Aventura IV’s Logs

Beechey Island

Located at the western end of Lancaster Sound, Beechey Island is the
site where the ill-fated expedition led by Sir John Franklin, spent
their first Arctic winter in 1845-46. Two well-equipped ships, Terror
and Erebus, had left London in May 1845, with the task of completing the
charting of the Northwest Passage, and thus establishing beyond any
doubt the existence of this waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific
Oceans. Neither the ships nor any of the 129 men were ever seen again.
In the following years, several search expeditions were mounted and
eventually their tragic fate became known. With their ships beset by
ice, the crews were forced to abandon them and try to save themselves by
walking overland. Only a few managed to make it to the mainland, where
they all perished.

Sailors'graves on Beechey Island

Sailors’graves on Beechey Island

Over the years there has been much speculation as to the real reason how
such a well-prepared expedition could have come to such an unexpected
end. It was only in the early 1980s that it was finally proven that the
high content of lead in the human remains that had been analysed, would
have caused severe lead poisoning. Combined with scurvy, the effects had
eventually led to their deaths.

On the shore of Beechey Island are the graves of the men who had died
during that first winter, as well as several memorials dedicated to the
members of this tragic expedition. For sailors attempting a transit of
the Northwest Passage, the site is a place of pilgrimage, and, having
anchored Aventura in Terror and Erebus Bay, we made our way ashore to
pay our respects.

Franklin memorial

Franklin memorial

Our stop at Beechey Island was tinged with sadness, not only because of
the tragic events of all those years ago, but also by the decision to
abandon our attempt to transit the Northwest Passage this summer. With
the ice situation showing little improvement, even if a late transit may
become possible, we could face the prospect of being unable to reach the
Pacific before the seas started to ice up again. In such an eventuality
the only solution would be to overwinter somewhere in Arctic Canada or
Alaska, something that I was not prepared to do. It was therefore
decided to turn around and sail back to Europe while the weather
conditions in the Northern Atlantic are still favourable for our 2700
miles passage home.

The first response to my decision came from my son Ivan. I quote his
words here, as they reflect exactly my own feelings:

“Seeing as there seems to be a 50/50 chance that the Northwest Passage
won’t open this year, it may be for the best to turn back. This is
something my cycling has taught me about being audacious: it’s better to
have tried and possibly failed than not to try at all!”

Back to Top