Taissumani, June 15
The Rescue of the Windward's Crew
This column continues the saga of the shipwrecked sailors of the Dundee whaler, Windward, forced to row from the Carey Islands near the Greenland coast to a shore whaling station near Pond’s Bay (present-day Pond Inlet) in 1907.
Half-way down the western coast of Devon Island, Henderson saw the other five boats approaching. On July 1, at 8 a.m. this “flotilla” left for Cape Hay at the north-eastern tip of Bylot Island, with a northeast wind helping their passage.
But the wind died in mid-afternoon and the crew took once again to the oars. By eight in the evening, they faced a stiff headwind and snow squalls, and the floating ice pans proved a constant danger.
The next day, with the wind still blowing from the south-west, they launched the boats in the evening. Henderson wrote, “[we] were about to get away when a large piece of ice came in, unnoticed by any of us, jammed the boats’ head, and walked right over us, filling us right up with water. I thought it was to be the last of us, and all we had for a home. The ice eased off and she floated flush with the surface of the water. Thank God for it. I never thought she would right with the water that was in her. We got her partly hauled up on the ice again, and baled out. Everything was soaked, our bread was damaged, and nothing was dry except what was on our backs. It was hard looking at our wrecked home. We got the water out, and examined her, and found that our rudder was broken beyond repair. Proceeded to load up again… and launched the boat, set sail, and ran north-west with two reefs in our sail — four boats of us towards the land in blinding sleet.”
On July 3, heavy masses of ice threatened again to sink the boats. “It was a case of down sail quick and pull hard head on to the wind; a pull for dear life to windward,” wrote the carpenter.
“Otherwise we would have been smashed up to matchwood. It was blowing a strong gale from the north-east. About 4 p.m. the gale moderated, but a swell came in and broke up the flow on which we had taken refuge, threatening to swallow us up, boats and all. The three of us — the captain’s, mate’s, and my boat — were together. We made preparations to try to save one of the boats and some provisions for the 20 men in them. We hauled the boats over the tops of high pinnacles of ice till sometimes they were only bearing in the centre and sometimes standing on one end. We worked hard cutting pieces off the hummocks with axes in order to get the boats to a place of safety.”
But the swell subsided. By 2 a.m. on July 6, they were only 10 miles from the station at Pond’s Bay. They pulled their boats onto a floe and slept for four hours. At nine in the morning they were spotted by the Dundee ship, Morning, which picked up the three boats’ crews, then steamed north to rescue the others.
The crew were divided up among the Morning, the Eclipse, and the Balaena. All these ships returned to Dundee clean. One crew member, Hans Neilsen, a Swede, died aboard the Eclipse, from the ordeal he had experienced before their rescue..
It was a bittersweet homecoming. They were safe, but because of the peculiarities of how whalers were paid they were also broke, with “not a single copper to draw on their arrival.”
By tradition, crew members received one month’s wages in advance before they left on a voyage. While away their relatives were able to draw half-pay,
But when news of the loss of the Windward reached Dundee in October, the half-pay stopped. And the cruel reality was that the Windward went down on June 25, and it was on that day that the crew was deemed to have stopped earning wages.
In fact, the money drawn by their families between June 25 and the day the news reached Dundee was money that the crews were not entitled to. It instantly became a debt owing to the ship-owners. The men had lost everything except the clothes they returned in. For tradesmen who had lost their tools as well, it was an even greater tragedy.
The Windward was insured, its shareholders protected. The ship, 55 years old, a ripe old age by whaling standards, lay in the waters off the Carey Islands, one less vessel in the declining Dundee fleet.