And now there came both mist and snow.
And it grew wondrous cold: And ice, mast-high, came floating by, As green as emerald.
—SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE,
”THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER”
Sensing that the ship might depart at a moment's notice, those men who loved Captain Hall did their best to improve his grave site. Herman Sieman, especially, spent his spare moments tending the mound while he prayed for his former captain's soul. Captain Tyson took the time to rearrange the stones ringing the grave into neat order. The crowbar driven into the frozen earth in the dark of the Arctic winter remained unmoved, but wind and drifting snow had played havoc with the penciled inscription and board Schuman had left.
Realizing his former commander deserved something more, Mr. Chester secured a piece of pine an inch and one-half thick, planed it with loving care, and cut a more fitting inscription into its face:
In Memory of
Charles Francis Hall,
U.S. Steamer Polaris, North Pole Expedition
Nov. 8th, 1871 Aged 50 years
I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me,
though he were dead,
yet shall he live.
Later one evening while the waning summer sun watched from over his shoulder, Chester carried his work to the grave and planted it deep e lough to withstand the storms. Facedown across the grave lay Schuman's penciled work, while the angled crowbar jutted uprightboth untouched, for good reason. The dirt piled over Hall's mortal remains and everything connected with it had become a sort of shrine, not to be disturbed.
As conditions aboard the Polaris grew steadily out of control, Hall's fo-lorn grave presented a pilgrimage site for men to sit and think about what might have been. For all his faults in leadership, their dead commander had possessed the ability to travel and survive in the Ar :tic. Had Hall lived, no one doubted that things would now be quite different. His presence once instilled confidence, something even the meanest sailor among them longed for at this moment.
At odds with the crew's frequent visits were the actions of the two coccmmanders of the disintegrating expedition. Apart from his single failed attempt to photograph the site, Emil Bessel kept well away from the grave, and Buddington never approached it. Perhaps the sea captain already knew that the specter of the dead Hall would haunt him for the rest of his life. Perhaps it was conscience that bothered them both.
In th-3 early hours of July 11, the ice claimed another irreplaceable smdl craft. Before leaving the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Emil Bessel had ordered a boat built especially for him. Lightweight and flat-bottomed, the craft was affectionately called “the scow” and did useful service ferrying men back and forth from the ship to shore. Bit it was left tied carelessly to the side of the ship, and the night watch neglected to haul it aboard. One can only wonder if this oversight was deliberate, the result of some insult Bessel had inflicted on a crew member.
Marauding ice discovered the helpless boat, encircled it, and drove it hard against the side of the Polaris. In minutes the relentless piles staved in the skiff's sides with a splintering crash, and the ruined scow sank beneath the clear waters. Morning found the remains of the scow swinging in the current from its bowline like a condemned man dangling from the hangman's rope.
Insanely the unexpected came on every twist in the winds and cont nued to snare the unwary. Freezing weather struck from the southwest, and warmer weather came with gales from the northeastnot at all what they had expected. Tantalizingly the northern winds cleared the harbor and opened broad gaps in the ice blocking Robeson Straits and, more important, Kennedy Channel to the south. But as soon as the ship made ready, the ice pack drifted back to close the channels. Buddington found himself pacing the foredeck in frustration. “As we cannot move now, we must patiently wait what the ice will do with us,” he wrote bitterly. “A northeaster would indeed be a blessing.”
Seawater found its way into even the most secure lockers. Two barrels of sugar, one of flour, and another of molasses spoiled when the salty water broached their casks.
Chester made a valiant attempt to recover his abandoned canvas boat, with no success. In fact, the effort almost claimed the life of Frederick Meyer. Caught in a sudden snow squall while trekking back, the meteorologist lost his way and spent the night hiding under an overhanging rock for protection. Twenty-eight hours later, the weary Prussian stumbled back to the observatory.
By the sixteenth of July, the plain surrounding the observatory, the ominous overhanging bluff that shadowed it, and the foothills and mountains as far as the eye could see glistened with pure white snow.
While the year before had proved exceedingly mild, fortune and the warm weather turned their faces from the expedition in 1872. The prior year marked the peak of a warm cycle like that used by Scoresby to advance north. Summer ended abruptly, and rain turned to snow. Although it was still the middle of July, the land took on the appearance of the previous September.
Providence Berg, drastically altered from the summer melt and rising water temperatures, became top-heavy and lost its stability. Instead of providing shelter, it threatened to crush the ship. Under pressure from wind, it capsized on the eighteenth of July and rolled over. Giant boulders and rocks the size of houses embedded in the ice boiled to the surface as the iceberg's long-submerged foot burst into view.
All the while Buddington played cat and mouse with the endless armada of ice that entered the bay or streamed southward along the curve of Thank God Harbor. Edging ever closer to shore became a necessary but dangerous defense. Large segments of ice and icebergs calved from farther north would run aground in the shallow bay and split apart before they could wreak havoc on the wounded ship.
But seeking the safety of shallower water also risked grounding the ship. All went well whenever the keel struck on a flooding tide. Grounding on a falling tide, however, left the Polaris heeled far over with water pouring through the scuppers.
One hour after midnight on the twenty-first, an ear-splitting crack br^ke the silence. Men tumbled out of their bunks at the noise, which sounded like a cannon shot. On deck they soon discovered the cause of the sound. Providence Berg, long their tormentor and protector, had split in two. While the two halves still dwarfed the Polaris, their separation diminished their ability to screen the ship from the larger icebergs meandering by the mouth of the harbor.
The first of August brought very alarming news. Scarcely enough coal for six days of running at full steam remained. Only under favorable conditions would there be adequate coal to reach Disko. Faced with this grim reality, Buddington instituted the hand pumping that Tyson had long recommended. Three shifts would work the deck pumps for eight to ten minutes each hour to clear the bilges. To prevent a recurrence of the seacock-opening fiasco, the captain riade it a point to exempt the two engineers from pumping duty. To cover his concession to the engine room, Buddington also excused the cook and the steward under the guise that the exempted persons had no fixed shift.
Indifferent to the ship's plight, the ice in the passage continued to block her line of retreat south. Each day Alvin Odell, the assistant engineer, rowed ashore and climbed to the base of Observatory Bluff to scan the horizon for open water. With each visit he piled one rock on another to form a stone pillar. After weeks of fruitless searching, a stone monument ten feet high and six feet square at its base attested to his diligence.
Buddington formulated plans to beach the Polaris in the event the ice kept them imprisoned into winter. “As we will be unable to keep the vessel afloat in her present condition during another winter, we will be compelled to run her on the beach,” he carefully noted in his log. The deepening cold added to his fears. Every night fresh ice formed around the sides of the ship so that the crew awoke to find their vessel encased in ice and the bay iced over. While the thin ice broke apart with the tidal changes, its presence made boating to the shore an added trial.
August 12 dawned to a series of unanticipated events. Hans's wife gave birth to a baby boy. The birth took everyone but the tight-lipped Inuit by surprise. Her loose-fitting parka concealed her condition to the end. True to their custom, when labor contractions began, the two women retired to their cabin to deliver the infant. The lusty cries of a healthy male both startled the sailors and alerted them to the addition of a new member of the crew. Somehow the fact that the birth proceeded without the aid of the physician on board tended to accentuate the strangeness of the Natives. Despite Tookoolito's proficient English and their visit to the queen, the secretive nature of the delivery and the custom of burning the mother's clothing after delivery to ensure the safety of the child only confirmed the sailors' belief that the Natives were civilized merely on the surface. That burning of contaminated clothing and items used in the delivery may have evolved to reduce the risk of puerperal fever surpassed everyone's comprehension.
Even Tyson, who next to Charles Francis Hall held the most sympathetic view of the Inuit, was outraged. Indignantly he wrote:
These natives have not outgrown some of their savage customs. Like the squaws of our Western Indians and other uncivilized people, the women are left alone in the exigencies of childbirth, and free themselves, like the inferior mammals, by severing the umbilical with their teeth.
Again the possessive attitude of the white man toward the Natives governed his thoughts. “Our Western Indians,” he had written. He was not alone in his feelings. The ship's complement usurped the responsibility of naming the newborn themselves rather than letting the parents decide, much as they had named the litters of puppies born on the ship. “Charles Polaris” became the infant's name, combining Captain Hall's Christian name with that of the ship. How the parents felt about saddling their new son with the combined Inui, or spirit, of a man who had died under sudden and suspicions conditions, possibly poisoned, and that of a mismanaged and ill-fated ship went unrecorded. Privately they probably gave their son a name with good Inui.
The irrival of Charlie Polaris changed the luck of the expedition, at least temporarily. The new father returned from the hillside to report that the ice had opened. Hastily Buddington climbed to the ridge to confirm the report. Still, he could not stand on his own two feet. He needed Captain Tyson's second opinion to cement his own judgment that the ship could break through the thin rime that linked the floating blocks of ice. Enthusiastically Tyson agreed with Buddington: they should try to escape.
Frantic activity followed the order to cast loose. Painfully aware that the fickle nature of the ice might destroy this opportunity, the officers hurried their men. Every second counted. In their haste the men left behind emergency stores that had been moved to the obseivatory in the event the ship sank. The hitherto undiscovered effect of Providence Berg's splitting apart suddenly became apparent and threatened to delay their urgent departure. Their only remainin anchor, the port one, which they had painfully wrenched free from the seabed, lay trapped under one half of the broken berg. Escape required cutting the shackles to their last anchor and drifting free, buddington ordered the links cut. More than one seasoned sailor watched with mixed emotions as the chain from their one remaining anchor rattled over the side to slip beneath the snow-flecked surface of the bay. More than ever, their die was cast.
With split stem and leaking hull, the Polaris steamed out the opened door of her frozen cage and sallied forth with only ice anchors and ice screws left aboard. In their retreat southward, Buddington and his men would be unable to anchor in the shelter of a shallow bay to wait out a gale. Loss of their ground tackle would force them to grapple to an ice floe or iceberg for moorage whenever they wished to stop.
Agair destiny appeared to loosen its grip on the ill-fated expedition only to conspire to draw the ship back into its net. Having escaped one iceberg, the Polaris would be forced by circumstances to tie to another one to rest. And this time of year, the available icebergs were rotten mountains prone to capsize, split apart, and turn on any ship foolish enough to be nearby.
Another ominous and disturbing loss marked the ship's departure. Just as the Polaris lurched forward, one of the sled dogs named Tiger broke free and jumped over the railing to land on the ice. No amount of coaxing could entice the barking animal to return to the ship. The large Newfoundland was highly regarded as a fine sled dog and was well liked by all the crew. Hearts grew heavy as the men watched their friend and companion shrink into the distance as the ship steamed away. Without food the animal would slowly starve unless a polar bear ate him.
The superstitious among the crew could not help but wonder if the dog could read their future. What terrible ordeal awaited them that would make a Newfoundland prefer an agonizingly slow death to what lay ahead?
They would not have long to wait for their answer.
Threading her way between the floating hummocks and hills, the Polaris turned tail on the brooding rise of Observatory Bluff, swung her nose toward the leaden clouds filling the sky to the west, and churned the pewter-colored water with her screw. With a mixed sense of relief and apprehension, Captain Buddington directed the helmsman. He was heading back, a fact that pleased him, but more than a thousand miles of dangerous water lay between them and their home port. Leaving Thank God Harbor exposed him to the dangers of being stranded in the ice that he so greatly feared. All around him the floating ice waited. To deal with his fears, Budding-ton went below and refilled his tin cup with specimen alcohol.
What Emil Bessel felt as he watched the clapboard shack he called the observatory recede into the watery mist he never recorded. His eyes could not help but notice the solitary mound rising from the level ground near the hut. That lone grave caught his eye whenever he approached his workshop. The image of the frozen crypt wavered constantly in the corner of Bessel's sight, while the specter of the dead commander hovered in the back of his mind.
Fastidious and haughty from the start, the German scientist had withdrawn even further into himself since the death of Captain Hall. His manner and actions had set him apart from the rest at the very beginning of the voyage, and the closeness of the crew, coupled with the lack of proper sanitary conditions, only heightened his alienatioi.
Imperious as well as aloof, Bessel had openly striven to make himself the overall head of the entire expedition. While he never said so directly, his actions further tagged him as wanting to be the first to reach the North Pole. Only Captain Hall appeared to stand in his way. With the demise of Hall, Bessel believed he had achieved both objectives: he could reach the Pole and direct the expedition. The lion s share of the glory would be his. Of course, the official orders split the command between the German and Captain Bud-dington, but Bessel expected the drunken sea captain to be happy to follow his directives.
Two things conspired to frustrate Bessel's ambitions, however. Buddington not only hindered any plan to reach the North Pole after Hall died but steadfastly refused to consider any undertaking other than retreating farther from their objective. Second, the Arctic forced a harsh reality on Emil Bessel: he was not physically strong enough to be an Arctic explorer, much less make the trek to the top of the world. Whenever he had tried to act the explorer, snow blindness struck him down. Why he never used the carved, slitlike goggles the Inuit wore for protection is another mystery. Perhaps he considered it beneath him. Perhaps he believed his will wou d see him through. But his eyes failed him at every turn. To the German, who considered himself superior in every way to Captain -[all, this weakness, which had never bothered the dead commander, must have been particularly galling. In any event even brief exposures to the constant glare of the snow and ice disabled him for weeks at a time.
It must have been a bitter experience for Bessel to hide from the light with his eyes swathed in bandages while men he considered inferior to him trudged about with impunity. In the end he buried himself beneath mountains of scientific measurements and collection specimens, piling those things around him for a barrier. Eventually he became even more withdrawn and brooding. Faced with his failures, Emil Bessel the man ceased to exist and was replaced by the two-dimensional Bessel the scientist. In all the testimony later taken from the crew and all the written journals, little is found that describes his human side.
While the Inuit mother nursed her infant son below decks, the Polaris crept cautiously southward, following the twists and turns of the open channels that beckoned. Crozier Island and Franklin Island hove into view like hostile monoliths. Because the ship was without anchors, the two islands offered neither shelter nor comfort. While they passed Franklin Island, a thunderous roar overrode the whine of the wind and rattled off the distant cliffs like the shot of a cannon. The report came from an enormous landslide that greeted them, spilling down the island's rocky side to set the sea boiling amid crashing boulders and tumbling clouds of milky glacial dust.
Passing to the east of Crozier Island, the ship sailed beneath the silvery white face of Cape Constitution. Morton and Hans Christian watched glumly as they passed the point that the two of them had reached by sled in 1854 during Dr. Kane's expedition. Their seamed faces showed little of the excitement they had felt when they had steamed northward past the point less than a year before. For Morton this would be his last journey to the far North. Never again would he share the exhilaration of stepping onto undiscovered land with his old friend Hans.
Two days into their steaming, fog settled across the entire length of Kennedy Channel. Buddington steered the vessel west along Cape Frazer, then back toward the western side of Greenland in his attempt to keep within the open channel. Meyer hastily took a sextant reading before the fog obscured the sun. His calculations placed the ship at 80°1' N latitude.
Weaving his way through the tiny, shifting openings day and night weighed heavily on Buddington. All around him cakes of ice threatened the weakened ship, and the open leads he followed grew narrow and turned without warning. As usual he consoled himself with nips from his pocket flask. By noon of the fifteenth, the captain was considerably drunk.
The wrong order slurred from Buddington's lips turned the ship sharply out of the slender canal and drove the vessel into the bordering ice. Thinner, freshly formed ice might have parted beneath the Polarises ironclad prow, but Buddington picked the wrong floe to hit. This floating island stretched more than five miles in length and measured many feet in thickness. In an instant the string of two days' worth of good luck that had come with the birth of the Inuit snapped. With a sickening grind, the bow of the ship rode onto the floe. Abr iptly the Polaris jerked to a halt.
Insta ltly Buddington ordered the engine into full reverse. The screw be it the water into a greenish froth while the hull painfully wriggled its way off the island. Men held their breath and gripped the hand ails while the ship struggled to free herself.
Runring the prop in reverse carried a danger of its own. Adjacent blocks of floating ice, drawn in by the suction of the propeller, closed about the screw like wolves on a wounded deer. The blades struck ore mound after another. Chunks of ice flew into the air and spattered the stern before littering the foaming sea with ivory chips.
The bronze blades bent in the process.
Below decks the engineer Schuman sensed the stress on the screw and signaled frantically to the bridge. Another minute might see the driveshaft snap. Reluctantly Buddington ordered the engine shut down. With a groan the ship settled onto the ice and heeled onto its side, once more resuming its familiar angle.
Two days into their escape, the Arctic ice had recaptured the Polaris. More ice gathered around the free side of the ship, packing around the hull. New ice quickly formed between the blocks, sealing the openings until the spidery rime once again entrapped the Polaris in an icy cocoon.
Chester barked an order, and men leaped onto the floe to drive ice screw > and anchors into the solid surface to keep the ship from rocking t3 pieces. Within an hour stout lines secured the bow and stern.
Just 120 miles south of the farthest point the Polaris had sailed, Arctic ice again ensnared the woeful ship. Slowly the sailors walked along the deck peering down at the ice encasing their home. For all their efforts to escape the clutches of the Arctic, little good had come of t. In fact, they were considerably worse off. Providence Berg, desoite splitting apart, had remained grounded on the shallow floor of Thank God Harbor, thereby offering some degree of protection. The floe that presently held them was adrift. Like a flea riding the back of a dog, the Polaris no longer controlled its destiny. Worse still, they had burned two more days' worth of their irreplaceable coal and bent their propeller blades.
Paradoxically the ship appeared to be moving north at times! While the current generally moved from north to south, strong southerly winds buffeted the pack and pushed the ice floe north, preventing it from drifting down the coast. Not only had the region recaptured the retreating expedition, it appeared to be drawing the ship back into its northern lair.
The grounding on the ice floe reactivated Buddington's worst fears. The very danger he had worked so hard to avoid had come to pass. He and his ship were trapped in the ice fields. If they could not free the Polaris, surely starvation and cannibalism awaited them. Visions of Sir Hugh Willoughby's Muscovy Company sailing ship drifting onto the shores of Lapland with its ghastly cargo of frozen corpses probably haunted his dreams. Even though Sir Hugh's catastrophe had occurred three hundred years before, its dreadful image frequented all the recent publications, adding color to a long string of Arctic disasters that led up to Sir John Franklin's. Ironically the Polaris expedition would contribute to the tales, and it would not be the last calamity.
Two days passed before the ice resorted to its old trick of nipping the ship's sides. Hummocks piled into the free side of the Polaris with sufficient force to raise the keel and increase the angle of heeling. Panic swept the crew, and Buddington prepared to abandon ship. Supplies littered the deck, readily located for heaving onto the ice should the worst happen. Later that evening another onrush of ice battered the ship again. Heeling increased dramatically while the men looked wistfully at open water miles beyond their reach.
A southwest gale added to the men's anxiety and discomfort. Freezing rain pelted the deck and coated every exposed fitting and line with ice. The angled deck became a skating rink, ready to send the unwary crashing into the lifelines. Exposed skin froze to lashings on contact, and strips of skin tore away when the limb pulled free.
Encrusted doors refused to close, blocks froze to their tackle,and icy latlines proved so treacherous that climbing to the crow's nest risked life and limb. Even so, Chester and Tyson climbed daily to the topmast to search for a way out. The swirling mist and sea fog parted at times to reveal tantalizing glimpses of open water. Always, however, white walls rose in defiance between the ship and their freedom.
Throjghout this icy rain, the crew fretted through a deadly game of blindman's bluff. Not a day passed without some monstrous, milky hillock emerging from the freezing mist to bear down on the tethered Polaris. With singular purpose one or more would cruise stiaight for the vessel, threatening to crush it against the frozen expanse at its back. By hauling on the bow and stern lines, the crew could warp the ship fore and aft to evade the onrush. The work was deadly and disheartening. By using blocks and tackle, the capstan, md even raw muscle, the lines would be pulled in to swing the ship away from the path of the charging mountain of ice. Not unlike dr iwing on strings to turn a child's puppet, the action would pivot the vessel. But this puppet weighed four hundred tons. Around tlie clock the assaults continued until the sailors strained at their lines with numbed minds as well as hands.
Pressure on the weakened hull continually mounted as the oncoming ice packed tighter and tighter against the exposed flank of the ship. The leaking seams and split boards opened wider as the jaws of the vise inexorably tightened. Again Buddington turned to pumping by the steam donkey. With all hands occupied in moving the ship back and forth along their tightrope, no one could be spared to work the hand pumps on deck.
As th.3 ship drifted back and forth with the floe, the opalescent walls of tie Humboldt Glacier shimmered and glistened to the east, guarded by an armada of chalky icebergs passing in review down Smith Sound. Behind this floating wall, the pale lavender and blue mountains of Greenland beckoned like soundless sirens to the helpless crew. On August 25 Joseph Mauch penned words that reflected the prevailing gloom that gripped his shipmates as they watched land pass out of reach: “The ice is opening a few hundred yards from us, but so little that we cannot take advantage of it. The officers are, of course, aware that, ten chances to one, we are lost if we should net be able to reach land.”
For the rest of August and most of September, the ice retained its hold on the Polaris. No further gales roared up the sound. Instead, fog and freezing drizzle filled the days, alternating with cold, diamond-clear periods during which the hard reflection of the sun off the ice burned everyone's eyes. The absence of stiff winds proved a curse rather than a blessing. Without wind to roil the water, no waves broke the deepening ice, and the swirling current drifted the intact ice pack north and south, east and west. Dead reckoning and celestial sightings noted little progress to the south. Most days the ship moved less than a mile in any direction. Paradoxically the men now prayed for a gale to release them.
Distressingly the sun wearied of sailing aloft as it had during the summer and dipped below the horizon for the first time since April. Taking their cue from the departing warmth, birds and animals fled southward, leaving the stranded ship alone in the ice. Seal sightings grew scarce. By the end of August, the only sign of life seen all day was one ivory gull winging its way south. Buddington's fears of starving grew closer to reality. No longer could the party rely upon the Inuit to provide fresh meat. All that remained were the tinned foodstuffs, and Buddington's calculations raised doubts there would be enough to feed all of them until next April.
Everywhere the region seemed to be settling into the steely grip of the coming winter. The air grew heavy and thick with the cold, and the earthy scents of the land disappeared. Once more the ear-shattering silence of the dreaded Arctic night crept forward to muffle the world.
Unlike the Ancient Mariner's predicament, fresh water was abundant for the trapped men. Melted portions of the glacial ice and snow filled the hollows of the ice pack with pools of fresh water. Daily parties of men crossed the ice to fill their buckets and casks with brackish water to drink and feed to the steam boilers. As the temperature fell and the pools froze, they cut blocks of ice from the icebergs.
More coal vanished in fruitless attempts to break free. One long day of working the hand lines and using the steam engine moved the vessel less than its own length. Nine hundred pounds of coal per day vanished into the firebox of the steam pumps. Chester and Schuman struggled to reduce the constant flow of water from the cracks. Ninety fathoms of chain was fed into the forepeak in an effort to freeze the water in the forward hold in hopes this might slow the influx of seawater.
Tarred sailcloth was fed under the bows and winched tightly against the damaged side. Called “thrumming,” the process involved piercing the sailcloth with an awl and feeding short strips of yarn thrcugh each of the hundreds of holes. In theory the suction of the leak would draw the yarn into the holes and bind the canvas against tie ship's hull. In practice thrumming a sail worked well and had saved many a ship from a watery grave. But that was in warmer waters. Encountering frigid air and icy water, the tarred canvas froze into an inflexible sheet too stiff to closely enfold the damaged hull.
The thud of caulking hammers driving oakum into the cracks rang for days. In the end the leaks proved worse.
Schuinan abandoned his attempts to stop the leaks and turned his attention to reducing the coal needed to run the pumps. Besides having a large firebox, the steam donkey labored far in excess of its intended purpose. Originally designed only to transfer water to the engine boilers, the overstressed steam pumps kept the ship afloat by their continuous use, something they had never been built to do. Their breakdowns frayed the crew's nerves and kept Schuman busy with emergency repairs. He settled upon a small boiler designed to aid the combustion nozzles in the engine room. The men brought it on deck nd bolted it down. Ingeniously the engineer redirected the small boiler's smokestack through Ebierbing's cabin to provide extra heatir g for the Inuit while the machine fired.
By the twenty-third of September, Schuman had the little machine wo rking well enough to replace the steam donkey. As he had hoped, it did cut down considerably on the amount of coal needed to do the job. Only 350 pounds of fuel per day emptied the holds of water. However, their respite did not last long. Six days of heavy use burned up the boiler beyond repair. The end of September found thti Polaris with less than twenty tons of coal left. Forced back to burning close to half a ton of coal a day just to keep from sinking, by November the Polaris would be out of coal to fire its engines. Hall had stored enough coal for two and one-half years, but the leaks had drastically altered fuel consumption.
Buddington prepared for the worst. Should the pumps fail or the ship's side be crushed by the ice, the vessel would sink within minutes. Following Captain Hall's lead, he moved stores necessary for survival topside. The storm staysail and gaff-topsails were cut up and sewn into seabags. Bags filled with two tons of coal and loaves of bread joined the growing piles of tinned goods, twenty barrels of pork, and cans of molasses heaped by the guardrails. One remaining whaleboat was lowered onto the ice and the last remaining skiff unlashed from the cabin roof and swung over the side on davits, ready for fast deployment.
Probably to keep Captain Tyson occupied, Buddington bestowed upon him the grandiose but hollow title of “master builder” and ordered him to construct a tent on the ice beside the ship. During the construction, they discovered that the ice surrounding the Polaris measured six feet thick. Sinking poles into the ice for support and lashing the crossbeams together, Tyson, Morton, Mauch, Bryan, and Ebierbing built a frame twenty-seven feet long and twenty-five feet wide. The canvas used to house the deck during the winter at Thank God Harbor enclosed the tent. Eight hundred pounds of bread was stacked in canvas bags beside the shelter. Within days of the food transfer, a polar bear approached the camp, probably attracted by the smell. Two rifle shots wounded the animal without bringing it down. Half the crew took out after the fleeing bear, but it escaped. By week's end tracks of three more bears crossed close to the cache of bread.
October ended their two-month respite. Just as the donkey steam pump broke down yet again, new and dramatic events gripped the ice floe and its captive sailing ship. The ice started to move. First, the vast island swung slowly around until the bow of the ship faced directly west. Then a gale struck from the south, creating waves and troughs that crumpled the weaker parts of the ice. Hills and hummocks rose before the men's eyes, accompanied by grinding noises that reverberated throughout the ship. Giant, razor-sharp shards pierced the frozen seascape surrounding them and tumbled over close by. Any one of these frozen knives striking the ship could easily hole the wooden hull beyond all repair.
Resigned to the fate of spending another winter locked in Smith Sound, the crew found themselves propelled backward by the sudden and swift movement of the ice southward. Snowfall accompanied the storm, obscuring any sun sight. Meyer used land bearings to place the Polaris at 78°45' N. The next day he reckoned the ship to be 12 miles from Cape Grinnell. They had drifted south another 120 miles in a matter of days.
Spirits rose. Their floating world approached the northern outlet of Baffin Bay. At this rate they would soon drift within reach of help. Once the vessel entered Baffin Bay, it would float with the pack until spring melted the ice. Besides, each mile brought the ship closer to Disko, where a storehouse of coal and food awaited.
But progress came with a price. Pressure increased on the ship's sides, and the vessel protested constantly with nerve-racking creaks and snaps and fresh leaks. Buddington redoubled his preparations to abandDn ship. The men piled a total of eighteen hundred pounds of bread about the tent. All items necessary for survival were brought topside and stacked for quick access. Should the ship suffer a fatal blow, the plan was to heave the goods onto the ice. Yet the unstable nature of their surroundings prevented moving the items off the boat until the last moment. To place all their supplies on the ice would be to risk losing everything should the ship break free or the tent be swallowed by a sudden opening in the island. Crates of tinned pemmican, tobacco, and hams rose on the deck in preparation. Piles of musk ox hides joined the jumble until walking about became difficult. Below decks prudent sailors stuffed their belongings into seabags and waited.