National Geographic : 1951 Oct
Far North with "Captain Mac" BY MIRIAM MACMILLAN "PrIAKE the wheel, Miriam," said Mac, | quietly. As I clutched the big mahogany wheel, "Hard aport!" he directed. Then, jumping on the deckhouse, he called out: "Cast off the lines! Half-speed astern!" Slowly the Bowdoin backed away from the dock at Boothbay Harbor, Maine, away from cheering friends and relatives ashore and on small boats around us. The orders, "Steady on the wheel," then, "Ahead slow," made me tin gle with the realization that once more we were headed back to the North-to clear waters filled with bluish-green ice and fantastic ice bergs; to a land where the midnight sun casts a glow on snow-capped mountains; and straight-haired Eskimos dart about in seal skin-covered kayaks. Even our 88-foot Arctic schooner-name gold-leafed on her bow, white hull shining with fresh paint, spars newly varnished-even the Bowdoin seemed to glory at thought of being washed once more by icy waters, or tied to an iceberg while her crew refilled the water tanks, or "slowed down" while we photo graphed a polar bear, herd of walrus, a nar whal, or perhaps Eskimos. Now, as she glided ahead, she seemed im patient to face once more the exciting uncer tainty of poking her nose into those uncharted inlets along the icy, ledge-strewn coasts of Labrador, Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island, and Greenland (map, page 467). Bombarded with Questions It was June, 1950. This would be the 29th expedition to the Far North for my husband, Commander Donald B. MacMillan, U.S.N.R. (my own eighth), and the beginning of his 42d year of Arctic exploration.* Weeks of hard work had prepared for the expedition. Then, in the last few days, there were endless questions: "How can this little boat stand the strain of that ice?" "Will you bring back polar bears and walrus-alive?" "How do you ever cook a walrus in that small oven?" "How do you keep warm?" "Why do you call that"-pointing to the crow's-nest at the top of the foremast-"the ice barrel?" And, looking directly at me: "Where do you wash your hair or take a bath?" If I hap pened to be in the after cabin near my bunk, I'd point to the small basin in our four-by-four "head" and say, "In that basin-if we have enough water." With all the questioning crowds, I some times wondered how we ever managed to stow on board under floors, in closets, in every cubbyhole enough food (four tons) for 14 men and one woman for four months. Not to mention 2,700 gallons of Diesel oil, 600 gallons of water, three tons of coal, and sup plies for the MacMillan-Moravian School at Nain in Labrador (page 481). To forget a single necessary item-a spare part for the engine, a tool for repairs, even a light bulb might prove disastrous. But somehow we got everything aboard at last and with pounding hearts could thrill at what lay ahead-new experiences and dis coveries, both geographical and scientific. Mac's answer to the question so often asked, "Why do you go?" is significant. "To learn something," he replies. And after 42 years he still "learns something" on every trip. Commander Donald B. MacMillan's ex peditions have been sponsored by geographical societies, including the National Geographic Society, and many museums. He has done work for the United States Government, for the Carnegie Institution of Washington, for many colleges-Bowdoin, Yale, Harvard, the University of Illinois, and others. These ex peditions have ranged from a few months to one of four long years. Not a Sailor in the Crew The scientists, professors, college and pre paratory school students who go along to do research in botany, geology, ornithology, zoology, and anthropology make up his crew. He never takes a professional sailor. He de pends entirely upon training these men and boys, some of whom have never been at sea. Each one stands watch for'ard, takes his trick at the wheel, scrubs decks, shines brass, helps the cook. And I'm no exception; I do all these things. I take orders from the Captain and the mates and, when I'm scullion for the day, from our cook (page 473). After two days' cruising along the Maine coast, our green crew were getting used to the routine of the ship; now they were ready for the start around Cape Sable, Nova Scotia. Each man had had a chance to steer by com pass and knew what it meant to trim sheets and pull on a halyard. The sun was setting when we anchored in the snug little harbor of Cutler, Maine. It painted the sky a brilliant red and deep yellow as it dipped below the horizon. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "MacMillan Arctic Expedition Returns," by Donald B. MacMillan, November, 1925; "Naturalist with MacMillan in the Arctic," by Walter N. Koelz, and "First Natural-Color Photographs from the Arctic," 22 ills., both March, 1926; "MacMillan in the Field," October, 1925; and "Scientific Aspects of the Mac Millan Arctic Expedition," September, 1925.