« AnteriorContinuar »
obstacles with greater care, backing off, filling again, heaving about, twisting this way and that, and by the help of ropes and poles, turning the schooner whenever the ice ahead is too thick to contend with. When once a wall of ice is formed by the combination of a number of pieces getting packed closely together, it entirely breaks the swell of the sea, and leaves the water perfectly calm within. Another remarkable effect we now noticed for the first time, although we had read of it in Arctic records, was the curious effect of the ice upon the wind, even though a gale may be blowing. At a short distance from the outside edge the force of the wind is stayed, and its influence is no longer felt. We now felt sure some accident must occur. Several of the ice fields were an acre in extent, and as they float above the surface, their thickness can easily be calculated, for we only see one-tenth of the submerged mass above the sea. A block of ice of twelve feet elevation presents its front to the approaching ship. We must ever bear in mind that this twelve feet represents a thickness of one hundred and eight feet below the surface. Great and irresistible as this obstacle may appear, it is easily dealt with. The united efforts of two intelligent men soon divert its threatening course ; but men experienced in dealing with ice should alone attempt to cope with difficulties such as these. To drive a ship through such waters as these would be sure to end in disaster, if attempted by sailors who had not been reared in this kind of service. We noticed that the blows were delivered upon the angles and corners of the ice rather than upon the surface directly. Should the vessel strike against ice aground, of course the shock is as great as if a rock was ahead. We got through the first long neck of ice into clear water, only to commence another attack. By this time we are grown well acquainted with the details of the operation, and we drive headlong into another pack. The fog now grows so dense, we are quite unable to advance. Fortunately for us, the calm here was perfect, and the swell of the sea had quite subsided. Gradually the wind rises, and there being no prospect of any further progress in our intended direction, we turn the schooner's head towards the south, and a lane of water having in the meantime opened in the direction we were about to sail, we took advantage of it, and the schooner stood out towards the open sea once more, the walls of ice on either hand protecting us as we went.
Early on the 6th, our second harpooner went away in the whale-boats, and soon returned with our first seal; in the mean time, we amused ourselves by making short excursions from the schooner in quest of loom
(Uria grylle), and other sea-birds. Fine as the weather is, we are forced to keep the ship in sight, owing to the foggy state of the atmosphere ; presently a second boat's crew ventures away, and we observe a signal from the deck intended for us, which indicates something is in store—a seal has been noticed from the deck floating at some little distance, and we stealthily go in pursuit of the pussy (the seamen's name for a seal) ; we kneel down in the bows, while a sailor in the stern sculls warily towards her, stopping whenever he sees the least motion in the ever-watchful animal. She is resting on the ice, and as we approach, she lifts her head and turns slowly to look upon us, when, of course, we remain perfectly still until she again settles quietly down. In this way we advance to within about thirty yards, when she turns restlessly, as if contemplating a sudden move; we see her keen, inquiring eye turned full upon us—a warning word whispered by the sailor, and as we pull the trigger, the whisper is changed into a wild exclamation of disappointment, for the seal slips quietly over the ledge out of sight; we feeling perfectly satisfied with the success of the shot, hurry up, and entirely forgetting the advice of the Hull Harbourmaster, jump on to the treacherous ice and hasten to the opposite side ; there the ledge overhangs somewhat ; the mass yields beneath our weight, and
we are precipitated head-foremost into the water. Recovering from our momentary sensation of surprise and bewilderment, we look about for the seal. There she lies, however, dead upon a tongue of ice, and just beneath the surface; but for this platform beneath the waves, which is a rather common shape assumed by floating ice, it would have been a difficult matter to save one's self from drowning, owing to the heavy weight of our fishing-boots and thick clothing. As it is no worse, we grasp the flipper of our dead seal, and with no small difficulty she is stowed away on board the boat, and we slowly follow. A good pull back to the ship to keep up the circulation, and a change of dry clothing, terminates our first lesson upon Arctic ice-a lesson not easily forgotten ; lat. 71° 29' N., long. 9° 29' W., temperature of water 31°, of air 32°.
The ice continues to head us since the 7th, and we determine to sail north. Here we obtain our first midnight observation of the sun, and find the altitude 6° 30', lat. 73.12. Up to this point we have been endeavouring to accustom ourselves to the want of darkness, and we now begin to enjoy its absence.
The loom (Colymbus septentrionalis) being a fast swimmer and active diver, affords us some sport during the necessarily slow progress of our voyage. He requires to be hard hit, as the feathers are so