National Geographic : 1946 May
Servicing Arctic Airbases BY ROBERT A. BARTLETT M Y FIRST love is the Effie M. Morris scy, my schooner; my second, the Arctic, whose icy waters I have sailed for nigh on to half a century. War did not separate us. Together we served the interests of my adopted country, the United States. During the summers of 1942-45 northern Quebec, Baffin Island, and Greenland beck oned to me and the Morrissey. The two-masted, 98-foot Morrissey has been my home, office, and magic carpet for 22 years. She is a product of the Essex, Massachusetts, yards. Her hull is sheathed in ice-withstand ing greenheart. More than once I have owed my life to her seaworthiness. Though she is 51 years old, this confirmed bachelor cherishes her as he would a wife (Plates I and VIII). At the beginning of the war I chartered the Morrissey to the United States Army Trans portation Corps, and offered myself as her skipper and my Newfoundland fishermen neighbors as her crew. We found ourselves working on subarctic projects, under loan to the Navy's Hydrographic Office. Leader of our expedition was Comdr. (later Capt.) Alexander Forbes, an indefatigable worker. He drove us as hard as himself, and my men loved him for it. They called him "Win-the-War Forbes." His son and sons in-law were in the armed forces, and he wasn't going to let them down! Under Forbes were Lts. Daniel S. Turner and Sherman A. Wengerd, who contributed the Kodachromes illustrating this article; Lt. Ed. Mohl, and several Navy enlisted men. Channels Through Uncharted Waters Our job took us through uncharted channels leading to two American bases on Canadian soil. These bases-combined airfields and weather stations-were stops on the Air Trans port Command's route from Labrador to east ern Baffin Island. At its northern terminal this line joined the Hudson Bay-Greenland Iceland-Scotland line (map, page 604). The two meteorological stations, plus dozens of others, collected Arctic observations fore telling the weather days ahead of its arrival in Europe. In the summer of 1943 we sailed into Hud son Strait, which separates Quebec and Baffin Island, dipped south into Ungava Bay, and entered the Koksoak (Big River). My orders were to pick up a party of Hydrographic Office men at Crystal One, code name for an Ameri can base some 35 miles upriver. To the navigator the Koksoak is a tide swept, boulder-paved demon (Plate VII). It already had wrecked a number of American ships and tugs. I steered the Morrissey toward the higher bank, knowing I would find deeper water there. For safety, a whaleboat crew preceded us and took soundings. So sharply did the channel twist, however, that we could not always fol low. Drawing 13 feet of water, the Morrissey scraped bottom repeatedly. Like a billiard ball, she caromed from boulder to boulder, but, thanks to her stout hull, she arrived at Crystal as tight as a drum. One of the Hydrographic men awaiting us remarked, ironically: "Why bother to take soundings now? Our mission has been accomplished. Captain Bob already knows how deep the river is. He bounced all the way in." That summer the Navy men took the Kok soak's measure. They established and marked a channel for cargo ships. They took some interesting observations on the tides. Mean range was 25 feet. Extreme tide at river mouth was 40 feet. Frozen Dinner on a Derelict One immense rise swept away a tide staff which the Hydrographic Office had fastened to an abandoned steamer (Plate III). During a storm in 1942 the ship's anchors had failed to hold. Driven upright upon the rocks, she fitted a crevice like a tool in a vise. Low tide almost lapped her keel; high water made her appear to be afloat. Her crew having returned to the United States, the derelict was left with all her sup plies. A party of our men found her flooded hull frozen like a skating rink. Drums of oil intended for the airbase were iced in, defying salvagers. Dishes were still on the mess table. Breast of chicken, preserved as in a refriger ator, lay sliced on a platter. After 12 days in the Koksoak, the Morris sey sailed for Baffin Island, directly across Hudson Strait (Plate II). Baffin, the world's fourth largest island, takes its name from the English navigator, William Baffin (1584-1622). So indented are its shores that explorers long considered it an archipelago. Parts of the island received such names as Baffin Land, Foxe Land, and Cock burn Land, "land" meaning terra incognita.