Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage

The Northwest Passage was the missing "holy grail" of exploration. Many explorers had attempted to make themselves known by finding this illustrious shortcut. Unfortunately, exploration involved traversing the arctic, where ice dominates for much of the year. And when ice was gone, mosquitos took up residence. It is hard to imagine how miserable the conditions must have been on the 1800s sailing ships.
At times the sailors were lauded as great explorers who helped chart the nether reaches of the ocean. The British were most enthusiastic, thought he Americans and Russians did play a role in the exploration. (Though perhaps due to their proximity they realized it was a fools errand.) Enthusiasm eventually died down in Britain. However, the "rescue missions" for missing expeditions incited public interest. Some of these missions were successful while others only turned up the remains of the former sailors.
Initial steamships made matters difficult, but later versions were helpful. In the end, some mariners did manage to make it through the entire passage. However, the high latitude and ice depth made it of little value for navigation. However, with climate change and melting ice, the value may increase as time progresses.

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