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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic June 09, 2012 - 8:01 pm

Taissumani, June 8

The Loss of the Windward

KENN HARPER
The Scottish whaling station at Pond’s Bay.
The Scottish whaling station at Pond’s Bay.

By 1904 the Scottish vessel Windward was back at work as a whaler. She had been out of the trade for some years working as an exploration supply vessel. After that, the Dundee firm of R. Ferguson and Company purchased her to replace the Vega, which had been crushed in the ice of Melville Bay.

Her first year was not a particular success – she took only one young whale that yielded a mere seven feet of “bone.” This was whaler jargon meaning the maximum length of the baleen was seven feet.

In 1906 the Windward, under Captain Cooney, was the last ship home and she arrived “clean” – a whaler term meaning that she had taken no bowhead whales. For almost three months she had been beset by ice in the treacherous waters of Melville Bay.

Finally clear at the end of July, she made for Cape Hooper on the Baffin coast. Although she took no whales, she did return home with 54 walrus, 13 seals, 13 bearskins, two live bears, four narwhal, and one beluga.

The following year, she was off to a good start. Early out of Dundee, by June 14 she had made a quick and uneventful crossing of Melville Bay.

But, perhaps as a portent of things to come, the engineer, 42-year-old Donald Wilson died that day. Eleven days later, off the Carey Islands, a group of over a dozen small islands near the coast of northern Greenland, the ship hit a submerged rock.

Unfortunately the accident happened at high tide. When the tide ebbed, the vessel listed, slipped and was badly holed near the stern. Water rushed in and the pumps could not keep up. The crew took to the ship’s six boats, and loaded them with provisions — tinned beef, margarine, coffee, tea, condensed milk, vegetables, sardines, ham and biscuits, as well as 100 pounds of coal.

After a night camped on one of the islands, the decision was made to row to Pond’s Bay, the whalers’ name for the waters around present-day Pond Inlet. They knew there was a shore-based Dundee station there, and there would be other whaling ships calling.

They left at 8 a.m. on June 27, in front of a north-east breeze, each crew member well clad and with a blanket. James Henderson, the carpenter, kept a private log of the adventure.

They set a course for Clarence Head on Ellesmere Island, about 35 miles distant. But Henderson soon lost sight of the other boats. Late in the afternoon, after cooking a meal on a floating pan of ice, they adjusted their course for Coburg Island at the mouth of Glacier Strait.

There was a light wind from the north, so progress was good. The crew lay down to rest as Henderson continued to steer using an oar, the boat being propelled by wind. But as they neared their landmark, they saw that ice 16 to 20 feet thick closed the mouth of the strait. They kept the boats well off this barrier, for safety, and steered south.

Late on the morning of June 29, they pulled the boat onto the ice and the carpenter fashioned a rudder from some wood they were carrying. It would make steering considerably easier. The next day they set a course to cross the strait to Devon Island. The crew complained of swollen feet and ankles, chapped lips and frozen noses. The crossing, though, was successful, and the reward was a square meal of bread, beef and curry.

They had travelled with little or no sleep. Henderson wrote in his log, “I am done up for the want of sleep. I have not had any since the morning we lost the ship. I have been so long without it that I cannot fall over. My mind is wandering at times. The younger ones seem to sleep all right sitting in their boats with their blankets over them, but the anxiety of my mind keeps me from it.”

Next Week – The Rescue of the Windward’s Crew
Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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