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Ice Bound Baychimo

Strange Story Of Ghost Ship Baychimo

By James Donahue

The Baychimo was a steel cargo steamer involved in trading pelts for provisions in Inuit settlements along the coast of the Northwest Territories of Canada when it got trapped in pack ice and was left abandoned by the crew during the winter of 1931-32.

The Baychimo survived the winter, however, and over the next several decades there were several sightings of the floating crewless hulk. Some people actually managed to board the ship but never were equipped to salvage it or they were driven away by bad weather.

The last reported sighting was by some Inuit hunters in 1969, a full 38 years after it was abandoned. They said it was stuck fast in pack ice in the Beaufort Sea between Point Barrow and Icy Cape off the northwestern coast of Alaska.

Thus the Baychimo has become a well-known ghost ship of the Canadian north.

The 246-foot-long steamship was launched in Sweden in 1914 as the Angermanelfven. The vessel was used on trading routes between Hamburg, Germany, and Sweden until the First World War. At the end of the war the steamer was passed to Great Britain as part of a reparation agreement by Germany for wartime shipping losses. That was when it was acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company and renamed Baychimo in 1919.

The steamer made regular voyages each summer along the north coast of Canada, between Vancouver and the Northwest Territories, visiting trading posts and collecting pelts. The voyages were described as treacherous with the return trip each fall facing a constant risk of the ship getting caught and crushed by the polar pack ice.

The crew’s worst fears were realized on October 1, 1931, as the Baychimo completed its trading run and began steaming back to Vancouver with a cargo of fur. The ship got trapped in pack ice and the crew was forced to walk over a half-mile of ice to Barrow to find shelter. When the ship broke free the crew returned, but the steamer mired again on October 8. And this time it was really stuck.

On October 15 the Hudson’s Bay Company sent aircraft to rescue 22 of the crew. Another 15 crew members stayed behind with plans to wait out the winter in an effort to save the ship. They constructed a wooden shelter on the nearby ice rather than risk being lost if the ice crushed and sunk the steamer.

On November 24, a fierce blizzard swept the area. When it was over the Baychimo was not to be seen. Captain John Cornwell concluded that it probably broke up and sank in the storm. The ship was spotted a few days later by an Inuit seal hunter about 45 miles away. The sailors tracked the ship, determined that it was unlikely to survive the winter and abandoned it. Aircraft was again used to bring the last sailors home and transport most of the cargo.

In 1932 explorer Leslie Melvin saw the Baychimo off the coast as he was trekking by dog-sled from Herschel Island to Alaska. The following year the ship was seen by    Inuit hunters and a botanist conducting research in the Arctic. Both were driven off by severe weather before getting a chance to explore the vessel.

The floating derelict was seen again and again after that for the next 32 years. Every time it was seen people thought that would be the last sighting. But it continued showing up until 1969. The final report came from the U.S. oil tanker Manhattan which was making a controversial crossing of the Northwest Passage. Some Inuit said they saw the Baychimo off Point Barrow that year.

It has not been seen since.

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