The fate of the SS Baychimo is one of the strangest ghost ship tales on record. It sailed the seas — unmanned — for 38 years!
SS Baychimo was a steel-hulled 1,322 ton cargo steamer built in 1914 in Sweden and owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, used to trade provisions for pelts in Inuit settlements along the Victoria Island coast of the Northwest Territories of Canada. She became a notable ghost ship along the Alaska coast, being abandoned in 1931 and seen numerous times since then until her last sighting in 1969.
The Baychimo was launched in 1914 as the Ångermanelfven (Yard No 420) by the Lindholmens shipyard (Lindholmens Mekaniska Verkstad A/B) in Gothenburg, Sweden, for the Baltische Reederei GmbH of Hamburg. She was 230 ft (70.1 m) long, powered by a triple expansion steam engine and had a speed of 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph). The Ångermanelfven was used on trading routes between Hamburg and Sweden until the First World War began in August 1914. After World War I, she was transferred to Great Britain as part of Germany’s reparations for shipping losses and was acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1921. Renamed Baychimo and based in Ardrossan, Scotland, she completed nine successful voyages along the north coast of Canada, visiting trading posts and collecting pelts.
On October 1, 1931, at the end of a trading run and loaded with a cargo of fur, the Baychimo became trapped in pack ice. The crew briefly abandoned the ship, traveling over a half-mile of ice to the town of Barrow to take shelter for two days, but the ship had broken free of the ice by the time the crew returned. The ship became mired again on October 8, more thoroughly this time, and on October 15 the Hudson’s Bay Company sent aircraft to retrieve 22 of the crew; 15 men remained behind. Intending to wait out the winter if necessary, they constructed a wooden shelter some distance away. On November 24 a powerful blizzard struck, and after it abated there was no sign of the Baychimo. Her captain decided she must have broken up during the storm and been sunk. A few days later, however, an Inuit seal hunter told him that he had seen theBaychimo about 45 mi (72 km) away from their position. The crewmen tracked the ship down, but deciding she was unlikely to survive the winter, they removed the most valuable furs from the hold to transport by air. The Baychimowas abandoned.
Surprisingly, the Baychimo did not sink, and over the next few decades she was sighted numerous times. People managed to board her several times, but each time they were either unequipped to salvage her or were driven away by bad weather. The last recorded sighting was by a group of Inuit in 1969, 38 years after she was abandoned. She was stuck fast in the pack ice of the Beaufort Sea between Point Barrow and Icy Cape, in the Chukchi Sea off the northwestern Alaskan coast. The Baychimo’s ultimate fate is unknown. If she has indeed sunk, her final resting place has yet to be found.
· A few days after the Baychimo had disappeared on 24 November 1931, the ship was found 45 mi (72 km) south of where she was lost, but was again ice-packed.
· After several months, she was spotted again but about 300 mi (480 km) to the east.
· In March of the following year, she was seen floating peacefully near the shore by Leslie Melvin, by a man traveling to Nome with his dog sled team.
· A few months after that, she was seen by a company of prospectors.
· In August 1932, she was boarded by a 20-man Alaskan trading party off Wainwright, Alaska.
· March 1933, she was found by a group of Eskimos who boarded her and were trapped aboard for 10 days by a freak storm.
· August 1933, the Hudson’s Bay Company heard she was still afloat, but was too far a-sea to salvage.
· July 1934, she was boarded by a group of explorers on a schooner.
· September 1935, she was seen off Alaska’s northwest coast.
· November 1939, she was boarded by Captain Hugh Polson, wishing to salvage her, but the creeping ice floes intervened and the captain had to abandon her. This is the last recorded boarding of the Baychimo.
· After 1939, she was seen floating alone and without crew numerous times, but had always eluded capture.
· March 1962, she was seen drifting along the Beaufort Sea coast by a group of Inuit.
· She was found frozen in an ice pack in 1969, 38 years after she was abandoned. This is the last recorded sighting of the Baychimo.
· In 2006, the Alaskan government began work on a project to solve the mystery of “the Ghost Ship of the Arctic” and locate theBaychimo, whether still afloat or on the ocean floor. She has not been found yet.