HMS Terror: Searchers find second Franklin ship

HMS Erebus is pictured on a sonar scan in the Queen Maud Gulf in Nunavut, released on September 9, 2014. The second ship from Sir John Franklin's doomed 19th-century search for the Northwest Passage has been found.The Arctic Research Foundation says the HMS Terror has been located in the Arctic waters along the fabled waterway.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Parks Canada

The second ship from Sir John Franklin’s doomed 19th-century search for the Northwest Passage has been located — right where an Inuit hunter said it would be.

“The ship is in remarkable condition,” Adrian Schimnowski of the Arctic Research Foundation, one of the groups involved in the search, said Monday from the research ship that located the HMS Terror.

“It looks like it gently slipped to the seabed floor.”

The Terror, one of two British navy vessels sent in 1845 to try to find the Northwest Passage, was discovered Sept. 3 in 24 metres of water in Terror Bay, a small indentation on the coast of King William Island west of the community of Gjoa Haven.

The well-preserved wreck of Franklin’s other ship, the Erebus, was found in 2014 about 11 metres below the surface in the Queen Maud Gulf, along the central Arctic coastline.

The ships were less than 100 kilometres apart.

Both were lost with all 129 crew. Their fate — until now — has proved one of the Arctic’s most enduring mysteries.

Schimnowski said that mystery might have remained if not for a late-night conversation on one of the search vessels between himself and Sammy Kogvik, an Inuk and Canadian Ranger from Gjoa Haven.

The two were on the bridge of the Martin Bergmann, a research vessel, and Kogvik was telling Schimnowski about the history of the shorelines they were sailing past. He started talking about something he’d seen seven years ago while snowmobiling across the sea ice of Terror Bay.

Kogvik recalled how he had looked behind him to check on his hunting partner when he spotted a large pole sticking up out of the ice. The two Inuit stopped and took pictures of what looked like a ship’s mast.

But when Kogvik got home to Gjoa Haven, he found he’d dropped his camera and lost the shots.

“He kept the story secret because he didn’t want people not to believe him,” Schimnowski said

“As soon as he said the story, I knew from his eyes and the way he was speaking that he had something. I’d also heard similar stories in the past four years, so we quickly decided to change our course, to go into Terror Bay.”

The crew searched for more than two hours without success. They decided to give up and head to the nearby community of Cambridge Bay using a different route out of the bay than they had entered with.

“Within 15 minutes of starting again, we found an artifact on screen,” Schimnowski said. “It looked like the cross-section of a masted ship.

“It was very exciting. We had several happy dances on the bridge. There were hugs, tears …

“You have very few experiences like that in a lifetime. We celebrated together.”

In a release, Kogvik said he was delighted to see the vessel again.

“I am very excited, we found the boat I touched 7-8 years ago and then it vanished again. Gjoa Haven will be excited too because an Inuit found the boat so many years ago.

“I am just so excited to be aboard RV Bergmann and see the boat again. I just want to see something, anything, even something small that will show me how the people lived on that boat.”

In the days since the discovery, the crew has identified a number of the Terror’s features.

There is a video of the ship’s bell. A cannon similar to those on the Erebus has been spotted. The ship’s helm is still there “in perfect condition,” said Schimnowski.

A windlass, used to haul up an anchor, still has heavy rope wrapped around it as if moored to the bottom of the sea.

The story of Franklin has inspired generations of Canadian artists and writers: from songwriter Stan Rogers to novelist Mordecai Richler.

Beginning in 2008, Parks Canada has led numerous expeditions to find the ships.

Ownership of the Erebus and Terror has been transferred to the Canadian government. Both resting spots are considered historic sites.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960


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