Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

February 20, 2013

100th anniversary of the Karluk expedition

In The Ice Master, I recounted the true story of what was supposed to be the greatest and most elaborate Arctic expedition in history, and what instead turned out to be one of the most harrowing polar survival stories of all time.

In June 1913, the H.M.C.S. Karluk set sail from the Esquimalt Naval Yard in Victoria, British Columbia. Six weeks later, the Arctic winter had begun, the ship was imprisoned in ice, and those on board had been abandoned by their leader.

For five months, the Karluk remained frozen in a massive block of ice, drifting farther and farther off course, until the ice tore a hole in the vessel’s hull, and Captain Robert Bartlett, the ice master of the title and the man hired to command the Karluk, gave orders to abandon ship (to the strains of Chopin’s “Funeral March,” playing on the Victrola).

Which was how Captain Bartlett, twenty-one men, an Inuit woman and her two small daughters, twenty-nine dogs, and one pet cat found themselves shipwrecked in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of miles from land…

Over the years, many tributes have been paid to Captain Bartlett (one of my biggest heroes) and his comrades, but this year is particularly special– it is the 100th anniversary of the Karluk expedition.

In honor of these 100 years, articles are being written and documentaries are being filmed. The Canadian Mint has released two commemorative collector’s items– a fine silver dollar and a 14 K gold coin. I’ve also been invited to return to the Arctic and Wrangel Island in August 2014 as part of the 100th anniversary of the rescue.

Each week, I’ll post something here relating to that expedition– a rare photograph, a letter or diary excerpt written by one of the scientists or crewmen who sailed aboard the Karluk, a clip of the rescue footage, a behind-the-scenes story about writing the book.

Though called a hero in his lifetime, Captain Bartlett would most likely be surprised by such tributes all these years later. As he once observed, “The truth was I could not stop myself in pursuit of adventure. I was committed to the Arctic. I’d got the poison in my veins.”

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