crawled in, but we thus obtained only a sorry protection. The wind came in on every side."
Some of the men found sleep, but Dr. Hayes could not do so. He started to explore the island for a more protected spot, only to lose sight of the boat, as did a comrade who followed him. Then two others joined them. Says Dr. Hayes:
"I communicated to them my fears respecting the party. I sent Godfrey to watch seaward. Bonsall went to the north cape, and I remained in my old position. The night wore on; daylight came slowly back; the wind died away to a fresh breeze; the sea was going down; the spray leapt less wildly; yet nothing could we see of the boat.
"At length a change of tide brought a change of scene; the ice was set in motion; the pack, which had so closely hugged the land, was loosened; and it stretched its long arms out over the water to the westward. Broad leads ran through the body of it. Bonsall's quick eye first detected something dark moving upon the water. T see the boat,' he shouted to me, — 'Where away?' — 'Coming down through the in-shore lead.' There she was, with all sail set, bearing directly for the island. By eight o'clock her party brought up on the south side of our encampment. I counted them as they floated by; one, two, three, four, five — John was there.
"The swell was still too high to permit them to touch the rocks with their frail boat; we therefore launched the metallic boat, and following them under oars, pulled around behind Cape Ohlsen. Here was found a snug little harbor with a shingly beach. The cargo was unshipped, and the boats were hauled up at half-past eleven o'clock. The sun's slanting rays shone directly in upon us from the south; the mercury went up to 28°. Not a breath of air rippled the water. No surf beat upon the shore. What a contrast to the tumultuous scenes of yesterday! From a little stream of melted snow which trickled down the mountain side, we filled our kettles; the lamp was fired; and in an hour and a half the cook had ready for us a good pot of coffee, and a stew of the young eiders which were left from the day before; to which were added some pieces of pork, and a young burgomaster gull, which had been shot on the way from Lyttleton Island. While this substantial breakfast was being eaten, we interchanged our stories of the night's adventures.
"Our friends had had a fearful night. Bad as had been our fortune theirs was incomparably worse. Soon after we left them, the protecting floes to the north shifted their position; and from that time until the storm subsided, they were frightfully exposed. The waves rolled in upon them, frequently breaking over the floe on which they were, while the spray flew over them continually. They wrapped the bread-bags in a piece of India-rubber cloth, and thus kept them tolerably dry; but everything else became thoroughly soaked, — clothes, buffaloes, and blankets, especially. They pitched their tent and tried to get some rest, but the water very soon drowned them out. They tried to cook some coffee, but the spray extinguished their lamp. They were thirty hours without water to drink, and during all that time they tasted nothing warm, their sole provision being cold pork and bread. Their suffering was great, and our tale sounded tamely enough after theirs.
"I questioned John why he had so recklessly exposed his life; he 'wanted to see what had become of them.' He did not see them when he started; had no certain knowledge as to where they were; he only wanted to 'look them up.' "
After this terrible experience the Hope once more put to sea, and the party was lucky enough to find another boat, called "Ironsides," deserted by Kane the year before. The party divided into two crews.
"We pulled out from under the land," says the narrator, "to catch the wind which still blew lightly from the northeast; and spreading our canvas we gave three lusty cheers for Upernavik, and stood away for Cape Alexander, which was fourteen miles distant. A watch was set in each boat. Peterson took the steering oar of the Hope, John that of the Ironsides, and the rest of the crews crawled under their blankets and buffalo robes.
"Soon after our starting, an ominous cloud was observed creeping up the northern sky. As it spread itself overhead, the wind freshened, and after fluttering through a squall, settled into a heavy blow. The white-caps multiplied behind us, and everything looked suspicious; but whatever might be our misgivings as to the fortune in store for us, out at sea in a storm, with our frail heavily laden boats, we could do nothing but hold our course, and take the risks. To run back under the land which we had just left, did not at all accord with our tastes, nor with the nature of our undertaking. Off the larboard bow lay a long line of iron-bound coast which offered no sign of a harbor. Come what might, we must keep on, and sink or swim off Cape Alexander.
"To be at sea in a snug ship with a deck under your feet, the wind roaring and the waves breaking about you, is a pleasure, and as the vessel bounds^ forward one scarcely feels that he is not in the most secure place in the world; but it is quite a different affair in an open boat twenty feet long.
"As we ran out from the land, we obtained a fine view of Hartstene Bay. The coast which bounds it to the north is high and precipitous, trending a little to the north of east, and terminating in a large glacier, about twelve miles east of Cape Ohlsen. The face of this glacier, dimly traceable in the distance, appeared to be about three miles in extent, sloping backward into an extensive mer de glace. To the south of the glacier the land trends nearly parallel with the north shore for three or four miles, when it falls off to the south, terminating in another glacier larger than the first, which, like it, sweeps back around the base of the mountains into the same glassy sea. From the southern extremity of this glacier the coast runs southwest, presenting an almost straight line of high vertical, jagged rocks, which end in the noble headland for which we were steering.
"Although closely watching the sheet, while John steered and Bonsall and Godfrey slept, I was yet at leisure to enjoy the magnificent scene which spread itself before me as we approached the cape. A parhelion stood in the sky on my right hand, presenting a perfect image of the sun above, and a faint point of light on either side. On my left lay the before-mentioned line of coast, its dark front contrasting grandly with the white sheet of ice a few miles further back, which seemed to be in the act of pouring down into the sea from some great inland reservoir.
"In a little while, owing to an accident to the rudder, the boat, no longer under its control, broached to. The next wave broke amidships and filled us. The air-chambers, which had hitherto made the boat so crank, now saved us from sinking. The steersman was knocked down from his seat, and before he could regain his oar, and bring the boat into the wind. Sea after sea had broken over us.
"Finding that they were not absolutely drowned, and that nothing worse could happen than a good ducking, the men returned to their posts, and in a few minutes the sail was reefed and set, and the boat righted. The increased load which she now carried sank her lower in the water, and in spite of all our efforts, there remained an unwelcome cargo; for, as fast as we bailed out one portion, another poured in. Discouraged at length by our fruitless efforts to get her free, we gave up the attempt; and being now satisfied that the life-boat would not go down, we held on to the mast and gunwale to prevent the seas from washing us overboard, and in this manner drifted around the cape. Here we were met by our consort. Her crew, fearful that we had swamped, were gallantly beating up in smoother water to our assistance.
"It was dead calm under the cape. After bailing out some of the water, we took in the sails, unshipped the mast, and pulled over to Sutherland Island in search of a harbor. This little rock lies about three miles to the southeast of Cape Alexander. It was found to be precipitous on its northern and eastern sides, and unprotected to the south and west from the winds and waves which eddied around the cape. No harbor was found here, but a little farther on one was discovered.
"We were soon ashore; and as we looked out from the rocks on the foaming sea, and listened to the moaning wind as it fell over the cliffs above us, and to the breakers thundering against the coast, we had reason to be thankful that we were once again on terra firma. The Ironsides was hauled upon the beach and capsized, to free her of her load of water. Petersen anchored the Hope with a couple of heavy stones. Having no dry clothing to put on, we ran about until we were a little warmed and dried; and then, pitching the tent, we spread over us our water-soaked buffalo, and slept away fatigue and disappointment.
"Everything in the Ironsides was thoroughly wet. Among the articles of food were a two-barrel bag of bread and our large bag of coffee. The cargo of the Hope was as dry as when put on board at Cape Ohlsen. She had behaved admirably, and had weathered the gale quite comfortably. She shipped more water through her leaky sides than over her gunwale.
"The wind lulled a little in the night, but rose in the morning, and increased again to a gale. The storm was too heavy to allow us to put to sea. The wind had hauled around to the north, and the swell came into our harbor. The anchorage of the Hope being thus rendered insecure, she also was dragged upon the beach. Our wet cargo was spread out upon the stones to dry; and we awaited with much anxiety the breaking of the gale."
On the 6th of September they broke camp, and finally reached Northumberland Island, where from a high hill they viewed the country. Says Hayes:
"Before us, to our right, and to our left was ice, ice, ice. We could see full forty miles; and, although not able to determine positively the condition of the water for more than twenty, yet what we saw assured us that a probably impenetrable pack lay in our way. To the southwest, towards the Carey Islands, whose tops were dimly visible, the sky indicated open water, which seemed to run in toward Saunders Island, whose long, flat, white roof, supported by a dark vertical wall, appeared above the horizon to the south. Under Cape Parry was a large open area, from which diverged several narrow leads, like the fingers of an outspread hand, toward Northumberland. One of these leads came up within four or five miles of our camp; but inside of it all was tightly closed. Below Cape Parry several small leads appeared, and much open water seemed to lie along the land.
''Although this pack was in fact the same that had baffled Dr. Kane in July and August, yet its existence here surprised me as it had him. It had never been noted before. Our track had been traversed by Baffin and Bylot in August, 1616; by Sir John Ross, between August 7th and 30th, 1818; by Capt. Inglefield, August 28th, 1852; and by Dr. Kane, in the Advance, August 7th, 1853; and by none of them had any considerable quantity of ice been seen north of Melville Bay. I was not prepared for such a rebuff at this part of our voyage.
"Could we pass it? would it open? was there any hope for us? I confess that, as these questions came in succession to my mind, I could only meet them by gloomy doubting. The ice was more firm and secure than we had anticipated finding, even in Melville Bay. All of our bright dreams of succor and safety seemed to be ending.
"I was still not wholly without hope. There were yet twenty days of September; and, although signs of winter had been about us ever since we left the brig, yet it was now much warmer here than at Rensselaer Harbor a month earlier. Altogether, September promised more of summer than of winter,
"It was with mingled feelings of hope and discouragement that I started to return."
The party, however, when the issue was put to a vote, determined on an advance. One man made a speech. Says Dr. Hayes:
"I give it as nearly as I can remember it: 'The ice can't remain long, — I'll bet it opens to-morrow. The winter is a long way off yet. If we have such luck as we have had since leaving Cape Alexander, we'll be in Upernavik in a couple of weeks. You say it is not more than six hundred miles there in a straight line. We have food for that time, and fuel for a week. Before that's gone we'll shoot a seal.' It was a right gallant and hopeful little speech, and 'Long George' (as his messmates always called him) looked quite the hero. It reflected the spirit of the party; and it is one of the pleasantest recollections of my life that, notwithstanding nineteen days of danger and suffering, during which they had been wet, cold, and often half famished, the men who were my companions did not quail at this crisis,
"In order that the nature of our situation might be more fully understood, Mr. Sonntag brought out his charts; and after we had carefully discussed together the difficulties and dangers on every hand; the possible chances of our success, and the probable chances of our being caught in the ice; and having all arrived at a full comprehension of the uncertainties which were before us, and our facilities for availing ourselves of the temporary security which was behind us, a formal vote was then taken upon the question, 'Whether we should go back, or wait and go on with the slightest opening.'
"There was but one voice in the company — 'Upernavik or nothing, then it is!' That's what I mean!' — 'and so do I!' were the prompt responses. — The thing was settled.
Hayes' diary for a few days graphically describes the situation:
"September 11th. The ice drifts rapidly out of the sound, opening wider the leads toward Cape Parry and the southwest; but it is closing up more tightly against the southeast corner of the island. The floes have left the shore opposite our camp, and we could put to sea and make some headway toward the Carey Islands; but this is not the course we have determined upon pursuing. We could not advance more than half a mile in the direction of the main land. Godfrey has shot a fox, and he reports having seen several others among the mountains. Petersen brought down a young raven; it is not good, but we must eat it and save our pork. The sky is overcast, and the temperature has gone down to 25°. The air remains calm.
"September 13th. No change in the ice. This state of inactivity greatly affects our spirits. Every hour is precious, and it is hard to be kept thus closely imprisoned.
"It is wonderful how the fine weather holds; nothing like it was ever experienced at Rensselaer Harbor, even in midsummer. The people amuse themselves in wandering about the green, in plucking and eating cochlearia, or in lounging about the camp, smoking their pipes; sometimes relieving the monotony with a game of whist, or in sewing up the rents in their dilapidated clothing; casting now and then wistful glances on the sea, and wondering impatiently 'when the ice will open?' Petersen shot a fox and a young burgomaster-gull; the former was secured, but the latter fell into the sea and floated away with the tide. Although the men suffer morally, they improve physically. The cochlearia has driven from their systems every trace of scurvy; and the few good meals of fresh animal food which we have eaten have built up all of us and filled out our cadaverous cheeks."
The ice opened at last, and the party put to sea, only to be caught in the ice, and to drift for hours on a floe.
"That we should feel despondent under the circumstances was, perhaps, quite natural; but now, as on other occasions, there was exhibited in the party a courage which triumphed over the distressing fortunes of the day. Stories, such as sailors alone can tell, followed the coffee, and interrupted the monotonous chattering of teeth; and Godfrey, who had a penchant for negro melodies, broke out from time to time with scraps from 'Uncle Ned,' in all its variations, 'Susannah,' and 'I'm off to Charlestown, a little while to stay.' Petersen recited some chapters from his boy-life in Copenhagen and Iceland; John gave us some insight into a 'runner's' life in San Francisco and Macao; Whipple told some horrors of the forecastle of a Liverpool packet; but Bonsall drew the chief applause, by 'Who wouldn't sell a farm and go to sea?'
"A strange mixture of men crowded the tent on that little frozen raft, in that dark stormy night of the Arctic Sea! There were a German astronomer, a Baltimore seaman, a Pennsylvania farmer, a Greenland cooper, a Hull sailor, an East River boatman, an Irish patriot, and a Philadelphia student of medicine; and it was a singular jumble of human experience and adventure which they related.
"We were near being precipitated into the water during the night. An angle of the raft on which rested one of the tent poles, split off; two of the men who lay in that corner were carried down, and their weight was almost sufficient to drag the others overboard. Fortunately the bottom and sides of the tent were fast together, or two of us at least would have gone into the sea.
"September 15th. The air cleared a little as the morning dawned; and, although it continued to snow violently, we were conscious of being near some large object, which loomed high through the thick atmosphere. Whether it was land or an iceberg we could not make out. We were soon in the boats, and pulling towards it through the thin ice and sludge. Before its character became clear, we were within a hundred yards of a low sandy beach, covered with boulders. Two burgomaster-gulls flew overhead while we were breaking through the young ice along the shore; and they were brought down by the unerring gun of Petersen. These supplied us with food, of which we stood greatly in need.
"The boats were drawn up above the tide; and we piled the cargo together on the rocks, and covered it with one of the sails. The tent was pitched near by; and with another sail an awning was spread in front, so shelter the cook and to protect the lamp. This precaution was well timed, for it soon began to blow hard from the southwest, the wind being accompanied with hail. We brought our clothes-bags under the awning, and changed our wet garments before retiring to the tent.
"We had not tasted food for more than four and twenty hours. While we were engaged with our meal, our tent was almost blown over. Some time elapsed before everything could be made safe. An additional guy was placed on the windward side, and those at the ends were fastened to heavier stones. The awning was also tightened; and everything being thus rendered apparently secure, we once more drew our heads under cover. We could do nothing for our brave cook but give him some dry clothing, the best place in the tent, and our thanks.
"It was still snowing hard; the wind had increased to a gale, and as it went moaning above the plain, it carried up into the air great white clouds, and pelted mercilessly the side of our tent with sleet and hail. I put my head out of the door; I could not see fifty yards. The boats were nearly covered by a great drift, and our cargo was almost buried out of sight. It was not due to ourselves that we were not at sea in that fearful storm. We knew not even where we were. We came by no will of our own. There was a Providence in it.
"I was too much fatigued to make the circuit of the island; and I am, therefore, not able to add anything to the chart of Captain Inglefield, who, in the little steamer Isabella, ran up the channel in August, 1852. The cliffs above us were composed of sandstone and slate, resting on primitive rock, which was visible near our camp. About a quarter of a mile above us were discovered two well built Eskimo huts, which appeared to have been recently occupied.
"Hoping that fortune would continue to favor our effort, we retired again to our tent, and awoke on the following morning to find that the wind had hauled around to the northeast, and that the clouds were breaking away. By one o'clock, p. m., it was quite clear. The thermometer went up to two degrees above the freezing point; the ice was giving way, and long leads were opening through it, in every direction. A narrow belt of heavy floes joined together by young ice, unfortunately lay close along the shore; otherwise we could have launched our boats at two o'clock. To break through this belt would have occupied us until night; and deeming it imprudent again to trust ourselves in the darkness to an uncertain channel we concluded to remain where we were, and to start fresh with the early morn.
"The morn broke upon us bright, clear, calm, and summer-like. The young ice, neither strong enough to bear nor frail enough to yield easily, seemed for a time likely to baffle us; but by breaking it up with our boathooks and poles, we finally succeeded in effecting our escape; not, however, until an hour after the sun had passed the meridian. The way appeared to be free toward the mainland, for which we pulled. After we had been under oars a couple of hours, a light breeze sprang up from east-northeast; once more our canvas was spread, and our ears were again gladdened by the music of gurgling waters as the boats rushed onward through the rippled sea.
"We struck the coast at about twenty miles above Cape Parry. Passing under the north cape of Burden Bay, we were surprised to hear human voices on the shore. That they were Eskimos we knew from the peculiar 'Huk! Huk! Huk' — their hailing cry."