There are two parties already, if not three, aboard. All the foreigners hang together, and expressions are freely made that Hall shall not get any credit out of this expedition. Already some have made up their minds how far they will go, and when they will get home againqueer sort of explorers these!
—GEORGE TYSON, DIARY, AUGUST 10, 1871
August 18, 1871, the Polaris reached Upernavik. The vessel dropped anchor in a shroud of mist and fog. For those new to the far North, the gray skies and barren, windblown coast of Greenland offered a sour taste of what lay ahead. Strewn with bits and pieces of driftwood and salvaged scraps, the village resembled a dump rather than the last notable link with civilization. After Upernavik only the harbored settlement of Tasiussaq lay between them and the unknown. Whereas the sunlit rocks and shadowed tidal pools of St. John's underscored Newfoundland's rugged beauty, the coast of Greenland presented a far gloomier picture. Barren, desolate, and dank, the colorless harbor existed uneasily between the threatening sea and the brooding peaks that scowled down upon it. These nunataks, or mountain peaks, pierce the omnipresent mantle of ice that dominates the region. Scoured of snow by the winds, the jagged projections of hard Precambrian rock rise above the ice like somber crystals, making them the inverse of the picturesque, snow-covered peaks of the Alps or Rocky Mountains.
As the largest island of the world, Greenland suffers from two dubious distinctions. To the eye, it is neither green nor land. First, two-thirds of its land mass lies within the Arctic Circle, so most of Greenland is white. Erik the Red lied to his fellow Icelanders on his return from Greenland in a.D. 985 to encourage them to settle there. Later travelers would marvel at the irony of the place's name.
Besides not being green, there is precious little land either. A massive ice cap, second in size only to Antarctica, covers more than 85 percent of the land. Like a colossal melting block of ice, varying in places from one to two miles thick, the ice cap flows ever outward from the center toward the sea. Snowfall of up to eighty centimeters blankets the cap, compressing the underlying ice into dense layers. Heat is generated during this process, and the ice begins to slide outward. Friction from the moving sheets generates more heat. Melt from this heat lubricates the interface, but the sheer weight and bulk of the sliding ice scour the underlying rock and grind it into fine silt, called glacial flour. This powdery dust turns the melting water into white, milky streams. One of Greenland's fastest-moving glaciers, the Jakobshavn Glacier, slides along at one hundred feet per day. All this ice heads for the ocean.
Eking a tenuous existence between these wandering walls are scraps of exposed high ground. Spared by the glaciers, the land is scourged by the wind. No trees of note grow there, only stunted and dwarfed birch, scrub alder, and willow. Mainly the barren rock is carpeted with cotton grass, sedge, and lichens. The drier parts are termed tundra, while the wetter hollows are called taiga.
About this bleak landscape, Arctic foxes, hares, musk ox, and lemmings struggle to survive.
Well after dark, Mr. Chester's well-traveled whaleboat thumped against the side of the Polaris. The first mate, sent to search for the second Inuit sled driver, had returned. A lantern held aloft by the deck watch revealed an astonishing sight. Beaming upward in the reflected light were five round faces and a dozen sled dogs. Awkwardly, the first mate explained to Captain Hall that Hans Christian, while willing to join the expedition, refused to part with his family and all his worldly possessions. Hans saw no difficulty in this. With an Inuit's straightforward logic, he decided to take everything with him. Settling his wife and three small children in the boat, Hans then crammed the craft to its gunnels with his furs, guns, lamps, grass baskets, harpoons, sled, kayak, and his entire dog team. In addition to this was more unwelcome cargo: within the Inuit's hair and among their furs crawled hundreds of lice.
After the new additions were hauled aboard, a touching reunion took place. Hans shook hands all around with Hall and the officers. When he came to William Morton, he paused. Both Morton and Hans had accompanied Elisha Kent Kane's expedition seventeen years before.
Those seventeen years at sea had been hard ones for William Morton. It was Morton and Hans who had mushed overland while the rest of the expedition wintered in their icebound ship, the Advance. Near Cape Constitution open water halted their foray. Morton returned and reported his findings to Kane. The delusion of the Open Polar Sea was popular at that time, and Morton's findings seemed to confirm that such an open waterway existed. However, the expedition led by Hall's nemesis, Isaac Hayes, seven years later found only ice. Morton was labeled a liar and his beloved Kane faulted for taking the word of an enlisted man. Morton's loss of credibility weighed heavily on him, aging him severely.
Morton's seamed face had so changed that Hans failed to recognize his old friend. Then Morton showed his hands to the Inuit. An accidental explosion of black powder during the Kane exploration burned and scarred the seaman's hands. Hans took the hands and ran his fingers over the raised scars. Instantly Hans identified the injury and with it his past companion. The two men embraced warmly and shook hands while tears moistened the old explorer's eyes.
Two days passed while Hall struggled to buy more sled dogs. Without adequate animals to haul the sleds, overland advance would be impossible. No other animal could live and work in the harsh conditions as well as the tough, thick-coated dogs bred by the Inuit. Years later Robert Scott would use ponies instead of dogs to haul his sledges in his quest for the South Pole. That would cost the lives of the entire Scott expedition.
The commander used the time to strengthen his position. After the Sunday services given by Mr. Bryan, Hall resolved to bell the cat. He rose and addressed the gathering, intending to reaffirm his command over all aspects of the expedition, especially Bessel's group. Instead of unifying his men, as was his intention, the speech did little good. The split had occurred. His words fell upon different ears with differing impact. What German and American heard was very divergent.
To Joseph Mauch, the young German assigned to be Hall's stenographer, the lecture dissolved into a diatribe directed against the ranking Teuton, Emil Bessel. “Capt. Hall made some remarks insulting Dr. Bessel most severely,” Mauch wrote in his journal.
To the American Noah Hayes, his captain's speech reflected his steadfast resolve and noble principles. Hayes remembered Captain Hall asserting “his determination to maintain order and obedience to all lawful commands.” Prophetically Hayes recalled Hall's vowing “if necessary to die in the performance of his duty as commander rather than yield a letter.”
Hall had cast his gauntlet down and backed his oath with his life.
Another day's steam found the ship anchored at Tasiussaq, a collection of huts more than anything else. Hall purchased more dogs, bringing the total up to sixty. He had hoped to convince a man named Jansen to join the group, but Jansen refused.
All around them signs of autumn showed. Yellow laced the curling willow and alder leaves, and the white caribou moss rose in stark contrast against the red-and-orange-tinged lichen. The air carried a sharper bite. Each evening the land breeze wafted the pungent tang of high bush cranberries among the tarred rigging lines. Hall grew more anxious with each sign. His window through the sea ice was closing. Any day now the mountains of floating ice would slide down from the north to crash and collide while they sealed Smith Sound until the next summer.
Two days of solid fog blocked their departure. Cold, white, and impenetrable, the fog descended on the harbor without notice. Hall chafed at the bit, finally deciding to trust the ship to the local knowledge of a pilot. Hastily he amended his last report to Navy Secretary Robeson. Gov. Lowertz Elberg had promised to see the report safely aboard the next ship to the United States. On August 22 he had written optimistically, “The prospects of the expedition are fine; the weather beautiful, clear, and exceptionally warm.” A landsman, he failed to realize the warm air was a mixed blessing and might bring fog. Now he penned a more somber note: “The Polaris bids adieu to civilization. God be with us.”
Through the fog and into the open sea of Baffin Bay, Polaris headed north for the neck of the bottle called Smith Sound. With Von Otto's report that the ice pack had receded still fresh in his mind, Hall made way through the open water, following the most direct path to his goal. Like a silent hunter lying in wait to spring the trap, Smith Sound remained open, luring the ship ever northward. Fading astern, the faint oil lamps of Tasiussaq shimmered over the rolling waves until they became no more than a memory. With those lights faded all contact with their modern world. Behind lay hospitals, electric lights, telegraph, civilized comforts, and safety. Ahead waited the cold and darkness and danger.
Inside Smith Sound the first icebergs appeared.
Saint Brendan, the seafaring Irish monk, first mentioned encountering “floating crystal castles” during his far-flung voyages in a cowhide coracle. Saint Brendan often exaggerated and was given to flights of fancy as he rocked along in his fragile craft. Unfortunately for mariners to this day, what he saw was real, and nothing he wrote about icebergs conveyed their majesty or the utter terror they invoke in a sailor's heart as they slide silently through the water with the help of current and wind. The nip in the air that precedes an iceberg can chill a mariner to his marrow. Before radar and the Global Positioning System (GPS), only a keen eye and a quick hand on the helm prevented a collision with these floating monsters. In thick fog the faint echo of the foghorn might be the only thing to give adequate warning.
But Greenland is infamous for producing very large tabular icebergs. Flat and expansive, these ice islands, often miles across, drift along barely showing above the surface. No sounds echo from these. A vessel driven aground on one has no chance. If the ship is not instantly holed and sunk, its rocking rips the hull apart on this floating island.
And where the Polaris sailed was iceberg country, indeed. Unlike the eastern coast of Greenland, where icebergs are few and move north with the current, western Greenland wins the prize for calving icebergs. Shearing off the moving face of the glaciers, massive blocks of ice escape the fjords to sail south along the western face of Greenland with the Labrador Current. Appropriately enough, given their potential for destruction, all up and down the coast thundering booms and cracks herald their birth, resonating for miles from the fjords.
Rolling over so that the bulk of ice lies below the waterline, these watery battering rams head for the shipping lanes. More than 7,500 icebergs train down Davis Strait. Fewer than 1 in 20 sails past Newfoundland, but the vagaries of wind and surface temperature can dramatically prolong their lives. In both 1907 and 1926, icebergs traveled as far south as Bermuda.
From the deck of the Polaris, the crew watched pale battalions loom on the horizon. More and more ice appeared as the water developed a dark and sinister cast. Jagged icebergs mingled with spinning plates of fractured floe ice. Steaming along in the dark, the Polaris narrowly missed a low tabular iceberg. The lookouts were doubled and instructed to keep a sharp eye for areas of dead water. As the lowering clouds and fog hid the moon, only the absence of whitecaps exposed the giant saucers of ice skimming along at sea level.
Dawn brought a surprise. Directly ahead lay an ice floe littered with rolling, grunting, reddish-brown lumps. The foul stench of rotted fish and dung blew ahead of the floe, announcing the arrival of a pod of walrus. Warily the animals regarded the ship as they drifted closer. Inuit hunted the animals for their meat, tusks, and skins to make their oomiaks. Besides the few humans who paddled their fragile boats, only killer whales and polar bear threaten these large mammals, but the vigilant males who guarded the group failed to recognize these men as a danger. Still cautious, the walrus watched the dark hulk of the Polaris sail closer.
These were Arctic specimens, so Dr. Bessel induced George Tyson to shoot one for scientific study. But the walrus has a thick, spongy skull like the elephant that encases a tiny brain. Now Tyson learned what the Inuit already knew. Walrus are difficult to kill unless shot through the eye. If not killed instantly, they slide off and sink. The Inuit used harpoons with braided skin lines. Even then, more than one hunter died beneath the slashing tusks of a wounded walrus or drowned when the animal shattered his oomiak.Both Tyson's shots missed a vital spot, and the animals vanished into the safety of the black water, leaving behind only an empty, brown-streaked floe.
Threading through the ever-increasing floes of ice, the Polaris beat northward, aiming for the eye of the needle. Passing through Smith Sound, the vessel entered the ice-cluttered narrows that separates Greenland from Ellesmere Island. Tapering in places to a mere sixteen miles across, the three-hundred-mile gauntlet widens north of Smith Sound into Kane Basin, a massive bite taken out of the western side of Greenland by the Humboldt Glacier. Beyond Kane Basin the passage constricts again into Kennedy Channel. Beyond that passage lies the Lincoln Sea, sweeping north of Ellesmere Island and the northernmost tip of Greenland. No land exists north of here. Here is truly the end of the earth.
Ancient mariners might leave the unknown edges of their charts white and fearfully mark “Here be dragons.” But this is land's end. And dragons do live here in the form of frightening gales, building-size bergs that bulldoze down the straits, and numbing cold. A man lost overboard is dead within fifteen minutes from hypothermia. Within minutes the 38°F seawater so cools the small muscles of the hands that a man overboard cannot grasp a lifeline. Anyone lucky enough to reach shore or climb aboard floating ice freezes just as quickly without a fire or shelter.
The elusive goal of the North Pole that Charles Francis Hall sought actually sits above a depression at the top of the globe. Like a hard-boiled egg with one end smashed in, the North Polar region is one vast frozen sea overlying an irregular dent in the earth. Subterranean ridges roughly divide this scooped-out depression into three basins: the Nansen Basin, the Makarov Basin, and the Canada Basin. The highest ridge, the Lomonosov Ridge, runs from the top of Greenland across to eastern Siberia.
For those used to the security of terra firma, this region offers little solace. The ice is restless. Twisted by the rotation of the earth and pushed by the winds and currents, the polar ice field drifts endlessly. Above Ellesmere Island the ice spins ponderously clockwise like a massive frozen pinwheel called the Beaufort Gyral Stream. Closer to the Pole itself, the ice moves along the Greenwich meridian from east to west at three to four miles a day. A party pressing against this drift can struggle forward all day only to find it has progressed backward.
This constant movement fractures the ice and crumples it upon itself. Miles of pressure ridges traverse the ice plain like miniature Rocky Mountains, creating barriers impossible to cross. Sharp-edged sastrugi like twenty-foot piles of broken glass litter the journey, cutting dogs' feet, lacerating boots, and shattering sled runners. Deep crevasses and open lees of water mingle among the blocks of ice.
Of course, most of this was unknown to Captain Hall and his companions at the time. His journey north was much like what a trip to Mars would be today. Every mile he moved past where civilized man had gone was a mile into the unknown. Even his instruments were primitive by modern standards. In the 1870s the finest tools with which to measure one's position were the sextant, the magnetic compass, and the hand-wound chronometer.
As far north as the Polaris sailed, the pull of the magnetic pole on the compass needle rendered it almost useless, deflecting the needle more than 47° to the west of true north. Measuring longitude accurately required an accurate timepiece. While you could measure your latitude fairly correctly on the surface of the earth with a sextant by taking a noon sun shot, measuring the sun when it was directly overhead, to calculate your longitude required the accurate time. Every four seconds off the correct time equaled an error of one nautical mile.
Once again the British government, in 1728, rising to a challenge, offered a reward to whoever built the most accurate chronometer, one that met its strict requirements. After all, how was the British Lion to rule the seas if it couldn't tell where it was? As usual, the prize money amounted to twenty thousand pounds. An amateur mechanic and carpenter named John Harrison surprised the Royal Society by building such a timepiece. The Board of Longitude equivocated, so Harrison improved his designs, making them more accurate and, more important, small enough to be carried aboard ship. In 1762 Harrison's number 4 marine chronometer erased all doubts. During a test cruise from England to Jamaica, Harrison's clock showed an error of only five seconds. The problem of longitude was solved. Even so, the government paid Harrison only five thousand pounds at first, holding back on the remainder until 1773.
But for these hardy Arctic adventurers, special problems existed. Cold temperatures played havoc with the lubricating oil and finely tuned springs of the chronometers, affecting their accuracy. Using the sextant was even harder. The cold, bare metal of the sextant instantly froze any exposed fingers, necessitating cumbersome gloves. The slightest wisp of breath will fog the instrument. The Arctic sun by late summer runs low on the horizon and vanishes entirely in October. Without a horizon of open water, a plate of liquid mercury must be used to reflect the sighting. The navigator must lie on his stomach on the ice, sight into the shimmering dish, and try to match the sun or star with its reflected circle in the dish. Using a mercury horizon in the twilight to sight dim stars is almost impossible. This compounds errors in the sighting. Any result is then divided by two to get a reading. And any accidental error doubles.
The whole exercise is akin to trying to align the reflection of two swinging lightbulbs in a saucer of water while balancing on your elbows. Only your life may depend on your accuracy.
Years later Robert Peary, with better chronographs and sextants, would still struggle with this difficult means of measurement. Even today his readings that prove he reached the North Pole trouble some historians.
To solve these problems, Hall planned to use Polaris, the North Star, as his guiding light. When asked by members of the academy how he intended to tell when he reached the North Pole, he blithely answered that he would look overhead at Polaris. When the star no longer moved southward as he trekked north but stayed constantly overhead in the firmaments, he would be directly beneath the Pole Star and standing on the exact North Pole. The scientists accepted his logic, for everyone knew the Polar Star hung in the sky directly over the Pole and never wavered. Had Hall actually reached the North Pole, he would have been puzzled by his findings. To the observer standing beneath it, Polaris oscillates back and forth in a small ellipse while the earth wobbles on its axis.
Whatever misfortune Captain Hall suffered with his officers and crew, good fortune favored his advance up the narrow straits. The floating bergs parted, and no pack ice blocked their way. On the evening of August 27, the Polaris steamed past the highest point that Hall's nemesis Dr. Hayes had reached. In 1860 gales and ice had forced Hayes's schooner the United States to winter over at a place Hayes named Port Foulke near Hartstene Bay. Dr. Kane's exploration aboard the Advance in 1853 nearly met disaster when a sudden storm forced ice around the ship, causing it to take refuge in that harbor. Both Hayes and Kane pressed northward by sled while their ships wintered over. Eventually Kane was forced to abandon the Advance and retreat south. Within three more hours the Polaris continued past Rensselaer Harbor.
A jubilant Hall paced the decks as the sightings confirmed they had reached 78°5V N, where Kane had grounded his ship and made his winter camp. Dawn found them passing through the narrowing of Kennedy Channel. Beyond this the channel widened again.
William Morton and Hans pointed and laughed as the ship beat through the water. Here was the place they had reached seventeen years before and reported on only to be ridiculed when Hayes later found it frozen. Kane's Open Polar Sea, they called it, and their enthusiasm brought them only reproach. Now the Polaris cruised where Hayes had declared sea travel was impossible. They were vindicated.
Ahead in the swirling mists, the Open Polar Sea narrowed. It was not a sea after all but another of the basins that populate the passage like a string of misshapen pearls. Expansively, Hall renamed the place after himself, calling it Hall Basin. He could hardly wait to see the look on Hayes's face when the man learned the Polaris had sailed where Hayes said no ship could.
Exiting the northern end of the basin, the ship brushed aside slabs of floating ice and entered another channel. Now it sailed where no ship had gone before. With mounting exuberance, Charles Hall began naming everything in sight. The channel became Robe-son Channel, after the secretary of the navy; an indentation along its eastern side became Polaris Bay. Ahead another, larger bay was named Newman's Bay, after the good reverend. Headlands rising from the southern edge of Newman's Bay became Sumner Headlands, after the senator from Massachusetts. For all his excitement, Hall covered all bases, political patrons along with ecclesiastic supporters. A sealed brass cylinder noting their northern progress was thrown overboard on August 27.
While Hall, Morton, and Hans congratulated themselves and laughed like schoolboys, the master of sail failed to share their glee. Each nautical mile the ship sailed north weighed like a pound of lead on Sidney Buddington's mind. Not in his wildest nightmares had he expected to sail this far. When they reached Port Foulke, Kane's winter quarters, he strongly urged Hall to put in. There was a snug harbor where the ship could winter over in relative comfort, and he could raid the pantry and sample his drink while Hall could sled north to his heart's content. If that madman and his allies wished to freeze to death on the ice, so be it. That was not Buddington's cup of tea. He was sailing master, and his responsibility began and ended with the safety of the ship. Port Foulke was a very nice, safe spot. They should put in there and prepare for winter. That was what all prudent whaling captains did when faced with ice.
Yet Hall was no prudent whaling captainin fact, no sea captain at all. He brushed aside Buddington's pleas and persisted in sailing on. No doubt that recklessness rankled Buddington. No one but a landsman would endanger the vessel and all aboard, especially in these unknown waters. If he wrecked the ship, they would all be lost. The ship was their only means of returning to safety.
But Hall continued his perilous course, and George Tyson encouraged him. Tyson climbed the mast, waved his arms from the crow's nest, and shouted down to Hall and the helmsman that he could see more open water ahead.
Tyson's assistant navigator commission did little to clarify his function. Tyson's acting like another captain must have been a thorn in Buddington's side more than a help. The whaler could only imagine that Hall had brought Tyson along because he didn't trust Buddington. In truth, Tyson had been Hall's first choice to skipper the ship. Probably every man aboard, including Buddington, knew that by now. Buddington would later describe Tyson as a malcontent, always criticizing his handling of the ship while toadying up to Hall.
But the crew knew who had the sea experience, and so did Hubbard Chester, the first mate. Like Buddington, they were mariners with little taste for sinking their home just to climb a few more degrees of latitude north. Every Jack Tar of them knew shipmates who had frozen to death or simply vanished with their ships in these waters, and they were not anxious to join the long list of missing sailors posted on the walls of the Whaleman's Chapel in New Bedford. The ghastly white faces and clawlike frozen fingers of seamen who had died on the ice surely haunted their nightly dreams.
Buddington recruited them to his side whenever he could. Not openly, of course, but with subtle gestures and snide remarks, and always behind Hall's back. Direct insubordination could lead to losing one's master's papers, something Buddington feared. He had to admire the craftiness of the German, Emil Bessel. The chief scientist bested Hall at every turn. Disdainful, aloof, almost imperial in his actions, Bessel unnerved Hall with a combination of ridicule and contempt.
Tyson's shout caused the helmsman to spin the wheel and head the ship back across the channel to where Tyson pointed. Ahead Buddington saw only forests of floating bergs, shifting and grinding against one another in the failing light.
Even if George Tyson realized that his exuberance nettled Captain Buddington, he couldn't have cared less. Hall's passion to reach the North Pole had infected him. While Buddington fretted, Tyson enjoyed the danger of zigzagging up the channel. Every nautical mile they made brought them closer to their goal and spared them sledding an equal mile over the rugged sastrugi. When Mr. Chester informed him just before midnight that an impassable barrier of ice lay ahead, Tyson went aloft and proved him wrong. Spending his entire watch in the rigging, Tyson piloted the Polaris through a narrow lee and along that channel until open water reappeared.
By now they had sailed farther north than any white man had ever gone. Here the differences between Buddington and Tyson grew obvious. Like Hall, George Tyson enjoyed the unmarked chart, the undiscovered land. And especially like their commander, Tyson had adapted to dogsled travel with the Inuit. For him the fields of unbroken ice and barren, snow-covered land held no special terror. Other than Hall, no one else aboard felt that way. To the rest, the ship meant safety. To Hall, Tyson, and the Inuit, the ship was only a means to move them higher before they took to their sleds.
Carried along on the ship's rolls in a position that ill suited his rank as captain in his own right, Tyson felt like a fish out of water. Buddington, Chester, and even old Morton fit neatly into the ship's chain of command. But he did not. What exactly did an assistant navigator do if the navigator was sound?
However, as master of the sledges, he had a role, albeit a role off the ship. Like Hall and quite unlike Chester, Buddington, or Bessel, Tyson felt comfortable driving a dogsled over the crackling ice. His heart did not leap into his throat when his sled skated across water overflowing on the ice or hurdled across opened cracks in the floes. He could handle a team almost as well as Hall, a tall accomplishment for a white man. Hans Christian, Ebierbing, and even Tookoolito had run sled dogs from the day they could walk, and Hans handled the teams like the master he was. But Hall and Tyson could steer and control the dogs and eagerly anticipated venturing away from the Polaris on sledding explorations. In that they were quite different from the rest of the crew.
To most mariners, their ship is their home, their substitute wife, their mother, and at most times their strong-willed mistress. Demanding, unforgiving, but always supportive, each vessel has its own personality. Ships are always referred to as “she” or “her” and described as “tender” or “forgiving,” terms applied to women. In a faceless, heartless ocean, a sailor's vessel provides food, warmth, shelter, and his only means of survival.
For these reasons most seamen are reluctant to step off their vessel except in port. Even in dire emergencies with the ship afire or sinking, many refuse to abandon the only security they know even if staying aboard means certain death.
Extrapolate that mind-set to the Polaris: a well-found ship, strong and modified with the latest modern equipment to survive in the Arctic. What sailor in his right mind would exchange that security for the shifting ice fields and wind-whipped whiteout conditions surrounding them? There a man might vanish in a second into a crevasse, and shelter meant a cold, dark igloo heated by a single, sputtering seal-oil lamp.
So in the end three divergent groups rode aboard the Polaris as the ship beat northward. Buddington, Chester, and the English-speaking seamen saw their future in the safety of the vessel. The scientific corps with Emil Bessel, Frederick Meyer, and the German crew believed they could study the Arctic from the ship or nearby land. No need for them to risk life and limb in lengthy forays away from the Polaris. Only Charles Francis Hall with George Tyson, a few exuberant sailors like Noah Hayes, and the Inuit desired to leave the ship once the ice locked around it. Tyson ridiculed the others' fears. “I see some rueful countenances,” he noted in his diary. “I believe some of them think we are going to sail off the edge of the world, or into ‘Symme's Hole,’” he wrote, referring to a mythical whirlpoollike aberration in the ocean that sailors feared could suck down an entire ship, leaving no trace.
Hall had crossed his Rubicon. He could not turn back. He would rather die than forgo his quest to reach the North Pole, he had told his crew. His unbending ambition and goal threatened the safety of two of the three groups. Unwittingly, by pressuring them, Hall put his own life in jeopardy. In the back of his mind, the leader of this flawed party must have realized this. Grave foreboding crept into his thoughts.
One evening Tyson found Hall working at his writing desk. Already an author of one book on his first Arctic travels, Hall had shown Tyson the notes and drafts of his attempt to find the lost Franklin expedition. Hall brought them aboard when the ship left New York. What better place to finish a manuscript than during the idle hours aboard the ship, both men realized.
“Are you writing up your Franklin search book?” Tyson asked.
Hall stopped writing. For a minute he regarded the papers before him. “No,” he said flatly. “No,” he sighed, “I left those papers in Disco.”
In Disko! The reply shocked Tyson. In New York all Hall could talk about besides reaching the North Pole was his unfinished manuscript. With drawings, detailed notes, maps, and etchings of the varied artifacts recovered from Franklin's trail of death and disaster, Hall's work held valued insights and poignant relics. The public eagerly awaited his book. Now it might be two to three years before he could work on it again.
And leaving it in Disko in the hands of the Danish governor made no sense. An uneasy knot turned in Tyson's stomach.
“Why?” he blurted out.
A mask of gloom spread over Hall's face. Even in the pale light of the guttering oil lamp, Tyson watched the shadow of darkness settle across his leader's features and the ruddy color drain away. The depression and anguish reflected in the man's face made Tyson truly uncomfortable. He would later record his feelings that night in his diary.
Without raising his head, Hall whispered, “I left them there for safety. …”
Feeling as if he had accidentally stepped on his companion's soul, Tyson backed out of the cabin. Hall never raised his head, never made eye contact. Instead, he returned to writing his journal.
Back on deck Tyson shivered, but not from the cold. What was Captain Hall thinking? What safer place could there be for the man's manuscript than by his side? Was there something bad that Hall sensed? Did he believe disaster lay ahead for the ship? Did he fear someone aboard might maliciously destroy his precious notes … or even do him harm?
“I saw the subject was not pleasant, and I made no further remark,” Tyson wrote that night of their discussion, “but I could not help thinking it over.”