Shadow on the Ice: The Ghost Ship Baychimo

What could be spookier than a ghost ship? These ships, either real or legend, eerily wander the seas without a crew, setting a course only the ghostly vessel knows. But the Baychimo was not the result of paranormal activity, nor did its crew mysteriously vanish. Rather, the ship inexplicably survived abandoned in the Arctic for decades and seemingly shunned every effort to salvage her. No one knows her true fate as she seemed content to silently haunt the shores of Alaska until the seas finally took her on one nameless day.

The Baychimo’s story started out as humble and ordinary as any other vessel. She was originally built as the Ångermanelfven in Sweden and used as a trading vessel with Germany until 1914. After WWI, she was given to Great Britain as war reparations. She was then acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1921 and used as a cargo and passenger ship working the fur trade in the Arctic. The company renamed her Baychimo and operated her out of Scotland. All in all, she made nine trips to the Arctic.

Leaving Vancouver for her last voyage (LM2006.1000.1573).

1931 was the fateful year for Baychimo. On July 6th she started out from Vancouver on her regular trading run to eight HBC outposts in the western Arctic. On this final journey she continually battled the ice and fog of the oncoming winter. Captain Cornwall and the crew raced to beat the encroaching ice on September 9th when the Baychimo departed from her final delivery stop at Pauline Cove on Herschel Island. Despite all efforts to push past Point Barrow and into the Bering Strait, on September 25th 1931, the Baychimo became trapped in the ice. The wind was not changing and hopes to find a route through the ice pack quickly diminished. Some of the passengers and crew managed to catch two planes home. The remaining crew built a shelter and began to settle in for the long winter. As the situation did not improve, further flights arrived in October and November eventually taking all of the remaining passengers and ten of the crew. 

Baychimo in the ice (LM2008.1000.5763)

Darkness settled in the north and ruthless winter storms set in. In late November, after the storms had settled, the remaining crew noticed that large ridges of ice had formed and they could no longer see the ship. They risked their own safety by clambering over the ice, but when they did, they saw that the Baychimo was gone. The crew spent several days searching for the ship, but all in vain. She had disappeared.

Baychimo stuck in the ice (LM2008.1000.5769).

A week later she was spotted 130 kilometres from the crew’s camp. The captain and crew rushed to find her, but could not reach her because of the poor ice conditions. Then, without a sound, she disappeared once more. By February 1932 the crew gave up on finding the ship and were flown home. But as early as March, the ghost ship sightings began. 

Over the years, several people attempted to salvage her, but every time she slipped away once again into the Arctic seas. It seems the Baychimo preferred to silently drift alone in the cold and barren ice of the north. The last sighting of the ghost ship was in 1969 by a group of Inupiat. She was stuck in the ice between Icy Cape and Point Barrow. No further sightings have been reported. Likely, the Baychimo tired of her lonesome haunt and finally allowed the all-consuming ice to do its business. She wouldn’t have gone quietly though. The pressure against the steel hull and slow disfiguration would have produced wails of metal on metal. Finally, after a long and dreary existence in limbo, the Baychimo likely now rests in peace in her cold grave beneath the ice. Or does she? Maybe you will be the next to encounter the shadow on the ice…

Happy Halloween!