No traces found today of SS Baychimo, the “Ghost Ship of the Arctic” that roamed the seas unmanned for decades

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SS Baychimo, 1931

“We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end.” – Blaise Pascal

There are only 24 days of “hot” weather in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States, where hot and sunny means slightly above zero degrees on average. Other than that, it’s a bit chilly up there, 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle. In fact, it is by many accounts one of the coldest places on Earth.

Yet, against all odds, people live there. Inuits, who have been living here for more than 15 centuries, call the place home. And on his way home on a clear day in 1969, when the sky was blue and the weather just fine enough for a man to throw a quick glance at the horizon to see something more than just the usual blizzard blowing in his face, one man did just that and saw a boat in the distance.

At first, the man didn’t think it was something out of the ordinary. On the contrary, boats appear frequently, or at least as frequently as conditions allow. The region is in part industrialized from 1959 onward and serves as an economic hub in Alaska, but still, the only way in and out of this place is by boat and a risk for those willing to take the ride. An airplane is an option as well, but then there is the wild frost and windy weather. Boats can endure it, but flying is usually a no-no.

After a while, the man realized the boat was not moving but seemed stuck in an Arctic ice pack in the Chukchi Sea, so he rushed to tell someone about it. When other men came, the boat was already gone. According to the description, the closest match was a 230-foot long and 1,322-ton cargo steamer that had been abandoned by its crew a long time ago and was last seen drifting through the Beaufort Sea in 1962. What the man allegedly saw was believed to be the legendary SS Baychimo, the Mysterious Ghost Ship of the Arctic that’s been roaming the seas unmanned for decades.

First and foremost, abandoned ships never “roam the seas.” Its a nice description for a so-called ghost ship, but they never do, really. They move with known currents and in time either rust and sink to the bottom of the ocean or, as in this case, drift along and get stuck in ice-packed areas and get seen and reported by living people. This one was last seen in 1969 by the aforementioned man, who allegedly saw this boat off the shore of Barrow. It hasn’t been seen since, but no traces of a rusted sunken ship have been discovered along these known currents either.

But let’s rewind and try to tell the story as it deserves to be told, in reverse.

There is not a single sign today of a sunken vessel matching the description of SS Baychimo. There are no traces of wreckage nor scraps of metal floating in the Arctic waters. The Alaskan government in 2006 formed a search party and called for a thorough hunt in an attempt to finally solve the mystery surrounding this ship that allegedly hunts the northern seas. But it was to no avail. A decade had passed, and despite concerted and all-out efforts, nothing was found.

The same year when this long-lasting search party was set in motion, author Anthony Dalton wrote and published the book Baychimo: Arctic Ghost Ship. It’s an accurate exploration of every myth and fact there is about the elusive abandoned ship that’s been spotted a couple of times drifting in the Beaufort and the Chukchi seas, thus playing with people’s imagination for decades. He claims that although the vessel is still considered to sail the icy waters near the north pole, it has probably sunk already but no one can guess for sure when and where exactly.

“It would seem likely then that the ice finally tired of ferrying Baychimo endlessly throughout its domain, and squashed her. The end would not have been pretty. Ships crushed by ice rarely go quietly. The encroaching ice distorts the hull with uneven pressures, stealing its integrity and making it scream in agony,” he explains, thus anchoring an incentive for some to try and find it. Yet, no real signs of an agony were ever found.

According to Dalton, the events that took place in 1969 were not credible enough and he takes another report from 1962 as the last official sighting of the ship, when as he tells us “a party of Iñupiat in kayaks glided silently along a lead on the Beaufort Sea, just offshore from the north Alaskan coast,” and saw a ship drifting near the coast with the name “Bayachimo” written on it. At least it was according to their official reports they gave right after the incident. The boat was gone immediately after, probably from where it came almost two and a half decades ago when according to multiple accounts it was last boarded by captain Hugh Polson.

He allegedly saw the ghost stuck in a gigantic iceberg and wished to salvage anything left salvageable out of it, but it was November, winds had changed, and he didn’t make it in time. He was risking both the newly discovered and his own ship’s fate, as well as his life, so he did what anyone with a sound mind would do. He left the boat and went back to his own to wait for finer weather conditions. It was a story first told in 1973 by Paul Brooks for British Columbia Magazine and repeated several times over the years.

Then again, it was November and it was a story of a captain sailing through the Arctic–in November, most of the Arctic Ocean is either frozen or covered with huge portions of solid ice during the month. And in 1939, when ships were nowhere nearly advanced as they are today and global warming was an ice-melting threat still not heard of. So how did one captain and a daring explorer manage to break through the ice-frozen sea, discover an alleged ghost ship, and then report that when the weather conditions got slightly better and he could see a bit more than just a blizzard blowing in his face, the boat was gone and there was nothing there left to see.

No one knows for sure, really. And its a question troubling many who tried to examine the report and the stories that were written around it and the legendary SS Baychimo. Including Anthony Dalton, who offers some plausible scenarios of his own that potentially caused a massive misconception.

What’s known for sure are the facts about the ship’s origin, its name, and how and when exactly it came to be abandoned by its crew. The ship was constructed in the early 1910s in Sweden and launched in their waters in 1914, but after World War I was bought by the Hudson Bay Company and renamed from Ångermanelfven to SS Baychimo. No longer was its usual trade route from Hamburg to Sweden and back. It was now going to be from Scotland to the north coasts of Canada and Alaska, and a trip back home.

Unfortunately, during one of the usual routes, on October 1, 1931, the ship got stuck between huge ice packs near the coastline of Barrow, Alaska. There was a huge storm and no way out for the crew. They had to wait out the storm. Days turned into nights, nights into weeks, but the storm was nowhere near its end. Just when it got a bit clearer, some of the crew were transported to safety in Barrow by airplane, but not the captain. He and a few other brave men stuck around and made camp in the vicinity. They were willing to wait out the storm and be there when the salvage crew arrived. It was October 15.

But the storm got even worse and there was no sign of help nor a crew to salvage the boat, or salvage them at least at this point. It was freezing cold, and the wind was so harsh they couldn’t even see more than a couple of inches in front, let alone the boat nearby. On November 25, worst came to worst. The blizzard stopped, but the ship was nowhere around. They believed it had sunk along with the cargo and everything else.

No more than a week later, a local from Barrow rushed to the captain and said he saw the ship drifting nearby. The boat was found, but believed to be so heavily damaged that it was about to sink anytime soon. Yet, it did not, it seems. The story that the ship was seen stuck to a huge pack of ice, drifting in and out of sight, went on for years and grew into a legend, the legend of the SS Baychimo, the Mysterious Ghost Ship of the Arctic, that’s allegedly been roaming the seas unmanned for decades.

Not long ago, the BBC, for the purpose of Deep Ocean, the second episode of their remarkable Blue Planet II series, sent a crew under the ice in Antarctica to explore the depths. During the episode, the crew said that the greatest threat to them and their lives was if two icebergs were about to collide.

“The decks buckle, planking shattering louder than a volley of rifle shots. As the funnel collapses over what’s left of the deck, it tears itself from its footing with mind-jarring squeals. Slowly, with no let-up in the terrible cries, she settles as the freezing waters invades her privacy. With a dreadful sigh, she goes under, and the ice closes over to seal her tomb.” – Anthony Dalton, Baychimo: Arctic Ghost Ship, about cases such as this and a probable scenario of what might have happened to the long-lost ghost ship and why there are no traces left behind.

At the end, “all loose things seem to drift down to the sea, and so did I” – Louis L’Amour.

 Martin Chalakoski

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Polar bears ‘running out of food’

High-tech tracking collars on nine female polar bears have measured the animals’ efforts to find food on the diminishing Arctic ice.

Each bear wore a collar – recording video, location and activity levels – for 8-12 days, while metabolic tracers tracked the bears’ energy use.

This revealed that most of the animals were unable to catch enough prey to meet their energy needs.

The team says wild bears have higher metabolic rates than thought.

GPS video-camera collars were applied to solitary adult female polar bears for 8 to 12 days in April, 2014-2016. These collars enabled researchers to understand the movements, behaviors, and foraging success of polar bears on the sea ice.Image copyrightANTHONY PAGANO/USGS
Image captionThe team tracked nine solitary female polar bears over 8-12 days

Moreover, climate change appears to be having dramatic effects on the Arctic sea-ice, forcing polar bears to move greater distances as they hunt, and making it harder for them to catch prey.

The vision of a polar bear plucking a vulnerable seal off an ice floe is something familiar to wildlife documentary fanatics. Earlier this winter, though, an image of an emaciated polar bear went viral, with many asking if this was the telltale image of climate change.

The authors of this study, published in the journal Science, point out that the animals do now need to travel further to find seals, and that this is likely to be an “important factor explaining declines in their body condition and survival” of polar bears.

Tracking every move

polar bear on sea iceImage copyrightATHONY PAGANO/USGS
Image captionPolar bears use the sea ice to hunt seals and, as it diminishes, have to travel further to find their food

In Spring of 2014, 2015, and 2016, Anthony Pagano, a researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz and his colleagues, set out to track the polar bears’ hunting and survival during this critical season. They captured nine females on the sea-ice of the Beaufort Sea and measured the metabolic rates of each bear using blood and urine samples.

They also fitted the bear with the GPS-camera collars, to record and film their activity.

“We found that polar bears actually have much higher energy demands than predicted. They need to be catching a lot of seals,” Mr Pagano explained.

The extent of Arctic sea-ice, as measured at its minimum in September, is decreasing at a rate of about 14% per decade, which is likely reducing polar bears’ access to seals. And their plight could be exacerbated by the need to alter hunting strategies with the seasons.

In the spring, the researchers explained polar bears are mostly preying on juvenile seals. But later in the year, after the bears’ long summer fast, those young seals are older and wiser, meaning polar bears are not able to catch as many.

“It’s thought that bears might catch a couple per month in the fall, compared to five to 10 per month in the spring and early summer,” Mr Pagano said.

“We now have the technology to learn how they are moving on the ice, their activity patterns, and their energy needs, so we can better understand the implications of these changes we are seeing in the sea-ice.”

If there is one group of people who’ve always known everything about reindeer, it is the Sami, also practitioners of shamanism

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Photo By: Nasjonalbiblioteket CC BY 2.0

Long before Norway, Sweden, or Finland inscribed the names of their countries on the map of northern Europe, the Sami people roamed the Arctic terrains of Sápmi at the northern tip of the continent. They are traditionally known as the Lapps, or the Laplanders, and their earliest mention in history was in the year 98 A.D. by the famed Roman historian Tacitus. Today, this indigenous group of people count a population of up to 100,000 and live in the territories of four countries, the three Scandinavian ones mentioned above, plus Russia. They are an old people, who were likely the first culture with whom the Vikings traded.

Before modern ways of life imposed themselves over more traditional ones, and before Christianity was preached in ways that deeply affected the lifestyle of the Sami, these people were dedicated in their practice of shamanism and animism.

The shamans of the Sami were known as Noaid, and supposedly they were able to interpret the messages sent by other-worldly creatures, deities, and spirits in which the Sami put in their faith. In times of strife and trouble, the Sami would invoke their deities, helped by the Noaid who would have frequently used a drum to allow such communication.

Their sacred places are called sieidis, usually considered unique land formations where the Sami people gave thanks and offerings to the spirits, considering these places to be the gateways to the world of spirits. A place or object in nature denoted to be a sieidi was considered to be the same as a live being, and it required continual attention such as leaving behind offerings.

But if there is one characteristic, one cultural trait, that the Sami people are perhaps most recognized for it is their way with the reindeer. An originally nomadic group of people, in the old days the Sami would have followed the routes of the reindeer as the herd sought the perfect grazing fields during midsummer. The Sami would have put up tents and stayed close to the reindeer, as the sun never seemed to sink below the Arctic horizon.

Many of the Sami people are still busy carrying out these methods of reindeer herding, but things have inevitably changed. Many Sami also make use of more modern cottages in the forests and mountains, rather than tents. But some Sami people have commented that if herding of reindeer ceases as an activity, that may mean the end of many authentic traditions too. One such example among the Sami families who are reindeer herders has been carving the ancient family marks onto the ears of new-born calves.

The strong tie with this animal can even be felt through the language. The Sami word for “herd” is “eallu,” and is very similar to “eallin,” the word which means “life.” Nowadays, a good majority of Sami do have at least one relative who, in one way or another, is involved with reindeer. The work of reindeer herders is known as “boazovázzi” in the Sami language, and it means “reindeer walker.”

Besides being an important food resource, reindeer are also used for their skin and horns, traditionally providing for craftsmanship and producing new items such as shoes or knives. Traditional Sami clothing is still much praised among the population, a way of dressing that can be used as much for festivities as for work. A traditional outfit may have one dominant color, but more bands of color that adorn the dress are set to contrast the dominant color. Elaborate embroidery can be noticed too, as well as a high collar. Depending on the region, the name of the traditional dress varies, so it would be called “kofte” in Norway or “kolt” in Sweden.

Sami craftsmanship, known as Duoddji, includes such skills as embroidery or knife-making. Local customs that help people live in such cold areas, where temperatures can drop to -40, include filling boots with blister sedge to keep feet warmer.

Traditional Sami singing is known as Joik, and it is one of the oldest singing traditions across Europe. There is no single way of performing Joik singing, but in essence, it is always about expressing the spirit of someone. It can be a person, but also an animal or a specific place in nature.

As with many other aspects of the Sami culture, Joik was forbidden for a period as the Nordic countries attempted to introduce law enforcement during the second half of the 20th century, one example being the so-called “Norwegianization” policies in Norway. Such enforcement meant that Sami people were obliged to attend schools in which they were not allowed to speak their native language. That is far from the case today, as Sami people enjoy reigniting of many of their rights, Joik included. Now there is even a Sami Grand Prix where people can compete with their Joik.

Sami culture in the 21st century is doing well, despite the fact that the policies of the past caused considerable erosion of the Sami language and authentic way of life. While a Sami person who is living the entirely traditional way is not so common, and the vast majority of Sami people appear quite modern, interest in things like Joik or Duoddji, or knowing everything need about a reindeer, is something that no Sami seems to have had lost interest in.

Even the rights of reindeer herding in the countries where Sami people live are reserved only for them, and as records suggest, thousands of people are employed to do just that–herding reindeer on a full-time basis.

https://www.thevintagenews.com/

The mystery of the Octavius: An 18th-century ghost ship was discovered with the captain’s body found frozen at his desk, still holding his pen

Maritime lore abounds with stories of ghost ships, those ships that sail the world’s oceans manned by a ghostly crew and destined never to make port. The most well known of these tales is that of the Mary Celeste. But one of the eeriest stories has to be the mystery of the Octavius.

The story opens in 1761 with the Octavius docked in the port of London to take on a cargo destined for China. This majestic sailing ship left port with a full crew, the skipper, and his wife and son. They arrived safely in China and unloaded their cargo. They headed back to sea once she was loaded with goods destined for British shores, but as the weather was unusually warm, the captain decided to sail home via the Northwest Passage, a voyage that at the time had not been accomplished. This was the last that anyone heard of the vessel, her crew, or her cargo. Octavius was declared lost.

“Rising full moon.” From the series “Ghost Ship.”

On October 11, 1775, the whaling ship Herald was working the frigid waters off Greenland when it spotted a sailing ship. On nearing the ship, the crew saw that the ship was weather beaten–the sails were tattered and torn and hanging limply on the masts.

The captain of the Herald ordered a boarding party to search the vessel, which they had determined was the Octavius. The boarding party arrived on deck to find it deserted. They broke open the ship’s hatch and scrambled down the ladder into the semi-darkness below, where a terrifying sight met their eyes. They found the entire 28-man crew frozen to death in their quarters. In the captain’s cabin, they found the captain seated at his desk, pen in hand, with the ship’s logbook open on the desk in front of him. The inkwell and other everyday items were still in their place on the desk. Turning around, they saw a woman wrapped in a blanket on the bunk, frozen to death, along with the body of a young boy.

The boarding party was terrified; grabbing the ship’s log, they fled from the Octavius. In their mad flight, they lost the middle pages of the logbook that were frozen solid and came loose from the bookbinding. They arrived back on the Herald with just the first and last pages of the logbook, which were enough for the master of the Herald to determine at least a part of the story of the voyage. The captain of the Octavius had tried to navigate the Northwest Passage, but his ship had become imprisoned in the ice of the Arctic, and the entire crew had perished. The ship’s last recorded position was 75N 160W, which placed the Octavius 250 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.

As the Octavius had been found off the coast of Greenland, it must have broken loose from the ice at some stage and completed its voyage through the passage to come out on the other side, where it met the Herald.  The crew of the Herald were frightened of the Octavius and feared that it was cursed, so they simply left it adrift. To this day, it has never been sighted again.

Author: Hannes Grobe/AWI.CC by 3.0

Author David Meyer has tried to track down the story of the Octavius. In his blog, he considers the idea that the Octavius could be the same ship as the Gloriana, which was boarded in 1775 by the captain of the Try Again, John Warrens. He recorded that he found a frozen crew that had been dead for 13 years and the date of the discovery was spookily similar–November 11, 1762. Are these tales of the same vessel? In the Gloriana story, there is no mention of the Northwest Passage, which remains even today a place of mystery and magic but that adds just that little bit of spice to the tale ofOctavius.

This makes an excellent ghost story for around the campfire. Did the Octavius eventually run aground and sink, or does she still sail the high seas with a crew of skeletons at the wheel?

By Ian Harvey