Erebus and Terror Bay
-2°C / 28° F
Winds west 10-15 knots
This exceptional day started when we woke to find we were anchored in Erebus and Terror Bay. Few people can claim to have eaten breakfast in the same place as Franklin and his men.
It is an incredible spot with the dark cliffs of Devon Island ringed around the bay, and rising magnificently out of the snow covered scree at their base. The island was snow covered; more snow than any of the staff who’d previously visited had seen there before.
Large hunks of ice with blue undersides drifted close to the shore. It was a spectacular spot. We had an early breakfast, then went ashore to the gravesites at Beechey Island. The sky was an ominous granite grey that matched the desolate spot where four headstones rose obtrusively from the thick snow. Three mark the resting place of Franklin’s men who died here in 1845 during the expedition’s first winter in the Arctic. A fourth belongs to a member of Robert McClure’s (1850-54) expedition.
We were happy to stretch our legs after being on board for a few days, and some folks chose to hike up the mountain behind the graves to the plateau at the top where Franklin’s men had built a cairn. I would’ve loved to climb up and see it too, but was needed to talk about the historical elements on the ground level.
A large contingent hiked the kilometre and a half to Northumberland House. The line of walkers trooping over the snow resembled what the funeral procession of Franklin’s men must’ve looked returning from the burial of one of their comrades 170 years ago.
Barrel staves, the cross of tin cans and many of the relics usually seen here were buried beneath snow. Northumberland House, built in 1853 by Sir Edward Belcher’s men as a storehouse for the expedition based at Beechey, poked its remaining few beams, boards and posts out of the snow.
John Ross left a yacht for search parties to use. But all that remains of the Mary is her mast, protruding grey and weathered from the snow on the terraced beach.
Franklin’s Cenotaph, erected by Edward Belcher’s men in 1852 to honour those who died searching for the lost expedition, still stands sentinel behind the skeleton of Northumberland House. Lady Franklin’s marble tablet cemented at the foot of this cenotaph lay hidden beneath several inches of ice and snow. But the tablet honouring Joseph-Rene Bellot, as well as the lead faceplates of fallen men on the wooden cenotaph stuck out dark against the snow.
It was curious to see the more modern monuments, such as the one from Princess Marguerite erected 40 years, were crumbling.
Compared to the remains of Belcher’s expedition, they had not fared well.
The sky was spectacular with golden streaks stretching open the grisly grey clouds over the snowy headlands around the bay. It was a stark and desolate place, but gloriously beautiful at the same time. We appreciated how this must’ve seemed a welcome harbour when Franklin’s ships first dropped anchor, and to the subsequent search and rescue expeditions. We returned to the ship awed by the history of the place, and a fuller appreciation of how harsh life at Beechey must’ve been.
After lunch, we headed for Radstock Bay to the east, intending to walk to the Thule archaelogical site. We halted partway there to watch a bear ambling along the icy beach at the base of a cliff wall. Not long afterwards, we entered Radstock Bay and anchored near the impressive 650 foot limestone Caswell Tower.
The staff landed and were just getting ready to welcome the first two zodiacs of passengers when a call went over the radio that the bear had rounded the entrance to the bay. He was heading towards us, so the landing was aborted. The zodiacs turned back, and instead cruised among the ice at a distance from the shore watching the bear sauntering along the land until he disappeared over a snowy ridge.
At recap, David Newland sang three songs: one for each of Franklin’s men buried at Beechey. It was a fitting homage to an exceptional historic Arctic landmark, and a remarkable day.