Thousands of ships ply our oceans and waterways every day. It might seem strange these days, but ocean shipping is still a primary means of trade and transport. Inevitably, with so many ships floating around, some are bound to go missing. Often they wreck and slip beneath the waves, never to be seen again. Others are abandoned, and wind up adrift or beached. Some few become ghost ships, entering the popular imagination by seeming to appear and disappear. One such ghost ship, the Ghost Ship of the Arctic, was the SS Baychimo.
An ill-fated voyage
The SS Baychimo was originally launched in 1915. The 1300 ton steamship was dubbed the Angermanalfven, and its first job was to go between the ports of northern Germany and Sweden. She wound up coming into British hands after World War I as a part of the crippling reparations the Allies imposed on Germany. The Hudson Bay company purchased the ship in 1921 and dubbed it the Baychimo.
Baychimo wintered in Ardrossan, and would sail every spring for north Alaska. She made this expedition nine times. For what would be her tenth and final voyage in 1931, she left port as usual. She reached the trading area on the north coast of Alaska by the end of July 1931. Winter came early that year, and by early October the Baychimo and her crew were trapped in pack-ice about a mile and a half from the shore, west of Point Barrow.
The crew recognized that they were in very real danger. The ice all around them could easily crush their ship;. They abandoned ship and crossed the ice. They sent out an SOS and twenty-two of them were rescued by ski-plane. Captain Cornwell and fifteen crewmen remained nearby, not willing to abandon the ship’s valuable cargo of furs. Crewmen constructed a makeshift cabin out of bits of the Baychimo and kept a frosty watch on the trapped ship, hoping that the ice would break up enough to let them steer her home.
Then on November 24th, a huge storm hit that trapped the men in their abode for three days. When they managed to dig themselves out, they found that the Baychimo had disappeared. By February 1932, the men were rescued. The Baychimo, however, remained missing.
An elusive hulk
The first sighting of the ghost ship came on 1932, when she was seen by a man traveling from Herschel to Nome saw her embedded in ice. She was boarded twice by members of a schooner called Trader–first in 1935 and again in 1939–who found an untouched snippet of sea-going life, from charts and navigational instruments to books to an intact kitchen.
Eskimos continued to report seeing her for years. She was also seen by naval personnel during World War Two. Stories of these sightings led the Baychimo to be dubbed the “Ghost Ship of the Arctic.” The last time she was sighted was in 1969, near where her last ill-fated voyage ended.
Some may wonder if she may still be floating up there around the lonely seas of the Arctic. That is not likely. It was amazing that she could survive more than thirty years with no maintenance in one of the most hostile environments on the planet. The odds that she survived another forty are pretty long. Odds are she slipped under the icy waves when her hull finally gave out. But then no one saw it happen, so who can say?
Bolton, Alan. “My Grandfather’s Life: S.S. Bayeskimo & S.S. Baychimo.” aboltonswebsite.co.uk. 2014. A. Bolton’s Website. July 2014. http://www.aboltonswebsite.co.uk/hbc_main.html#top_page
Harper, Kenn. “Taissumani: A day in Arctic History Nov. 24 1931—Ghost Ship: The Disappearance of the Baychimo.” nunatsiaqonline.ca. November 24, 2006. Nunatsiaq Online. July 2014. http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/archives/61124/opinionEditorial/columns.html