|The S.S. Baychimo|
The Baychimo was a small, sturdy, freighter owned by the Hudson Bay Company. Her job was to travel the coast of Victoria Island in the Canadian arctic, trading supplies with the local Inuit people for valuable fur pelts. She worked during the area's brief open water season (July to September) spending the rest of the year in Vancouver.
The winter of 1931 came early, and Baychimo was frozen in ice several times while returning home. By mid-October she was stuck fast near Point Barrow, Alaska. Most of her crew were evacuated by aircraft (the first time a long-range air rescue was accomplished).
|The Baychimo trapped in ice, November, 1931.|
A group of hardy souls decided to stay with her until the spring thaw, as they'd collected a particularly valuable fur cargo that year. They built a shelter ashore, and settled in for several months of night.
On November 24 an exceptionally violent blizzard struck, surprising even the arctic veterans with its ferocity. In the morning, mountains of ice 70 feet high were piled where the ship had been. The Baychimo was gone, crushed under tons of ice and snow and sent to the bottom.
Or so they thought...
The men radioed for rescue, but it would take a few days. As they waited a passing Inupiat told them the ship was adrift several miles down the coast. They set out on foot, finding her again trapped in ice. They took as many pelts as they could before returning to the shelter. Another violent storm was coming, and they assumed it would sink her.
The Baychimo had other ideas.
The second storm pushed her out of the ice and into the open sea, free to wander the icy north alone.
Over the next several years she was infrequently seen, and rarely boarded. Some of the valuable furs were even removed. But no one was able to bring her in. Attempts to restart her engines failed, and storms (which some claimed the ship had summoned) always drove would-be salvagers away. In one harrowing case a group of Inupiat boarded her, only to have a sudden storm trap them on the derelict for 10 days.
She was seen every few years, and each time the assumption was made that it would be the last. Only to have her show up again. Scientists, hunters, and fishermen. Inupiat tribe members. Russian, American, & Canadian ships and planes. All reported her at one time or another as she wandered the Arctic waters.
She was last seen in the Beaufort Sea in 1969, having survived 38 years afloat and alone in one of the world's harshest environments.
Today it's assumed she's at the bottom, and I suspect they're right. But who knows? Alaska has begun trying to catalog the estimated 4000 wrecks along the state's shores, and maybe she'll be found.
Or maybe not.