I sometimes fear it will be impossible to save this party of disobedient and lawless men. I know not how this business will end; but, unless there is some change, I fear in a disastrous manner.
—CAPT. GEORGE TYSON, ON THE ICE, 1873
If the winter months were hard on Buddington and the men at Life Boat Cove, life on the floating ice during those months was far worse for Tyson's group. Throughout January his band fractured further and further apart. The Germans camped sullenly in their igloo, disdaining any work other than what directly benefited them. Besides the Inuit, only John Herron, an Englishman, and Jackson, the black cook, sided with Tyson.
The long process of starvation did not help. Almost three weeks passed before Ebierbing shot a seal. To the dismay of the Natives and Tyson, the crew snatched the animal away from the hunter and dragged it into their igloo. In minutes nothing much was left. Angrily the captain scratched in his journal:
They have divided the seal to suit themselves, and I hope they are now satisfied; but it does seem hard on the natives, who have hunted day after day, in cold and storm, while these men lay idle on their backs, or sit playing cards in the shelter of their huts, mainly built by these same natives whom they thus wrong.
The crew returned his animosity in kind. One day Robert Kruger barged into the navigator's igloo and swore at him, threatening to beat the captain senseless. No fight erupted. But Tyson fingered Ebierbing's pistol during the tirade, perhaps recalling the event that had led Hall to shoot one of his sailors on his second trip to the North.
The se amen's dislike for their navigator-turned-leader also took the form of indirect acts of aggression. All of Tyson's worldly possessions resided in a small seabag that had been tossed over the side during the fearful storm that separated the crew. In it were a few shirts, several pairs of stockings, a vest, underpants, and one pair of heavy parts. One day it disappeared, probably stolen or dropped through a crack into the sea.
From then on the hapless commander had nothing else to wear. Working and sleeping in the same oil- and blood-soaked clothing often made his stomach churn.
Despondent and depressed, Tyson extended his quarrels to everyone, especially Frederick Meyer, who obviously headed the German hierarchy. “The German Count,” as the men referred to Meyer, cle arly vied with Tyson for overall command of the drifting rabble. The curse of the Polariscontinued to haunt even those separated from her. Instead of working together, they fought. On a chip of dissolv ng ice, the officers of the Polaris still engaged in a struggle for control, much like two lice battling for ownership of the hide of a dead dog that was drifting over a waterfall.
“If Meyer had not been on board the Polaris, these foreigners would probably have behaved better,” Tyson grumbled, “for then they would not have any one to mislead them about our position.”
Of Meyer's navigation, he wrote:
There has been, I suspect, an error of sixty or seventy miles in Mr Meyer's brain as to the latitude from the start. Mr. Meyer, who is the fountain of all knowledge for his German brethren, places us within a few miles of the land, and that on the east coast.
In that criticism he was justified. Their ice floe was miles from land, fart tier than any of them could travel. If the men believed Meyer's faulty readings and started for land, a real danger would arise.
Eventually Tyson grumbled about even Hans, blaming him for the failures of previous polar explorations. When the Inuit's actions spooked a bear the two were stalking, Tyson's spleen spilled over. “This Hans acts like a fool sometimes. He is the same Hans who deserted Dr. Kane, and the same who was the cause of Dr. Hayes losing two good men on his expedition.”
The epidemic of criticism even touched the normally taciturn Ebierbing. One day the hunter cried indignantly to Tyson, “They talk about Eskimo being dirty and stinking, but sailors are worse than Eskimo.”
They all chewed on scraps of sealskin, drank melted snow, and savored a half ounce of dried bread per day until the first part of February. Then the Hans whom Tyson had maligned captured a seal by using his ingenuity. A young seal poked his head through fresh ice that had formed over a section of open water. Immediately Ebierbing shot the animal. But reaching it before it sank posed a challenge. The ice surrounding it was too thin to support a man.
Jumping into the kayak, Hans hopped the craft across the thin ice by using his paddle while simultaneously lurching his body forward inside the frail craft. Pole-vaulting along, he reached the seal, attached a line to it, and bounced back without breaking through the frozen surface. Divided among the nineteen, it yielded one small piece for each.
The only bright event was the return of the sun, reappearing after eighty-three days of total darkness. The golden thread rimming the east so inspired John Herron that he lit his pipe and smoked the last of his precious tobacco as he sat outside his snow hut and enjoyed the glow. And with the light, the birds returned.
Hundreds of tiny Arctic dovekies soon darted and swooped over the ice. Similar in size to a sparrow, one or two of the stubby black-and-white birds, at four ounces apiece, hardly satisfied a growling stomach. And because Ebierbing and Hans had no way of making the long-handled basket snares the Inuit usually employed to catch the birds, each one had to be shot down, wasting powder and shot. The ghostly white shapes of narwhals appeared for the first time as the whales migrated north, shimmering below the surface like ivory blades. The carcass of one narwhal would feed the crew for weeks. Ebierbing shot one, but the dying animal sank before he could reach it.
As March arrived, the situation looked bleaker than usual. Blubber for the stone lamps was nearly gone. Tookoolito had saved two small pieces, which would see her through the next two days. Hans had only one. Then there would be neither heat nor light.
Miraculously Ebierbing spotted a dark mound on the floe. It was a bladder-nosed seal, called an oogjook by the Natives, far larger than the usual spotted seals. He shot it, and the nine-foot-long anirral not only supplied a hearty meal but furnished thirty gallons of oil for the essential lamps. Another orgy ensued as the starving sailors tore into the raw flesh with fingers and knives. Blood spattered the snow and smeared their hands and faces until the men looked subhuman. Part of the skin was boiled to soften it to eat. Long past caring, the men drank the greasy water after swallowing the skin. Ebierbing shrugged and remarked stoically, “Anything is good that don't poison you.”
“You mustn't eat the liver, steward,” Tyson warned Herron.
“Because it's poisonous.”
The gaunt Englishman wiped his gory hands across his matted beard. He glanced at his shipmate. “Oh, damn the odds. We'll eat it. Won't we, Fred?”
Despire more warnings from Tyson, half the men gorged themselves on 1 he seal's liver. Arctic seals and polar bears concentrate vitamin A in their livers to such a high level that it is toxic to humans. Poisoned sy their meal, these men suffered cramps and diarrhea for a week, while the skin of their faces, hands, and chests blistered and then slouched off.
Only Herron admitted his mistake. “Oh, Captain,” he complained as he peeled the skin from his hands, “that oogjook liver played the devil with me.”
Tyson showed little sympathy. “Well, you know I told you not to eat it.”
Herron nodded wisely. “That's so, and I'll bet I eat no more of it … or bear's liver either.” Then the gnawing inside his stomach caused hin to reconsider. “Unless … yes, we might get a young bear.” He looked hopefully at Tyson. “And then, perhaps, the liver would be good.”
The navigator shook his head while the stricken man studied his shedding skin.
“No,” Herron decided firmly, “I'll be damned if I trust it. No more liver for me.”
With the warming trend came renewed storms and the added danger that the thinning ice might break beneath their feet. As gales pounded their island, more than one night passed with the frightened men dressed and standing beside their sole boat while their floor buckled and groaned and the crack of ice splitting apart filled the air like artillery fire. Nervously the returning Inuit reported encountering imarmrsaq, openings clear through the old ice, not just cracks in the young, thin ice. Breakup lay around the corner. Their turning, unstable world was about to become an even more precarious anchorage.
And while birds and seals returned with increasing frequency, so did the bad weather. Amid hail and blowing snow, hunting proved impossible. So it went, weeks of agonizing hunger punctuated with brief periods of frenzied feeding on a single seal or a handful of scrawny fowl arriving just as the men were at the point of death by starvation. To a starving person, a sudden feast can be just as devastating as the hunger. Physically the body has made drastic adjustments to the lack of nutrients. The stomach has reduced in size, the alimentary tract has slowed to more efficiently extract what little food passes through, and all resources are focused on maintaining the vital functions at their lowest levels still consistent with life. The sudden ingestion of fat-laden, energy-intensive food like seal meat disrupts these adjustments. Cramps, bloating, and diarrhea follow as the food shocks the digestive system into overdrive. Lower-than-normal protein levels in the bloodstream make the person susceptible to fluid leaking out of the blood vessels into the surrounding tissues. An unexpected load of salt and protein greatly exacerbates this swelling.
So the erratic arrival of food to those enduring their trial on the ice proved just as unbearable as their periods of hunger. The food did little to relieve them of their pains and cramps and only ensured that they would be alive to suffer another day of their ordeal. This cruel game of cat and mouse with death continued throughout February and March. Just when they had reached the end of their rope, fate tossed them a bone with no assurance that another one would follow. The psychological toll must have been terrible.
Spinning and drifting on the ice, everything was either hunter or hunted. Sometimes the tables turned unexpectedly. One night near the end of March, Ebierbing stuck his head out of his igloo. A sound near the kayak had caught his attention. There, ten feet away, a p }lar bear stood chewing on strips of sealskin saved for the lamps. Lcng since eaten by their masters, no dogs remained to give the alarm.
One rifle and a shotgun rested against the outside of the igloo. Ebierbing's rifle lay inside his kayak, behind the bear. Leaving their firearms out in the cold kept the metal from “sweating” in the warmer interior and rusting into a useless hunk of scrap, as everything was coated with salt spray from the wind-whipped spume.
Quickly the Inuit awakened Tyson. As the two men crept forward to retrieve the rifles, the navigator knocked over the shotgun. The bear spotted them and charged. Tyson snatched the rifle, dropped to his knee, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Big-game hur ters say the loudest and most frightening sound is the unexpected silence that follows a hammer's dropping on a useless cartridge. Tyson jerked the trigger three more times, but the heavy Sharps rifle failed to fire. Tumbling backward into the igloo, the shaken navigator hurriedly retrieved a handful of cartridges, reloaded, and poked his rifle down the dark tunnel. A white blur filled the Dpening. This time the rifle fired, hitting the bear at point-blank range. The bullet struck the animal in the heart and passed out the opposite side.
The bear provided a much-needed day's worth of food. Wisely no one touched the poisonous liver this time.
More than four months on the drifting ice had reduced the men to shambling, filthy, and haggard skeletons. The malicious touches of scurvy loosened all their teeth and covered their bodies with dirty, putrid scabs. One evening while her father, Ebierbing, divided a scrap of frozen hide with his hammer, Puney studied Tyson's gaunt frame with her serious eyes and remarked with a child's honesty and gravity, “You are nothing but bone!”
Her statement was only a slight exaggeration. Their stores of fat long since used up, their energy depleted, and their exertions minimal, their bodies began to feed on whatever tissue they could. Loss of muscle hampered even the strongest. Moving the light kayak about, normally a one-man task, took three to four men, and that exertion left them exhausted and out of breath.
While their ordeal wore away at their bodies, it took an even greater toll on their clothing, mainly a motley mix of wool, fur, and canvas. Since the men were wearing their shipboard clothing when ordered over the side, they did not have the full set of furs and mukluks normally worn during a sledding operation. Only the Inuit possessed their efficient Arctic wear. Razor-sharp ice cut and tore at their coats and leggings, wearing the fabric thin and making holes through which the relentless wind passed with ease. Tookoo-lito did her best to mend the rents. But food took precedence over clothing. Since the starving men ate every scrap of animal skin, nothing was left to use as patches.
Slowly, hour by hour, the Arctic was erasing these interloping humans from its surface, wearing them away into gray, transparent shadows of themselves. In time there would be nothing left. And all the while their environment tormented them.
Ice, fog, and blowing snow blinded the men as the winds rocked their island. The floor of each igloo trembled and bucked incessantly. Blocks of ice tumbled and crashed along the perimeter of their camp. All around the rifle shots of cracking ice startled them while a wall of impenetrable white prevented the anxious party from seeing their danger. As night fell, a sable curtain replaced the milky wall that enclosed them, yet the disruptions continued, robbing the exhausted sailors of sleep. The situation caused Tyson to remark, “If man has ever suffered on earth the torments of wretched souls condemned to the ‘ice hell’ of the great Italian poet, Dante, I think I have felt it here.”
April Fool's Day unleashed a cruel trick on the party. Tyson had just written in his notebook: “We have been the ‘fools of fortune’ now for five months and a half.” As the fog lifted, an even more alarming sight greeted him. Their home for five and one-half months dissolved. Wind and current had detached their minuscule raft of ice from the rest of the ice pack. Some twenty miles of ice-choked w ives separated their home from the relative security of the drifting pack.
There was nothing left to do but launch the boat and row for the drifting mountains of ice.
Now the folly of burning their second boat for firewood returned to plague them. Cramming nineteen souls into a whaleboat designed 10 carry eight left no room for their provisions. The boat wallowed and shipped water with each wave. Icy seas lapped over the gunnels, drenching the tightly packed occupants and threatening to swamp the craft. In desperation Tyson threw their meat from a recent kill over the side, nearly one hundred pounds of it, and most of their spare clothing. Loss of this precious food must have come especially hard. Hundreds of rounds of metallic cartridges were abandoned before they even launched the boat. Ignoring pleas of the men to jettison the box, Tyson and Tookoolito preserved Captain Hall's writing desk.
To the rhythmic cries of the frightened Inuit children, the sailors poled anci rowed as best they could. Arms, heads, legs, and backs blocked each pull on the oars. By midday, the spent rowers reached the closest slab of ice. For all their efforts, the thick sections of the Greenland pack remained farther away. Exhausted, the sailors pitched their canvas tent and crawled inside. The Inuit slept in the boat.
For the next three days, Tyson and his party played a deadly game of chess with the water and ice. Rowing whenever they could and poling when they could not paddle, they threaded their craft among the razor edges of the brash ice. Whenever the ice closed around tr em, they landed at the largest floe and waited for another opportunity. Sea foam and waves soaked their clothing, which froze intc» sheets as stiff as iron. Once an edge of ice holed their boat and caused them to bail for their lives. When things looked darkest, as Tyson noted in his diary three days later, “[some] of the men, by their expressions, seemed to intimate that they would not have heshated to throw over the women and children to save their own lives.”
Finally they reached a substantial piece of ice and made camp.
Ebierbing built an igloo, and the spent party fell asleep. Herron found himself too cold to sleep and spent the time stomping around their tiny island to keep his feet from freezing.
At five in the morning on the fifth of April, a gale struck. Buffeted by the winds, their sanctuary broke apart. The startled inhabitants rolled out of the igloo just as the crack widened, and the ice house drifted away. The storm rose in ferocity and continued.
Hastily Ebierbing built another hut. The next day the ice split directly under the igloo, cutting it in half. Now too little real estate remained for Ebierbing to build another igloo. Without options the men pitched their tent and took turns hiding from the storm. Few slept.
Their isle of respite now became their trap. Piece by piece it broke apart under the storm's pounding. Yet taking to the boat would have been suicidal, for the steep waves and fierce wind would have sunk the overloaded craft.
On the third day of the storm, the ice split between the tent and the boat. The piece bearing the kayak and the boat shot off with only Mr. Meyer aboard. In desperation the meteorologist launched the kayak toward the two Inuit, who scrambled to the frothing edge of their slab. The wind blew the light craft beyond their reach.
While Tyson watched helplessly, Ebierbing and Hans performed a perilous ballet, vaulting and springing from one chip of bobbing ice to another. Each jump brought them closer to the hapless Meyer, but each leap also threatened to plunge them into the roiling water. Using their paddles and spears, the Natives approached close enough to Meyer to catch a rope he tossed to them. Then they pulled themselves to his side.
Now more than half a mile away, the three men and the boat drifted off as darkness fell.
Morning found the three elements of the group triangulated the kayak, the main party, and Meyer's group separated by equal amounts of water. Unfortunately neither the sickened Meyer nor the Inuit had the strength to launch the whaleboat.
Taking his cue from the Inuit's ice dance, Tyson grabbed a stick and hopped onto the rocking plates that filled the gap. Kruger followed him. Slipping and sliding, they eventually made it across.
Even then, the five men could not budge the boat. One by one the rest of the crew crossed over the bar. All but two swallowed their fear and traversed the shifting stepping-stones. The boat was launched and the kayak retrieved before they returned. Once more united, the men pitched their tent, and Ebierbing built his third igloo in twenty-four hours.
Frederick Meyer had suffered terribly from his ordeal. Already nearly dead of starvation, he fell into the water during the rescue and stopped breathing. Hans and Ebierbing applied their primitive form of artificial respirationwith good results. By vigorously rubbing Mey ir's chest and face with snow and pulling his arms up and down, the y restored his breathing and his consciousness. They had saved his life. But his toes had frozen solid.
The si orm passed, but its effects lingered for another day. Fetch and wind generated huge breaking waves that battered the limited expanse of the campsite. While an uncaring sun set in a cloudless sky, waves broke over the camp and washed the men out of their tent and the Natives from their igloo. The cold beauty of the evening contrasted with the desperate struggle taking place on the ice. What little everyone possessed was loaded into the boat along with the children. The night passed with the adults standing beside the boat as frigid water lapped at their ankles. Without a dry place to light theii lamps, no food was thawed, and no ice could be melted for water. Morning found the party worn out, hungry, and thirsty.
By the twelfth their pitiful island had wedged itself between two icebergs. While their position presented the possibility of being capsized and crushed at a moment's notice, the lofty white peaks did provide some shelter from the wind and waves. Along with this respite ca me the realization that they were again captives of the meandering ice pack.
By April 15 a sun sighting placed their position at 54°58' N. They hac drifted twelve hundred milespast Disko, past Uper-navik, and even past Cape Farewell at the southern tip of Greenland. While the current kept them frustratingly far from the coast of Greenland, it dragged them southward toward the Labrador coast. New each mile they drifted south increased the possibility of spotting whaling ship.
But starvation threatened them first. Only two pounds of pem-mican and bread remained. As before, someone raided the supplies and ate most of them. All around hundreds of birds flew in flocks, heading northward to their nesting grounds. Skittish and familiar with the habits of men, these birds stayed well beyond rifle shot. All the hungry men could do was watch them swoop and dive.
That dangerous look returned to the men's eyes. Tyson recognized it. “This hunger is disturbing their brains,” he scribbled with his pencil stub. “I can not but fear that they contemplate crime. After what we have gone through, I hope this company may be preserved from any fatal wrong. This party must not disgrace humanity by cannibalism.”
A single seal put off the unthinkableat least for a few more days. Every scrap of the animal vanished down their blistered throats except for its gallbladder. Cruelly Tyson amused himself by watching the near-dead Meyer gleaning picked-over bones from the ice. With his bony hands encased in oversize deer-hide gloves, the feeble man struggled to pick up the scraps. Hampered by the gloves and his cold-numbed fingers, time after time Meyer found his gloves empty. Yet each effort of grasping for the bones nearly caused the meteorologist to fall over.
The night of April 20, a cry of alarm pierced the night. Instantly an icy wave of seawater swept over the piece of ice, inundating the camp. As the men struggled to their feet, the wave washed away whatever was not secured. The sea swallowed pipes, socks, shirts, gloves, and the essential oil lamps.
Wave after wave followed. Battered at five-minute intervals, the crew loaded the women and children into the boat just as a monstrous wave ripped the tent loose and carried it off along with blankets and reindeer robes. In that instant all their bedding was lost.
Shouting over the roar of the wind, Tyson ordered his men to stand by the boat. Wide-eyed and trembling, they all obeyed. “Hold on, men!” he cried. “Bear down! Put on all your weight!”
“Aye, aye, sir,” came the frightened response.
Each wave lifted and rocked the boat, threatening to wash it off the ice and into the churning maelstrom. Sailor after sailor threw his body across the thwarts to keep the whaleboat from lifting free.
For twelve hours they struggled. Blocks and slabs of ice borne by the waves slammed into the legs and feet of the desperate men. Each blow spun its victim and upset his balance. Chunks of ice the size of dressers tumbled the men like ninepins. Their hands and mittens now frozen to the sides of the craft perversely helped them keep hold as they dropped. One fall meant death, swept away into the roiling tempest. Luckily the crew worked together. Helping hands snatched those who slipped before they slid from sight.
And with each wave, the boat leaped forward, closer to the edge of the ice.
While the men weakened, the storm showed no signs of relenting. By morning the two Inuit women tumbled onto the ice to help hold the boat in place. At seven in the morning, the fury abated.
Tysor spotted a better piece of ice close by and ordered the boat laurched. Jackson fell overboard in the attempt, but hands snatched his jacket and pulled the shivering cook aboard. On reaching the new site, the last morsels of dried bread were divided. The crew was split into two watches, which allowed half to sleep in the boat at one time.
Tysor took stock of their situation. It was hopeless. All were soaked and covered with bruises. There was no more food, no shelter except the boat, no dry clothing, and no means of starting a fire.
In their darkest hour, the captain found reason to hope. We cannot have been saved through such a night to he starved now, he thought. God will send us some food.
As Tyson and his party chewed on strips of their clothing to assuage their hunger, Ebierbing climbed a crest of their frozen world and scanned the jumbled horizon. Three times he ventured to the top to look for food without success.
On his fourth attempt, a slight movement caught his eye. A patch of vory moved along the blazing white hummocks. It was a bear. Among toward the smell of something he could eat, the animal was coming to them.
Ebierbing and Hans ran for their rifles. The anxious sailors flopped cown onto the ice and did their best to resemble sleeping seals whi e the bear approached. As the men held their breath, two shots rang out and the bear skidded onto his nose.
The animal was starving just as they were. Its stomach was empty, and its hide hung loosely over a bony frame. None of the usual layers of insulating fat remained beneath its skin. The bear had meant to eat them. Instead, it became food itself. Its warm blood and stringy meat revived the men, especially the semicomatose Meyer.
But the respite was short-lived. Another gale descended upon the straits. In a recurring theme, the wind and waves ate away at their new home until the group was forced to take to their boat once more. For the next three days, they spent more time in their leaking craft than on ice floes. The warming weather favored rotten ice, and the storm shattered most of the weakened pack ice.
Now a different situation threatened. Little remained of the level places where they could land. Only sharp-faced icebergs that split and capsized incessantly shared the stormy straits with a slurry of slush and brash ice. There was no place suitable to repair their boat. Besides, they had no materials with which to repair it. There was nothing left for them to do but bail the sinking boat and dodge the walls of ice that thundered past.
At four-thirty in the afternoon of April 28, just when their hopes had sunk the lowest, Ebierbing's sharp eyes spotted a smudge of smoke rising from the horizon.
“A steamer! A steamer!” a hoarse voice croaked.
Instantly Tyson hoisted the American flag. Men shouted and waved. The boat rocked perilously while the crew tried everything to get the ship's attention. Through his telescope Tyson made out the steam sealer working its way through the ice on a southwest course.
Pulling with their last ounce of energy, the crew rowed toward the ship. But fog and ice blocked their way. The steamer vanished from sight. Sobbing from despair as well as exhaustion, the men slumped over their oars. Darkness settled over the small boat just as Tyson found a piece of ice barely large enough to land. Lighting scraps of their oil-soaked clothing, they set watch fires in hopes the steamer would see them.
Morning found another steamer approximately eight miles off. Hurriedly they launched their boat and paddled for it. An hour of hard rowing saw them gaining on the idling ship. Another hour found their tiny boat blocked by pancake ice. Clambering onto the highest point of a floating cake, those with guns fired them into the air.
The s:eamer changed course, heading directly for them. Almost delirious with joy, the men fired three rounds. A report of three shots echoed back. Was it a response from the ship or merely the echoes oF the icebergs?
To their dismay, the vessel veered off, weaving first south, then north and west. Tyson and his men shouted, with no result, until their threats cracked. The captain watched in amazement as the ship zigzagged along the horizon. The vessel was threading its way around the ice. “Strange,” he wondered out loud. “I should think any sailing ship, much more a steamer, could get through with ease.”
Helpless, the men watched in frustration as hours slipped away while the steamer came no closer than five miles from them. Even more depressing, another ship steamed into sight just as the sun set. Night found the castaways huddled on another sliver of ice, bracketed by unseeing sealing ships. Hans caught a baby seal sleeping on the other side of their base, so the depressed party had a little to eat.
As he settled into his night watch, Tyson felt warmer air waft past his windburned cheek. The puff of warm air sent a chill through him. Warm air could mean only one thing: fog! The next day would see thick fog, and that would make their discovery more difficult.
As morning broke on the last day in April, Tyson had just closed his eyes when the lookout cried out, “There's a steamer! There's a steamer!”
Shimmering through the fog like the ghostly image of the Flying Dutchman loomed a ship.
Everyone jumped up and fired their rifles. Tyson tied the flag to the top of their mast and joined the others in shouting. Hans launched the kayak and paddled furiously toward the ship. With its funnel bi lowing sooty smoke between its two masts, the ship was less than a quarter mile off. Still, fog rolled about the ship and hid it from view.
Hans reached the ship and waved his arms as his kayak thudded into the side of the steamer. She was the steam barkentine Tigress, out of Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Curious men lined the rails to look down at him.
All the while as he paddled, Hans shouted out, “American steamer! American steamer!” Knowing only a few words in English, he could not say more.
Men aboard the steamer looked down in amazement. Where had this Native come from? He was in the middle of the straits. And what did he want? The Tigress was no “American steamer.”
The fog parted just as Hans pointed at the people on the floe.
Instantly the captain shouted orders. The ship slowed and turned toward the marooned party. Three sealing boats splashed into the water, and their crews rowed for the patch of floating ice.
When he saw the change of course, Tyson doffed his threadbare Russian cap and gave three cheers. His men followed suit. Tears flooded his eyes when three hearty cheers resounded from the steamer. As she hove into sight, he saw a hundred men lining her forecastle, rigging, and topgallant mast, waving and cheering at their rescue.
Not waiting for their rescuers, Tyson and his group abandoned their dented cooking pot and launched their own boat. Boat hooks caught the battered craft as it reached the Tigress.
The rescued party climbed shakily aboard. Curious seamen crowded around them. The dirty, haggard group looked less than human. One boatload of sailors from the Tigress had peered into the beat-up tin pot to see what the rescued had been eating. The greasy loop of seal intestine spoke eloquently of their dire straits.
“How long have you been on the ice?” Captain Isaac Bartlett of the Tigress asked.
“Since the 15 th of last October,” Tyson answered.
A murmur of disbelief rippled through the surrounding seamen. It was now the end of April. One wide-eyed sailor blurted out, “Was you on it day and night?”
In spite of his exhaustion, Captain Tyson chuckled.
After 195 days drifting in the northern seas, Captain George Tyson and the eighteen members of the Polaris Expedition had survived their hardship on the ice. Frozen water and an overloaded whaleboat had been their only home for nearly seven months. The Tigress snatched them from the jaws of the sea just off the coast of Grady Harbor, Labrador, at latitude 53°35' N. In the process they had floated more than eighteen hundred miles.
Their trial by ice was over. If they thought they were done with ordeals, tbey were mistaken. Their trial by the United States Navy would soon begin.