Burial of John Franklin. Author: me


Kabloonas is the way in which the Inuit who live in the north part of Canada call those who haven´t their same ascendency.

The first time i read this word was in the book "Fatal Passage" by Ken McGoogan, when, as the result of the conversations between John Rae and some inuit, and trying to find any evidence of the ill-fated Sir John Franklin Expedition, some of then mentioned that they watched how some kabloonas walked to die in the proximities of the river Great Fish.

I wish to publish this blog to order and share all those anecdotes that I´ve been finding in the arctic literature about arctic expeditions. My interest began more than 15 years ago reading a little book of my brother about north and south pole expeditions. I began reading almost all the bibliography about Antarctic expeditions and the superknown expeditions of Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton, etc. After I was captured by the Nansen, Nobile and Engineer Andree. But the most disturbing thing in that little book, full of pictures, was the two pages dedicated to the last Franklin expedition of the S.XIX, on that moment I thought that given the time on which this and others expeditions happened, few or any additional information could be obtained about it. I couldn´t imagine that after those two pages It would be a huge iceberg full of stories, unresolved misteries, anecdotes, etc. I believe that this iceberg, on the contrary than others, would continue growing instead melting.

miércoles, 25 de marzo de 2015


The Erebus has been found and new divings are scheduled for dates as early as this coming month of April. However, imagination it is a powerful tool which can fly faster than actual facts and I am sure that not few of us have been already diving through the guts of the ship. In my case, I have found an unspoilt skeleton lying in a bunk and have opened a box full of valuable documents. I have also personally lifted the ship and put it to dry in the historical dockyard of Portsmouth. This last action is not merely the result of my feverish imagination but a reality which have been accomplished a certain number of times before. It is true that all of those previous cases were lying at further south latitudes than the Erebus and in much more accessible areas but I want you to live with me this dream and make your mouth water through what it could be done with some money and will.

Marine salvaging is not a modern technique which eccentric and romantic historians have developed to waste the money of the  tax payers but a technique which was in the mind of ship owners centuries ago. Nicolo Fontano Tartaglia side - passion to mathematics was marine salvage. As early as in 1551 he wrote a treaty about this issue including the design of several diving bells and methods to raise sunken ships. His live, by the way, deserves a quick look.  

The fact is that building a ship cost then, and costs now, a fortune, and there must be a no lesser drama than losing a ship during its maiden voyage.

Illustration from a treatise on salvaging from 1734, showing the traditional method of raising a wreck with the help of anchors and ships or hulksas pontoons, basically the same method that was used to raise Vasa in the 20th century.
Nicolo Fontano Tartaglia Marine salvage handbook.

I am not going to talk here about the recovery of the sunken navy from Scapa Flow for making them scrap or about the recovery of the ships which sank in Pearl Harbor but about those old  and fragile wooden ships which were taken from their water graves. Sadly I have not found  a lot of cases as  I initially thought, in fact, I have only found those which I already knew. Let´s review them and see what was done to rescue them:

THE VASA sank outside the Stockholm harbor in 1628 (32 m depht):

It sank in the seventeenth century and rediscovered in 1950´s. It took more than one thousand divers and two years of digging tunnels below the ship to make it see the surface of the water. It was a hazardous and long job on which it was necessary to close its hatches, plug the holes which some nails have left, repair the stern castle and deploy the cables under it which would be responsible of its final lifting. At last, from a depth of 32 m, after having been underwater for 333 years, the timbers of the Vasa rose over the surface. Personal possesions from the sailors were found together with the skeletons of at least four men of the thirty who lost their lives. Interestingly there were premature attempts to rescue it right after its sinking (See picture above).

Vasa in the shipyard.
Those who could be interested in what could be done to repair the ship should visit the Vasa museum website. The job those people did to restore it is simply incredible. Those who could still think this is a waste of money should think in the counterpart which would imply giving job for hundreds of professionals.

BATAVIA 1629 Struck in a Reef near Beacon island, Australia (Depth: shallow)

The story which surrounds the shipwreck of Batavia is as interesting as any other story about pirates you could have heard before: mutinies, killings, executions, etc. However, from the Batavia, only portions have been able to be salvaged from the sea like this portion of the stern:

Restored stern section and archway as display at the Fremantle Maritime Museum
Bodies and other items were also found and rescued from the sea during the more than 1.600 hours-diving. Its remains must not lie very deep underwater.

MARY ROSE 1545 Sank during the Battle of Solent  (11 m below water)

The decision to raise the ship was shaped in the form of a charitable trust. The later participation of the National Maritime Museum, Royal Navy and the BBC made the dreams of archaeologists and historians come true.

Could these same three actors save the Erebus too? The previous experiences on this field were the raising of the Vasa but this task was going to be much more difficult to accomplish. This time, 500 divers making 22,000 hours diving, made the miracle possible. Only a third of the ship was intact, so, raising it in one piece following the traditional way of using cables below the hull was quickly discarded. The construction of a cofferdam was discarded too. As it happened with the VASA it was proposed the using of ping pong balls to increase its buoyancy and other apparently bizarre ideas. Finally, it was decided to use a metal frame to lift it with a huge crane over a barge.

The interesting thing here is not only the technical part of the project but the cooperation between private and public partners which made it possible. Any project manager knows that money is as, if not more, important as the technical part is, but with money, oh friends!!, everything is possible.

Remains of half of the crew were found and detailed studies over them have helped to reconstruct how their lives were by that time.

The wreck of the Mary Rose clear of the water on 11 October 1982

HMS ROYAL GEORGE  1756 (20 m depth)

The Royal George was an enormous ship which sank close to the Wright island with 800 souls on board. The attempts to rescue it were mainly due for safety reasons. Its position presented a danger for navigation. First items were rescued in 1782 using a diving bell, after in 1839 the Major General Pasley, far from attempting the rescue of the ship, drove the obliteration of it using powder barrels charged with lead.

A contemporary illustration of theRoyal George resting at the bottom of the Solent with its masts sticking up from the surface.
The pragmatic Pasley destroyed the ship "in a huge controlled explosion that shattered windows as far away as Portsmouth and Gosport."

Why mention then the techniques used here if there was never the intention of recovering the ship? I have chosen to tell this story for two reasons, firstly because the means which were used here implied the extensive and successful use of the Deane´s diving helmets during the complex siege of the shipwreck which lasted years. And secondly, because one of those casualities which sometimes happen, our well known Doctor Richardson  was involved in the treatment of the injuries suffered by Roderick Cameron, one of the divers. I have not researched further on this matter, but surely, his diagnosis and analisys was one of the first about the issue of decompression. Amazing, isn´t it?

No matter how intense could be our thoughts, the truth is that our beloved ship, the HMS Erebus, is located in an inaccesible position, subjected to such weather conditions, that it makes very difficult to gather, not months, but weeks to perform a proper diving expedition. The cost of refloating it could be compared with the cost of launching a satellite to the Moon´s orbit. Erebus is a much more recent shipwreck than the Vasa´s one and its grave of cold arctic waters is a waranty for its good preservation. The money and the logistic is the closed door which separate us from its hidden treasures. The will of those who are hooked by the fate of the Franklin expedition and the money of big public and private corporations is the key to open it.

Could a huge glass dome in Gjoa Haven shelter the ship? Could this be a balanced solution? Time will say and I hope I could live to witness it. My first thought about this is that it would be easier and cheaper to build a replica instead of rescuing the actual ship. Some cards play against us. Definitely, the stout and gross shape of the Erebus cannot compete with the  elegancy and fine decoration of the Vasa but undoubtedly her tough silhouette, surrounded by the cold and harsh atmosphere of KingWilliam Island, would impress us one thousand times more than any other museum-ship in the world.

For ending, recently, Wolfgang Opel shared with the Franklinite society a piece of news which tells about what this discovery could imply for the tiny and economically and socially depressed Inuit community of Gjoa Haven. The title reads: "Franklin wreck could help float fortunes of Arctic community".

Rumors have spoken about the fact of creating a National Park: "to set up a Franklin Committee of community elders and other leaders who will lead the community in discussions about building tourism capacity, infrastructure and protecting the Franklin sites." This measure would have its upsides and downsides, like everything.

Several cruises are expected to reach King William Island this summer and it is supposed that hundreds of tourists are going to land there. Is the Everest phenomenon coming to this inaccesible island? Is this a threat for this small community or is it its salvation? The salvage of the Erebus and the construction of a museum for it, either in situ or right in Gjoa Haven would multiply undoubtedly this effect. There would not be in this scenario tens of dead people lying over a route up in the dead zone and Sherpas guides risking their lives, but cozy igloos to accomodate tourists, hotels, an ice bar and lots of work for the Inuit community.

I have experienced the results of a similar case in my birth town, a depressed city from where all the young people had to flee looking for a job. Now a big cruiser vomits daily thousands of tourists in the city. My only complain about that is that now it is more difficult to walk by the streets in the center and that here and there people two-meters tall ask me for this and that direction (I really love that), but to consulate a bit my (fake) grieve, the activity now in the region is crazy, lots of shops have reopened, pubs and bars are proliferating and the young people stay in the town, are learning foreign languages and are working as tourist guides, waiters, museums, and so on.