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masses of the field ice; at another, in the open seas adjacent. Sometimes the majority of the whales inhabiting those seas, seem collected within a small and single circuit; at others, they are scattered in various hordes, and numerous single individuals, over an amazing extent of surface. To discover and reach the haunts of the whale, is an object of the first consideration in the fishery, and occasionally the most difficult and laborious to accomplish. In close seasons, though the ice joins the south of Spitzbergen, and thereby forms a barrier against the fishingstations, yet this barrier is often of a limited extent, and terminates on the coast of Spitzbergen in an open space, either forming, or leading to, the retreat of the whales. Such space is sometimes frozen over until the middle or end of the month of May, but not unfrequently free of ice. The barrier here opposed to the fisher, usually consists of a mass of ice from 20 to 30 or 40 leagues across in the shortest diameter. It is generally composed of packed ice, and often cemented into a continuous field by the interference of bay ice, which incredibly augments the difficulty of navigating among it.
As the time that can be devoted to the whale-fishery is, by the nature of the climate, limited to three or four months in the year, it is of importance to pass this barrier of ice as early as possible in the season. The fisher here avails himself of every power within his command. The sails are expanded in favourable winds, and withdrawn in contrary breezes. The ship is urged forward amongst
the drift ice through the force of the wind, assisted by ropes and saws. Whenever a vein of water, as it is called, appears in the required direction, it is if possible attained. It always affords a temporary relief, and sometimes a permanent release, by extending itself through intricate mazes, amidst ice of various descriptions, until at length it opens into the desired place, void of obstruction, and the retreat of the whales.
The formidable barrier before described, is regularly encountered on the first arrival of Greenland ships in the month of April, but is generally removed by natural means as the season advances. However extensive, huge, and compact it may be, it is usually found separated from the land, and divided asunder by the close of the month of June; and hence it is, that however difficult and laborious may have been the ingress into the fishing country, the egress is commonly effected without particular inconvenience.
That the ice should envelope the whole coasts of Spitzbergen in the winter season, and expose the western shore about the month of June; that the ocean should be almost annually navigable on the meridians of 5° to 10° E., to the 80th degree of north latitude, whilst the ice in every other part of the world can rarely be penetrated beyond the 74th degree, are facts highly curious, and certainly worthy of consideration.
On the recession of the ice from the west side of the land, a lane of water must be left from one extremity to the other; while to the south of Point Look-Out, a
parallel motion of the ice leaves no opening or evidence of its change of place; for here, the ice meeting with no obstruction to cause it to divide, moves on in a solid body, retained firm and unbroken by the tenacious solder of the interjacent bay ice.
In the month of May, the severity of the frost relaxes, and the temperature occasionally approaches within a few degrees of the freezing point: the brine then exerts its liquefying energy, and destroys the tenacity of the bay ice, makes inroads in its parts by enlarging its pores into holes, diminishes its thickness, and, in the language of the whale-fisher, completely rots it. The packed drift The packed drift ice is then loosed; it submits to the laws of detached floating bodies, and obeys the slightest impulses of the winds or currents. The heavier having more stability than the lighter, an apparent difference of movement obtains among the pieces. Holes and lanes of water are formed, which allow the entrance and progress of the ships, without that stubborn resistance offered earlier in the spring of the year.
Bay ice is sometimes serviceable to the whale-fishers, in preserving them from the brunt of the heavy ice, by embedding their ships, and Occasioning an equable pressure on every part of the vessel: but, in other respects, it is the greatest pest they meet with in all their labours: it is troublesome in the fishery, and in the progress to the fishing ground; it is often the means of besetment, as it is called, and thence the primary cause of every other calamity. Heavy ice,
many feet in thickness, and in detached pieces of from 50 to 100 tons weight each, though crowded together in the form of a pack, may be penetrated, in a favourable gale, with tolerable dispatch; whilst a sheet of bay ice, of a few inches only in thickness, with the same advantage of wind, will often arrest the progress of the ship, and render her in a few minutes immoveable. If this ice be too strong to be broken by the weight of a boat, recourse must be had to sawing, an operation slow and laborious in the extreme.
When the warmth of the season has rotted the bay ice, the passage to the northward can generally be accomplished with a very great saving of labour. Therefore it was, the older fishers seldom or never used to attempt it before the 10th of May, and foreigners are in general late. Sometimes late arrivals are otherwise beneficial; since it frequently happens, in close seasons, that ships entering the ice about the middle of May obtain an advantage over those preceding them, by gaining a situation more eligible, on account of its nearness to the land. Their predecessors, meanwhile, are drifted off to the westward with the ice, and cannot recover their casting; for they are encompassed with a large quantity of ice, and have a greater distance to go than when they first entered, and on a course precisely in opposition to the direction of the most prevailing winds. Hence it appears, that it would be economical and beneficial to sail so late, as not to reach the country before the middle of May, or to
persevere on the seal catching stations until that time. There are, however, some weighty objections to this method. Open seasons occasionally occur, and great progress may sometimes be made in the fishery before that time. Also, although the majority of the ships do not commonly succeed in passing the barrier in close seasons before a certain period, yet some individuals, by superior exertion, perseverance, ability, or good fortune, accomplish the end considerably before the rest, and thereby gain a superiority in the fishery, not to be attained by later arrivals. A week or fortnight's solitary fishing, under these circumstances, has frequently gained half a cargo,an advantage of the most interesting importance, in a voyage of so limited duration, and where the success is supposed to depend so considerably upon chance.
That there is something resembling what is called chance or luck in the fishery, cannot be disputed; but that the fishery is altogether a chain of casualties, is as false as it is derogatory to the credit of the persons employed in the enterprize. For a person with a die to throw the highest point once in six times, is what might be expected from chance; but for him to throw the highest point many times in succession, would afford a presumptive proof, that he employed some art in casting the die. So it is with the fishery. The inost skilful, from adventitious and unavoidable circumstances, may occasionally fail, and the unskilful may be successful; but mark the average of a number of years, (that is where the means
are equal,) and a tolerable estimate may be formed of the adventurer's fitness for his undertaking.
The change which takes place in the ice amidst which the whalefisher pursues his object, is, towards the close of the season, indeed astonishing. For, not only does it separate into its original individual portions,-not only does it retreat in a body from the western coast of Spitzbergen, but in general, that whole barrier of ice, which encloses the fishing site in the spring, which costs the fisher immense labour and anxiety to penetrate, after retarding his advance towards the north, and progress in the fishery, for the space of several weeks,-spontaneously divides in the midst about the month of June, and on the return of the ships is not at all to be seen! Then is the sea rendered freely navigable, from the very haunts of the whales, to the expanse of the northern and Atlantic oceans.
This quality of the ice is of the first importance to the navigator. It is this known property which gives him confidence in his advance, and enables bim to persevere without restraint, calculating on an easy return. As one-half of the fishing season is often spent in the ingress, were the regress as arduous, the sailing would cccupy the whole time: besides, the return would be rendered doubly hazardous by the prevalence of the summer fogs, which are thick in the extreme, and sometimes continue for days together, without any relaxation of density.
Were the barrier of ice not passable, the haunts of the whales
could not be attained; and were the regress not aided by natural facilities, every attempt to prosecute the whale-fishery with effect would be attended with imminent danger; I may say, with almost certain destruction.
On the Properties, peculiar Movements, and Drifting of the Ice.
1. The ice always has a tendency to separate during calmis. This property holds both with regard to field and drift ice, and seems to arise from a repelling tendency between the individual masses. Hence it is, that when the heavy ice is released from its confinement by the dissolution of the intruding bay ice, a calm generally spreads its pieces abroad, and allows a free passage for ships, which before could not be urged forward with all the assistance to be derived from the wind, combined with every effort of art. From the same cause it is, that ice, which with strong winds is formed into compact streams or patches, and allows a safe and commodious passage amidst these large aggregations, -on the occurrence of one or two days of calm weather, will be disseminated into every opening, and seem to fill every space, allowing only a troublesome and sinuous navigation. In this case, the dispersion is so general that scarcely any two pieces can be said to touch each other.
Openings in packs, and amidst fields, frequently break out or disappear without any apparent cause. It is often of importance to the fisher to determine whether any space be in the course of di
2. The amazing changes which take place in the most compact ice, are often unaccountable. They astonish even those who are accustomed to their occurrence. Thus, ships immovably fixed with regard to the ice, have been known to perform a complete revolution in a few hours; and two ships beset a few furlongs apart, within the most compact pack, have sometimes been separated to the distance of several leagues within the space of two or three days, notwithstanding the apparent continuity of the pack remaining unbroken!
On the 7th of May 1798, the Dundee of London, (then commanded by my father,) while forcing to the northward on the most eligible course, was suddenly stopped by a shift of wind, and enveloped by the ice at a very short distance from the land. The Volunteer of Whitby, and three other ships, were likewise arrested a little way from the Dundee. During the day, three Russian convicts visited them, coming over the ice from the nearest shore; but as none of the crew could speak their language, they were prevented from deriving any information from them.
The next day, a heavy gale of wind prevailed from the northwest; the frost was intense, and much snow fell. The pressure of the
the ice was very severe; insomuch, that their iron-tiller was broken, the ship lifted above two feet, and forced within a mile and a half of the land. All the bay ice was squeezed upon the top of the heavy ice, and the whole was rendered so compact, that they could not find a hole sufficient to admit a lead, for the purpose of ascertaining the depth of the water. They got their provisions upon deck, considering the ship in great danger.
On the 9th, they were in latitude 77° 38′ N. The intensity of the pressure was not diminished. The Volunteer lay beset three miles off, under a like dangerous pressure.
In my Father's Journal of the 12th, appear the following remarks: N. B.-I cannot, from the top-gallant-mast-head, see over the flat of ice to the northeast, into which the ship is frozen; and yet in fifty hours it has revolved from the south-south west, westerly to north, and carried the ship with a semi-circular motion 15 or 20 leagues. On the 10th instant we were within 14 miles of the land, whereas our distance is now 10 leagues, and our advance to the northward even greater. The Volunteer has drifted out of sight in the south-west quarter."
On the 15th, after labouring eight and forty hours without rest, they escaped into a place of safety.
3. When speaking of the formation of fields, I had occasion to remark, that the polar ice has a constant tendency to drift to the south-westward; with regard to which, it may be observed, that
in situations near the western coast of Spitzbergen, this tendency is seldom observed, but rather the contrary. This may probably result from the effects of the tide, eddies, or peculiar pressures. Its universal prevalence, however, at a distance from the land, though with some slight variations, may be illustrated by numerous facts of almost annual occurrence. A few striking incidents shall suffice.
From a narrative of the loss of several of the Dutch Greenland fleet in the year 1777, we learn that the ship Wilhelmina was moored to a field of ice on the 22d of June, in the usual fishingstation, along with a large fleet of other whalers. On the 25th, the Wilhelmina was closely beset. The crew were obliged to work incessantly for eight days, in sawing a dock in the field, wherein the ship was at that time preserved.
On the 25th of July, the ice slacked, and the ship was towed to the eastward, during four days laborious rowing with the boats. At the extremity of the opening, they joined four ships, and all of them were soon again beset by the ice. Shortly afterwards, they were drifted within sight of the coast of Old Greenland, in about 7510 of north latitude. On the 15th of August, nine sail were collected together; and about the 20th, after sustaining a dreadful storm, and an immense pressure of the ice, which accumulated around them twenty or thirty feet high,-two of the ships were wrecked. Two more were wrecked four or five days afterwards, together with two others at a dis