Three days in the life of Northabout Frank Nugent No 3
Cape Victoria, meeting the Mounties at Gjoa-Haven and walking the ground of Crozier's retreating party.
Cape Victoria, Boothia. Latitude 69 -52 N Longitude96 -11W
Sunday 12th of August
Having sailed past Pemmican Rock, (a McClintock sledging depot) and the entrance to Bellot Strait, which was choked with ice, we decided to stop at midnight at Cape Victoria. During the McClintock's search for Franklin in 1859, it was here he met the local people (he called them Boothians), for we were on the west coast of Boothia, named after John Ross's sponsor, who made and obviously sold a lot of gin. Near here, McClintock bartered for the belonging of Croziers men, which had been picked up by the Eskimos from the retreating sailors empty campsites, deserted ships and boats and indeed from their dead bodies where they had fallen and died when strength deserted them. Articles such a cutlery, knives, medals and tunic buttons were traded for sewing needles and knives, so that McClintock could gather evidence of their demise.
We walked the headland and observed the Inuit camping places, seal skeletons and remains of cairns. At one of the campsites, I found a stone hollowed out for use as a blubber lamp. We repaired one of the cairns and inserted in Arctic expedition style an empty bottle of Powers Whiskey with a note, recording of our passing. We sailed and motored on past Cape Sabine named after the Dublin expert in terrestrial magnetism and a member of the Arctic Council, which advised the Admiralty regarding the search for Franklin. Later we past Wellington Strait named after another Irishman, who felt that a stable was not a suitable place for an English gentleman to be born.
Soon we were lining up Northabout to enter Amundsen's town, Gjoa-haven, named after his sailing boat which first navigated our route. As we anchored off the small jetty, two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were waiting above the jetty. They introduced themselves as Christine and Todd, as we went ashore to complete formalities. They gave us the most hospitable welcome, invited us to their lodgings for the requisite shower and the use of their washing machines and driers for our laundry. They organised the elders of the community to give us an Inuit drum recital. Gjoa-haven is a dry town, you cannot purchase or consume alcholic drink in public. After the drum dance, which was a combination of the Inuit personal sagas told like a sean-nos song from a singer, accompanied by a single drummer playing a bodhran style drum, they provided us with a fine meal. The community hall also contained an interpretation of the Northwest passage saga including McClure's itinerary. We met on shore a Franklin Searcher named Tom Gross, who comes here each year in his quest to find the on-land grave of Franklin and his records. His theory is that Crozier built a vault on King William Island, where he buried Franklin and a copy of the ships records, when he knew the ship's were seriously beset and in real danger. It must have been incomprehensible for Crozier to think that all his crew would perish before a rescue mission would come or they could raise the alarm. I acted as sound-man as John Murray conducted a film interview with the intrepid searcher
Monday 13th August. Gjoa-Haven.
The American MV Turmoil arrived at 3am next morning, their shore party passing through Northabout now tied up on the jetty for fuel and water, as we changed engine oil and made a new gasget for our exhaust pipe which passes through Paddy's cabin. They invite us to dinner, as we go shopping, visit the local school and tell the children where we have sailed from and sing and play some Irish music for them. We visit the American DEW Station (Defence Early Warning) which looked operational despite the end of the cold war. We were collected at 7pm in the rib of the Turmoil with its 300 horse powered turbo-charged diesel engine to meet the crew and guests of Gary Comer on his custom built ship that goes places where most cruisers would be shy. Steak and multiple salads (Are you sure this is the Arctic) greeted us, we responded with a medley of songs and a memorable "Boss Shackleton" from Paddy and a passionate "My Native Land" from Mike Brogan. It was a fitting place (Gjoa-haven) near to the Great Fish River for the first rendition of Lament for Francis Crozier, which I penned during our exciting passage through Peel Sound. (words appended)
Tuesday 14th August. 5 am local time We nursed our hangover, as we walked across Todd Island one of the recorded places where Croziers retreating crew passed, just getting a feel and sense of the desolation of that low windswept island. A pair of eagles cried out their displeasure at our invasion, a geese passed along the shoreline, the burrows of lemmings was evident. Then Mike discovered a skull cap minus its lower jaw along the shoreline, blending perfectly into the landscape with rusty licken. We photographed it and located it by GPS, and left it as we found it pondering that perhaps it was the remains of one of Croziers men or more likely an Inuit. Our heads now clear, we headed Northabout for Cambridge Bay through the narrows of Simson Strait with it shallow shoals. We are now headed west.
Lament for Francis Crozier Frank Nugent
Written Peel Sound AUGUST 10TH 2001
On the shores of Bleak Boothia, winter darkness was over
Brave Crozier led his men, in search of fresh food
22nd of April, their ships they deserted
Terror, his home was beset towards its doom.
Oh, What suffering and pain, did your poor seamen suffer
Lord Franklin to die, in your ships so secure
Scurvy and starvation, those sailor privations
Broke the resolve of stout men on Cape Felix shore.
Did you dream of Sweet Sophy, the grand ball at Tasmania
Was your heart broke before you did sail
Cold nights in your cabin beneath the Great Bear constellation
No place for a man with deep hurts and wounds.
The Northwest Passage, its route ye discovered
The ice it beset ye, you could not get free
Ye starved on the shores of Back's Great Fish River
The passage it led you to heavens green shore