Friday, August 14, 2009

Baychimo Arctic Ghost Ship

by Anthony Dalton. Heritage House 2006. $17.95. ISBN 1591147948. Hardcover. 255 pages.

Heritage House Publishing of British Columbia has carved out a niche for putting out very readable works of Canadian history. Author of this particular effort is Anthony Dalton, who has previously written works on sailing and adventure/searching.
No vessel that sailed the Arctic seas has raised so much speculation or triggered imaginations as has the legendary Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) cargo steamer Baychimo.
Anthony Dalton digs deep into history to unveil the incredible story of this hardy ship and her sometimes irascible captain, Sydney Cornwell. In doing so, Dalton also brings to life the larger story of the community of northern traders, hunters and sailors of which Baychimo was a part .
In the 1920s, the crew of Baychimo set up trading posts in eastern Canada , sailed on fur-trading expeditions to Siberia during the turbulent years of the Russian civil war and made dangerous annual voyages around Alaska to Canada ’s western Arctic coast, shouldering her way through ice floes to resupply the HBC’s remote trading posts.
Baychimo’s history has a remarkable twist. In 1931, she became trapped in an ice floe that refused to let go. Expecting her to sink at any moment, her crew abandoned ship. But Baychimo was as stubborn as the ice, and she floated away unharmed to begin what would prove to be the longest phase of her seemingly charmed career. For the next four decades she would appear unexpectedly on the horizons of unpredicted places. Always defiantly upright and afloat, Baychimo became known as the Arctic ghost ship.
Shipmasters of today often complain about being under the thumb of their head office. This book relates how things were no different in the 1920s even though the constant orders and instructions were delivered by Morse Code instead of satellite.
A few small problems with the text however did crop up:
On page 87 the writer implies that navigating by dead reckoning is impossible in fog. Without modern electronics, that is about all you can do in fog.
The writer is also denoting distances over water in kilometers which makes no sense. Distances over water are based on nautical miles and is the basis of the whole system of latitude and longitude for the last several hundred years.
In addition, Saint John NB is misspelled as St John.
However, apart from these small errors, the book is eminently readable and makes a good yarn.

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