The fear of death has long ago been starved and frozen out of me but if I perish, I hope that some of this company will be saved to tell the truth of the doings on the Polaris. Those who have baffled and spoiled this expedition ought not to escape. They cannot escape their God!
—CAPT. GEORGE TYSON, ON THE ICE, 1873
As he wa :ched the Polaris slip behind the island, hope and despair struck Ty >on in the pit of his stomach like a fist. Why did they not come? Surely someone had seen them. He could clearly make out the deck and the vacant crow's nest, so anyone looking for them had to sec the black rubber blanket flapping in the wind. The vessel was mak ng way under power and sailwhich boded both well and ill for the men on the floe.
Long moments passed while Tyson wrestled with his misgivings. He sank to the ground while the crew returned to their blankets and cooking fires. The wind picked up again and tore at the canvas la d across the ice hummocks for shelter. His mind turned to saving the canvas from being ripped apart by the rising wind.
Poles for the supply cache he had been building when the storm struck stiil lay on the far side of their ice floe, so Tyson persuaded two men to retrieve them.
Half in hour later, the two returned to report they had spotted the Polar's again. Elated, the navigator jogged to the farthest point of the ice cake and pulled open his spyglass. The Polaris was indeed there, lying in the shelter of the island. And she was tied up.
No smoke issued from her stack, and all the sails were furled. Facing as she was into the wind, Tyson assumed she was tied to the surrounding ice, although he could not make out any ice hawsers. The uneasiness returned. She could not be disabled, he thought. She was steaming when he last saw her. Don't they intend to come over? he asked himself.
As he pondered his question, the ice beneath his feet began to move.
Tyson looked about. The ivory hills and tumbled landscape shifted before his eyes. Their floe had broken loose. The rising wind had dislodged the crumpled floe and wrenched it free from its wedged position between the two grounded icebergs.
They were drifting away from the tethered Polaris.
Ice and slush accumulated within the channel separating the ship from the moving floe, but the whaleboats could cross the opening if they hurried. Already larger slabs drifted threateningly closer to the dark gap of water.
Tyson raced back and exhorted the men. “We must start immediately,” he shouted over the rising wind. To his astonishment, his words fell on unheeding ears. Instead of jumping to the task, the men stumbled about like automatons, collecting every scrap and article of their clothing as if they were precious jewels. Faced with the choice of speed or parting with their possessions, the crew opted to collect their scattered goods.
While Tyson ranted and raved for them to leave their trash, the men slowly packed one boat with everything that once littered their base. Naturally pushing and dragging the overloaded craft across the broken ice proved arduous and painfully slow. Exasperated, Tyson rushed ahead of the grumbling and muttering crew, leading the Inuit and the cook to the launching site.
Before he had stumbled two hundred yards, a blizzard struck, and the erstwhile leader vanished in a shroud of swirling ice and snow. Tyson backtracked to find only Jackson following his footprints. The Inuit had retreated. When the cook realized that he alone followed Tyson, he, too, fled back to the struggling boat party.
At long last the boat reached the far edge of the ice floe. Frightened by the wind-whipped strait with its churning slabs of ice, the men hesitated to enter their overloaded whaleboat. Tyson put his shoulder to the craft, launching it before he jumped inside. The rest clambered in, following their worldly belongings into the jaws of danger.
While the craft bobbed along the ice, Tyson ordered out oars. To his consternation, only three oars appeared. And no rudder I
In their misguided zeal to save their belongings, no one had shipped the tiller, sails, or the rest of the oars. Sourly Tyson wondered if the omissions were deliberate, as the men clearly were reluctant to leave the ice floe.
What followed was folly. Without sufficient oars and with no tiller, the vessel made no headway in the turbulent seas. The wind rose to gale force and easily tossed the whaleboat about before blowing it back against the icy island. Nothing could be gained by further efiort, Tyson realized. “We shall all have to suffer much for such obstinacy,” he cried out to the unheeding wind.
Pulling the boat back onto the ice sapped the last of their strength. Night was falling as the party flopped exhausted onto the edge of the floe.
“We have to drag the boat back where she was,” Tyson ordered. Distressingly no one had the energy. Leaving the loaded boat, the party retreated to the higher center of their migrating home.
Tyson crawled under a scrap of canvas and rolled himself in a musk ox lide. Chewing a piece of frozen meat, he fell fast asleep. He had been on his feet for forty-eight hours without rest.
While he slumbered, the storm descended with full force upon the bay. Waves and fetch roiled the pack ice, and wind piled drifts of snow against the jumbled hummocks. Too exhausted to dream, Tyson slept on, unaware of the changes raging about him. A piercing cry from the Inuit jostled Tyson to his senses.
Bolting to his feet, he screwed his mittened hands into his eyelids to wipe away the frost that had glued them shut. The wavering Arctic twilight greeted him. He'd slept the entire night, he suddenly realized.
Focusing his eyes, Tyson followed the outstretched arm of Ebierbing, and his heart jumped into his throat. The storm had broken their floe into pieces. Salt water lapped at the edge of their island of ice less than 75 feet away! The one on which Tyson and the seamen slept measured less than 150 yards across.
Worse, the loaded whaleboat with the bulk of their provisions and the pole tent drifted silently away on the other slice of their island. Urgently Tyson roused the sleeping sailors. Confused, tired, and fearful, the men could only stand and stare at the growing separation. Finally the lead of frigid water widened beyond any hope of jumping the gap, and Tyson slumped helplessly onto the snow to watch the current catch the other piece and swirl it into the mists.
The effects of the storm continued to hammer their tiny kingdom. The heavy seas, running under the bite of the wind, chipped away relentlessly at the edges of the diminishing plate. As he watched inch after inch of ice break off, Tyson could only pray: “God grant that we may have enough to stand upon.” Laconically he realized the Polaris could sail right up to the stranded men if it ever sighted them.
For two more days, the tempest raged while Tyson's hungry party huddled around their flimsy camp. Strangely, spotted seals bobbed nonchalantly in the heaving waters. For these marine animals, the storm and the breaking ice pack were simply part of their normal day.
Now the hunting skills of Ebierbing would prove crucial. Most of their food had drifted away in the other boat. The seals could provide not only food but also oil for cooking and to keep them warm. Cautiously he slid his kayak into the water and paddled toward the unsuspecting animals. Using his barbed-tipped bone spear instead of his rifle so as not to alarm the creatures, he caught one seal on each day. He might have taken more, but the cheering and rushing about of the grateful sailors prompted the other seals to dive out of sight.
While Ebierbing hunted, Tookoolito and Merkut dutifully unpacked their seal-oil lamps and set up camp. When Ebierbing returned with his kill, the ice floe took on the appearance of a slaughterhouse. Blood streaked the snow as cubes of seal meat and blubber were divided among the party. The hungry men wolfed down the slices of raw meat. Nothing was wasted. Congealed blood from the kill was collected in a tin pot, mixed with snow, and cooked into a thin soup over one of the stone lamps. The blubber was diced and squeezed to coax its release of precious oil for the lamps. With that meager meal in their bellies, the men retreated to their robes to await their fate.
Two clays later Ebierbing cried, “I see the boat!”
Tyson swung his telescope where the Inuit pointed. He spotted the whale boat holding their supplies lying on the ice at the extreme end of thi ice pack. The perversity of the winds and currents had reunited the divided portions of the original floe and returned the errant bo at to the far side of the ice. Tyson and the Native, along with six ded dogs, hurried to retrieve the craft before the plates drifted apart again. Rocking against each other as they were, it was only a mitter of minutes before this would happen. Hitching the dogs to tie boat, the two men managed to slide it across to their side. Now the party was reunited with the sum of their food and furnishings.
Over the next day, their tiny domain drifted tantalizingly close to the shore of Greenland, to the east, close enough to tempt Tyson to consider making a dash for land. But the young ice would neither support a man's weight nor allow them to use their boats. While the captain pondered his dilemma, the wind blew their raft back westward toward Ellesmere Island. Playing with the floating base like a cat plays with a mouse, the sea batted them back and forth until it finally tired of the game and abandoned the insignificant sliver of ice holding nineteen souls in the very middle of the strait.
Facec with the facts that they could not reach land and that their minuscule oasis of ice would hardly withstand another gale, Tyson decided to move camp to a larger island abutting their plate. Hitching the teams of dogs, Tyson and the Inuit pulled one whale-boat after the other over to firmer ice.
Just as they completed this task, the gap between their islands started to widen. The Eskimo's two kayaks still remained on the smaller floe. None of the worn-out sailors responded to Tyson's plea to save those useful craft. When Ebierbing risked his life by jumping the gap to save his boat, the cook, Jackson, and Lindermann followed. Despite their efforts, they could save only one kayak. Now they wer-3 down to a single kayak, essential for hunting seals, and two wha eboats. Soon even that number would change.
Ironically all their efforts had returned them to the original section of the ice floe where Tyson had first built his pole tent beside the Polaris. For all their risks and pains, they were back where they started and much worse off, for land was far beyond reach.
Still, the two whaleboats were intact, and they had retrieved two compasses, twenty-seven cans of preserved meat, and eight hundred pounds of bread.
Stoically the Inuit realized that this place was to be home for some time. The men commenced building better shelter. Ebierbing excelled at this task. Using his long-bladed knife to cut blocks of snow, he set about creating igloos. Hard packed by the wind, the snow shaped readily under the Inuit's skilled hands. First, he leveled the floor before building a raised platform opposite the future entrance. This elevated portion served as the sleeping quarters, designed to catch the rising heat from the seal-oil lamp. Then, cutting blocks as he went, Ebierbing built the spiraling walls up around himself, carefully shaping, carving, and sloping each successive layer until an arched roof enclosed the entire structure.
A low, tunneled entrance completed the building. Inside, bodies would sleep packed tightly together like sardines in a tin. Scarcely large enough for a man to stand in the very center, the structures were designed for survival rather than luxury. Heat from the stone lamp and body warmth would keep the interior just above freezing regardless of the subzero temperatures raging outside.
Working quickly, Hans and Ebierbing constructed an entire village, building an igloo for each of the Inuit families, a half-igloo for Tyson and Meyer, and a larger branched structure for the crew, which had a storehouse and cooking room attached by tunneled corridors.
Without a stone lamp of their own, the crewmen adapted a tin pemmican can and a strip of twisted canvas for the wick. Tyson and Meyer managed the delicate task of keeping their lamp lit without difficulty. The crew did not. Half the time they set the entire tin of seal oil ablaze, and the other half they managed to smoke themselves out of their dwelling.
In frustration they did an extremely foolish and dangerous thing: they broke apart one of the whaleboats and used it for firewood. Again the ugly lack of discipline endangered them all. Since Tyson had never formally commanded the crew, and since he had no firearms while they did, he could do little to stop the piecemeal cannibali2ing of the boat for fuel.
In his journal Tyson noted his helplessness: “This is bad business, but [cannot stop them, situated as I am, without any other authority than such as they choose to concede to me. It will not do to thwart them too much, even for their own benefit.”
Now i single kayak and one whaleboat remained for the party of nineteen.
Doing his simple arithmetic, he noted the problems a single boat presented: “These boats are not designed to carry more than six or eight men, and yet I foresee that all this company may have yet to get into the one boat to save our lives, for the ice is very treacherous.” He was to prove unerringly prophetic.
More calculating revealed another alarming fact: Their island was locked in the center of the massive Greenland ice pack. Drifting erraticall} southward at a snail's pace, the pack kept them centered in the middle of Smith Sound and eventually Baffin Bay while preventing their reaching the shore. It would be a good six months before the spring breakup released their island to drift ashore or enabled t lern to row to land. Neither could they expect rescue by another sailing ship before spring. No whaling vessels would venture this far north in search of whales before April or May.
Despite the twenty pounds of chocolate, canned hams, dried apples, ti ined meat and pemmican, dividing that amount of food by nineteen mouths revealed a shocking conclusion: there was simply not eiough to feed them all for the six months it would take for spring; breakup to free the ice. Captain Buddington's relief, expressed a ter the death of Captain Hall, that they would not starve to death on the ice was proving prematureat least for this fraction of the crew.
Friction reared its ugly head almost immediately. Tyson quarreled with Meyer over their location. Meyer placed their last sighting of the Polaris close to Northumberland Island. “I ought to know,” tie Prussian sniffed when Tyson questioned the sighting, “for I tock observations only a day or two before.”
Tyson disagreed. “Of course he ought to know, and of course he ought to be right,” the maritime navigator griped over the landsman Meyer's reckoning. “But my recollection is that Northumberland Island is larger than the one the Polaris steamed behind.” That island had to be Littleton, he judged. Both islands arise in Smith Sound where it narrows into Smith Passage, but Littleton Island is considerably north of the other island.
Next someone stole the remaining chocolate. After four servings the entire twenty pounds vanished. What canned meat or bread was also purloined was impossible to tell from the disorganized piles. While Tyson and Meyer took pains to measure out the daily rations of eleven ounces per person, no practical way existed to place a guard on the supplies. The subzero weather prevented anyone's standing watch. Grumbling increased as the navigator tightened the daily allotment. Stealing and hoarding rose, offsetting his restrictions and defeating his efforts.
Alarmingly the seals disappeared with the departing sun. As the temperature fell, open leads of water froze over, and the animals no longer sunned themselves on top of the ice. Choosing to spend all of their time in the relatively warmer water, the seals could be found only when they surfaced at breathing holes to gulp fresh air before diving again. No white man in the group could spot the two-inch airholes amid the jumbled and tossed sastrugi.
Finding a breathing hole was just the beginning. Seals cleverly scattered their openings randomly across the ice and visited them irregularly. Just locating a breathing spot was no guarantee that a seal would stick its nose through it. Only an Inuit hunter had the patience to sit silent and unmoving beside a seal hole for the thirty-six to forty-eight hours it usually took for the animal to show.
If he was lucky enough to be at the right hole at the right time, the hunter had to quickly strike the seal in the center of its rounded head with his spear. The barbed point of the spear would penetrate the thin skull and keep the creature from sinking while the man furiously enlarged the hole. Only then could the prey be pulled onto the ice.
That left two men, Hans and Ebierbing, to hunt for them all. Both men excelled at this sort of thing. Disturbingly, the bad joss of the whole expedition appeared to divide itself to follow the men on the ice as well as Captain Buddington and the ship. Good hunting failed to favor the Inuit's tireless efforts. Three weeks passed without a single catch. Belts were cinched tighter as the rations grew slimmer. “May the great and good God have mercy on us, and send as seals, or I fear we must perish,” Tyson scribbled in his journal.
With little seal oil remaining, the meat rations were eaten frozen. Re serving the precious oil for heating the igloos, Tyson even cut back on using it to melt ice for fresh water. Men turned to eating snow.
The dogs, too, suffered, starving faster than the crewmen. By the end o f the month, the crew shot five dogs and ate them. After that the daily meal consisted of dried biscuit, usually one and one-half crackers per person.
By the first of November, the weather cleared enough for Tyson to make cut Cary Island some twelve miles southeast. If they could reach it, they would have solid land beneath their feet. In desperation Tysoi ordered a run for the distant shore with the remaining dogs. Leaving early in the morning with their heavily loaded sled, the entire group pushed across the roughened surface in the dim twilight. The thickened ice easily supported their progress for several miles.
As th-3y were crossing a crevasse roofed over with windblown snow, the ice bridge collapsed under the weight of the sled. Only the franti: scrambling of the men saved the sled and all their possessions from the gaping maw with its waiting dark waters. Even then, half the crew had to leap back to rejoin the rest. Discouraged, Tyson wr:>te: “Fate, it seems, does not mean that we shall either get back to the Polaris, or even reach the shore. Here we are, and here, it seems, we are doomed to stay.”
As if to punish this escape attempt, the Arctic hurled a fierce storm at ihe stranded group. Only the rapid building of new igloos saved them all from freezing. Days of howling winds and whiteout conditions in which one could scarcely see the hand in front of one's face precluded any further efforts to reach land. Trapped inside his snow hut, Tyson collapsed from lack of food and sheer exhaustion. “The weather is so bad no one pretends to leave the hut,” he wrote. “We are all prisoners.”
Miraculously Ebierbing continued to hunt in the worst conditions. On the sixth of November, he returned with one spotted seal and in the process almost lost his life. Stumbling about in the storm, Kruger spotted a white creature climbing stealthily over the hummocks and readied his pistol to shoot the approaching polar bear. Waiting in ambush, the sailor drew a bead on the white fur.
Just as Kruger's finger tightened on the trigger, the face of Ebierbing hovered above the pistol sights. Shaken, the seaman quickly lowered his revolver. The snow-dusted fur parka of the Inuit caused Kruger to mistake him for an ice bear. Only fortune had prevented Kruger from killing the one man capable of keeping them all supplied with food.
One small spotted seal did not go far. Tyson and the others eagerly drank the warm blood and consumed the entire animal, devouring the raw meat “skin, hair, and all.” Still, the dark days melded into equally dark nights to the hungry cries of Puney and the other Inuit children. Weak from hunger, the adults trembled as they moved listlessly about the camp.
Again parties unknown raided the meager supplies of bread. “The bread has disappeared very fast lately,” Tyson scribbled in alarm. “We have only eight bags left.”
On the twenty-second, Ebierbing took another seal. Reserving part of the animal for Thanksgiving, the crew passed about a can of dried apples to mark the occasion. Starving as they were, images of food incessantly occupied their thoughts on that occasion. Few found any reason to give thanks.
Tyson assuaged the gnawing hunger in his belly by warming a few strips of frozen seal entrails over a guttering lamp before he gobbled them down.
“No doubt many of my friends who read this will exclaim, would rather die than eat such stuff!' “he penciled in his journal.” You think so, no doubt; but people can't die when they want to; and when one is in full life and vigor, and only suffering from hunger, he don't want to die. Neither would you,” he added philosophically.
Hardship only widened the gulf between the various factions instead of fostering cohesion. Old loyalties, already formed aboard the Polaris and never submerged very deeply, resurfaced with a vengeance. The instrument of hunger hammered the wedge of discontent deeper into the marooned group.
Meyer and Tyson, essentially the only officers, grated on each other's nerves worse than when they were aboard ship and refused to suppon each other. The German crew reverted to speaking only their native tongue. Tyson moved in with Ebierbing and Tookoo-lito, where he could at least understand them when they spoke English. The navigator complained that in the men's hut, only German was spoken and he could understand not a single word of it.
Responding in kind, the Germans lined the floor of their igloo with canvas yet refused to help drag similar tent scraps to Tyson's hut. Only the two Scandinavians, Lindquist and Johnson, and the cook and the steward helped Tyson to floor his igloo.
Darkly Tyson worried about his lack of firearms. Still puzzled by Buddirtgton's arming of the crew after Hall's death, the navigator lamented that he had neither rifle nor pistol while every other member of the crew had both. Sourly he blamed his commitment to duty for his “unpleasant situation.” “While I was looking after the ship's property,” he wrote, “the men secured their guns and pistols.” Had he selfishly gathered his possessions and armed himself the night of separation as the crew did, he told himself, he would be far better off. “I am the worst off of all,” he bemoaned, “for I have neither gun nor pistol of my own, and can only make a shot by borrowing o Joe. This is a disadvantage in other respects; the men know it; they are all armed, and I am not.”
Craftily Tyson tried to inveigle a firearm out of Ebierbing, but the savvy Inuit refused to part with any of his weapons. “Joe,” the navigator scribbled in his diary, “has both a shot-gun and a pistol; but he didn't seem to care to give either up, and I will not force him to.”
Deepening cold layered atop the oppressive darkness that December brought. The Arctic winter swallowed any distinction between da / and night. Mocking the prolonged starvation of those clustered on the drifting ice, the skies overhead unleashed a spectacular show of lights. Streamers of blue and violet danced and coiled across the heavens, unfolding their beauty to anyone with the energv to appreciate it.
A form of rheumatism struck down Hans at the very time his hunting skills were most needed. Ebierbing doubled his efforts with no success. Without light the seals spent only scant minutes with their noses pressed to their breathing holes before diving away. Without seals no polar bears appeared. Without bears no foxes followed to scavenge scraps from their kills. The delicate food chain shifted brutally into reverse. Absolutely nothing edible inhabited the stranded men's domain.
“The darkness is on us,” Tyson wrote heavily. While the navigator gave vent to his blackest thoughts in his notebooks, Meyer limited his writing to sterile notations like “colder today; wind blowing from the southwest.”
Rations now were reduced to a few ounces. Food occupied the waking thoughts of all. Insidiously their starvation worked to perpetuate itself. Lack of the proper nutrients robbed them of the energy needed to drag their boat and supplies to safety if the opportunity to reach land had presented itself. The white men huddled listlessly inside their igloos and dreamed of feasts long past.
Other thoughts, far more foul and unspeakable, crept along the corners of the hungry men's minds, ideas that surpassed the limits of humanity.
One day Ebierbing handed his coveted revolver to the startled Tyson. Looking over his shoulder at the sullen sailors watching them, Ebierbing placed his pistol firmly into Tyson's hands as his eyes drifted back to the Inuit families sitting outside their igloo. Ebierbing's gaze rested on the children playing in the snow. Then the Inuit looked back at the seamen.
“I don't like the look out of the men's eyes,” Ebierbing whispered darkly.
A cold shiver shot down Tyson's spine as he fingered the pistol. He thinks they will first kill and eat Hans and his family, the navigator thought. And then he knows Hannah's, Puney's, and his turn will be next!
Cannibalism The very idea jarred the captain. Tyson looked at Tookoolito. The fear and worry in her eyes confirmed that she felt as her husband did. The Inuit sensed that the sailors, driven by the pains of hunger, would eat them.
They had good cause to worry. The cracked long bones and knife marks on the skulls of the Franklin expedition's skeletons told of cannibalism. Inuit all along the coast knew of this. If the ordered British wDuld resort to eating their own, what could be expected from this lawless bunch? A tender young child would make their starving mouths water. Even the solid John Herron wrote in his diary: “The only thing that troubles us is hunger; that is very severe. We feel sometimes as though we could eat each other.”
Adde i to this was the general feeling among the party that the Inuit were less than human. The Natives' strange customs, lack of bathing, and habit of eating their meat raw fostered that perception. On more than one occasion, the Inuit's cabins aboard the Polarishad had to be cleaned and deloused by the crew when the smell anc offal inside grew too much even for the rank seamen. It was all relative, however. The sailors themselves were no paragons of cleanliness. But seeing the Natives turn their rooms into what the white men considered a pigsty contributed to the seamen's view that the Inuit were animals.
Tyson slipped the revolver into his pocket and nodded to his friend. An unspoken bond was established between them. In exchange for the pistol, the captain would guard the Inuit with his life. Late Tyson scribbled in his diary, “God forbid that any of this company should be tempted to such a crime! However, I have the pistol now, and it will go hard with any one who harms even the smallest child on this God-made raft.”
Frorr a practical standpoint, eating the Natives would deprive the men of their only effective hunters. Tyson recognized this. While he doesn't mention it in his diary, most likely he circulated among the crew and expressed that idea. He wrote:
Setting aside the crime of cannibalismfor if it is God's will that we should die by starvation, why, let us die like men, not like brutes, tearing each other to piecesit would be the worst possible policy to kill the poor natives. They are our best, and some may say only, hunters; no white man can c atch a seal like an Eskimo, who has practiced all his life, [t would indeed be “killing the goose which lays the golden egg.”
Fortunately two things averted such an unthinkable event. First, Hans recovered, adding his strength to the opposition once more. Second, he caught a fox, which the men devoured down to the last bone. For the time being, the thoughts of eating the Inuit receded.
Looking for ways to divert their thoughts from food, the Germans seized upon the reward given the crew of the Hansa who had experienced a similar situation. For surviving their drift on the ice, their government awarded each man a gift of one thousand talers. Animated by their greed, the Teutonic contingent swaggered about the ice with their rifles and pistols and boasted that Congress would likely double their pay. The sailors forgot that they had no control over their destiny. No one would collect a cent if they never returned.
Christmas arrived with strong winds raking the ice floe. Even though it meant using the last of their ham and dried apples, the event called for some sort of celebration. “Our Christmas dinner was gorgeous,” Tyson wrote. “We each had a small piece of frozen ham, two whole biscuits of hard bread, a few mouthfuls of dried apples, and also a few swallows of seal's blood!”
John Herron, the steward, had balked at eating sealskin on the first of December because “the hair is too thick, and we have no means of getting it off.” By Christmas hunger had erased his doubts about eating anything. Of the banquet, he wrote, “We had soup made from a pound of seal blood, which we had saved for a month.” After adding that to their mulligan stew, he remarked, “the whole was boiled to a thick soup, which, I think, was the sweetest meat I ever ate.”
With that feast went the last of the apples and the one surviving canned ham. Taking stock of their remaining food, Meyer and Tyson found six bags of dried bread and nine cans of pemmican. The cold and darkness continually conspired to thwart the Inuit's search for game. With the open leads sealed under thin ice, neither man could paddle the one kayak far in search of seals, nor could they spot the dark heads, for there was no open water. By the end of December, Tyson's hunger forced him to gnaw on cooked scraps of dried sealskin that Tookoolito had saved for repairing their clothes. E/en the strips of seal blubber that had been burned dry of all their residual oil in the stone lamps were fished out of the sooty bowls anc wolfed down.
By this time the daily intake of those on the ice was, at best guess, less than five hundred calories. Nazi nutritionists calculated that their slave laborers would need a minimum of eight hundred calories a day to perform useful labor for a period of four to six months before they starved to death. While the men on the ice floe reduced their activity whenever possible, the weather was also considerably :older for them, requiring more calories to keep warm.
So, like the unfortunate captives of the Third Reich, the company of the Polaris was also starving. Their symptoms included listlessness, weakness, and constant thoughts of food as their shrunken stomachs groaned and knotted in emptiness. Their hair, nails, and teeth became brittle as the body dissolved itself in search of essential nutrients. Scurvy attacked them all, loosening their teeth and causing their feet to swell. Stocky individuals with more muscle ar d body fat would last longer than the thin ones, but all suffered f “om lack of vitamin C.
To make matters worse, Nature conspired to starve them over prolonged periods before tossing a few mouthfuls of food at them just when they were on the verge of collapse. Then the agonizing cycle repeated itself. Tyson and his party were experiencing firsthand Buddington's fears of starving on the ice.
On the twenty-eighth, a lead opened in the ice. Hans shot a seal, which sank before they could retrieve it. The next day Ebierbing shot another Greenland seal, and anxious moments followed as the men laced to launch the kayak while the dying animal drifted away. Fortune, however, smiled that day, and the animal was caught and dragged ashore.
What followed was an orgy of gruesome proportions. The entire skin, with its blubber so vital for the lamps, was stripped off. Then the carcass was rolled onto its back, and the abdomen carefully Dpened to retain all the blood inside the cavity. The clotted blood was swallowed whole, while cupfuls of the steaming blood were drunk before it cooled. Liver, brain, heart, and meat disappeared uncooked into the shrunken stomachs of the nineteen people. In deference to the Inuit custom, the eyeballs were given to the youngest in the party, baby Charlie Polaris. Even the entrails were wiped clean on the snow and set aside for later.
Normally sinew and strips of skin would be saved for harness, rope, and clothing, but not that day. The men even ate the membranes the Inuit saved for covering the windows in their igloos. What good was having windows when the transparent tissue would ease the hunger pains that racked the men's stomachs? they reasoned.
New Year's dinner brought the usual watery soup made by floating a minute square of dried pemmican in a cup of warm water. Some men sarcastically referred to the broth as “pemmican tea.” This night the seal intestine added a second course. Tyson dined on two feet of frozen gut with relish. Smacking his lips, he scribbled, “and I only wish we had plenty of that, but we have not.”
Persistently the ice erased its openings and sealed the watery leads. Hunger preoccupied everyone's thoughts, entertaining their dreams along with every waking moment. Pilfering of the food supplies resumed. “The provisions are disappearing very fastfaster than the distribution of rations will account for,” the navigator noted. With tongue in cheek, he added, “there must be some leak.” Yet little could be done to prevent it. The thin clothing and weakened state of all precluded posting a watch. Anyone left outside for long would freeze to death.
With hunger came hallucinations and fanciful thoughts. Having satisfied themselves that their suffering would reap them great financial rewards from Washington, the men fantasized that they could reach shore and walk overland to Disko. Despite Tyson's warnings that the ice floe was drifting inexorably west, several of the crew insisted that a run to the east would get them ashore. Their delusions infected Ebierbing, who considered making the trek with his family. Certainly if anyone could do it, the Inuit stood the best chance.
Shaken by his stalwart Inuit's admission, Tyson worried even more about the stronger men splitting apart from the company, taking the last of the food, and making a dash to the east. Among the enfeebled party, a handful of men stood out as far healthier and stronger than the rest. They acted as ringleaders, and Tyson judged these sailors to be the thieves who had pilfered the stores. How else could they have retained their energy and strength when all the rest crawled feebly about for want of nourishment? he reasoned.
Without a doubt, if the group divided, everyone would be lost, Tyson argued. Even the fittest among them lacked the strength to cover the distance. And it was suicidal to try to reach land by going east. No one could carry enough to survive. The dogs were all eaten, and the unruly men had burned the sled for fuel. The last remaining whaleboat was far too heavy to drag any distance, and it was needed intact in case their floating base should break apart. If there were those who doubted this would eventually happen, they had only to listen to the growing grinding and creaking that arose from the ce beneath their feet.
More Dver, Disko was still a long way off, not only to the south but to thi east. Meyer's last sextant sighting had placed them at 72°N, neir the middle of Davis Strait and far to the west of the shores of Greenland. The party on the ice floe had drifted to a spot more than three hundred miles from their point of separation from the Polans and nearly six hundred miles south of the lonely mound of shale and stones that covered the half-buried coffin of their late leader, Charles Francis Hall.