Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, September 18, 2014



This week's blog begins way back in the year 1846. That's when the final voyage of Sir John Franklin took place. Never heard of Sir John Franklin? He was an illustrious Brit who first rose to prominence during the Battle of New Orleans and the famed Battle of Trafalgar. After the Napoleonic Wars, he headed two very successful explorations. His crew mapped Canada's Arctic, charting the coastline of enormous Hudson Bay. In 1829, he was knighted by King George IV, but did not retire. Instead, Sir John's third voyage ended in disaster, with both ships disappearing.

For the last 160 years, the two ships have sat at the bottom of the sea, hidden below the ice off Queen Maud Land. This desolate island sustains no animal or plant life. You'll only find shale rocks, gravel and ice here. So how was the wreck discovered? It was actually a helicopter pilot, who was ferrying researchers for the joint Canadian Coast Guard / Royal Geographic project. He saw something shiny in the water. It turned out to be the exact thing all the researchers were looking for in the first place: The HMS Erebus.

Further investigation has revealed a plethora of artifacts. State of the art SONAR technology combined with imagery from robotic undersea crafts are studying the wreckage. They show a remarkably well preserved galleon teeming with clues as to what happened on board 160 years ago. It's a treasure-trove for historians, anthropologists and people who love adventure. So far, two bronze cannons, some iron muskets, even an old boot...all are waiting to be taken ashore.  

It's not just the explorers who are excited. Let's face it: This is the most interesting thing to happen in Canada in decades! So, naturally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper wanted in on the action too. He proudly posed with Coast Guard Officers next to a piece of the hull. Next, the artifact went across the Atlantic to 10 Downing Street, where Prime Minister David Cameron did a similar photo op. Since it is a Royal Navy vessel, the next of kin were also notified. Alexandra Shackleton, the great-granddaughter of Sir John, was intently following the expedition.

For the time being, the HMS Erebus will remain untouched. While the Northwest Passage is getting wider every year, it still completely unnavigable six months a year, starting in October. So everyone will have to wait until Spring 2015 to see what else is on board. Expect some pretty gruesome tales. After the canned food ran out, sailors ate anything. During the first Franklin Expedition, their ship was locked in the ice for months and Sir John got his nickname: The Man Who Ate His Boots!  

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