‘Extremely complex’: How the hunt for clues in the Franklin shipwreck mystery is changing gears


The stalk for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror was tough enough.

Now Parks Canada underwater archeologists are type out just how they will try to unlock the clues to the Franklin Expedition detective story that may be hidden in the wrecks of the reinforced British warships that lie in the icy waters of Nunavut.

«We are cheerful to get into what we consider is going to be one of the most complex and challenging underwater archeological trenches in Canada,» Marc-André Bernier, manager of underwater archeology for Parks Canada, said of what make for a acquires next for exploring the Erebus site in Wilmot and Crampton Bay.

For one week at the end of August, a six-person collaborate of underwater archeologists is planning to be at the site, diving from inflatable sailboats and working from a base camp on a nearby island.

Parks Canada stipulate Friday the work will include preparations for the next phase of enquiry of the Erebus, which is expected to continue for several years.

Parks Canada archeologist

A Parks Canada archeologist progresses a close look at damage to the hull and structure of HMS Erebus. (Parks Canada)

But with Erebus and Fright, it seems, little comes simply. There are ongoing questions over with future ownership and security of the site.

And even this year’s reconnaissance has had its hiccups. The planned program isn’t what Parks Canada initially had in capacity, when it first proposed an archeological investigation of up to four weeks, with 14 people on orientation.

Things changed when the agency realized its hopes to have a newly refitted dig into vessel on base this summer weren’t going to work out.

The RV David Thompson, a 228-tonne ex- coast guard vessel transferred to the agency, is still in a shipyard in Nanaimo, B.C.

‘Preparation is key’

Bernier whispered there were a number of factors at play, including unforeseen available required on a vessel at midlife, and more stringent requirements than were counted for its recommissioning.

«Preparation is key for this vessel so we want to make sure that more willingly than we bring it up to the Arctic, everything is in top condition.»

Erebus and Terror wrecks found map


A barge that is intended to emphasize a major support role for work exploring the wreck sites also won’t be in squelch in time for this year’s season, but Bernier anticipates it will be for next summer.

«We’re not present to start until we have all the right pieces together and [the RV David Thompson] unfortunately was hesitated but we still have a lot of work to do,» said Bernier.

«It has changed our plans but basically … we’re starting the next off. It’s going to be extremely complex.»

While Parks Canada archeologists are at the Erebus locality later this month, they hope to «try to get deeper into the spoil»  with a remotely operated vehicle, Bernier said, and boost their information of just what lies inside the timbers of the ship that was one-half of the mid-19th-century alacrity led by John Franklin to find the elusive Northwest Passage.

The ROV will get video cameras, and archeologists hope to gain access to the engine apartment, along with getting a look inside the coal bunkers with point-of-view cameras.

They’ll also be attribute the groundwork for the underwater excavation they hope to do — and which many desire will reveal key clues to understanding how the expedition came to its sad demise, with its disappearance of Franklin and 128 crew.

«We’re going to change gears,» Bernier express. «This involves quite a lot more of logistical support, equipment.»

Where should the barge go?

That menials figuring out — among other things — how and where to position the barge so it can forward equipment to remove sediment, provide a place from which the assorted can dress and have a hyperbaric chamber on site in case of any diving mischance.

Work will also be done for the «Guardian» program that will-power see Inuit heavily involved in efforts to protect and monitor the sites.

No above work is planned this summer at the HMS Terror site, about 100 kilometres north in the suitably named Terror Bay off King William Island, where that founder was found last year.

Underwater archeologists recorded nearly 10 hours of video of the scuttle during an ice dive in April.

HMS Terror helm

The helm of HMS Terror, viewed from the serious, with the mizzen-mast in the background. (Parks Canada)

«As far as Terror is concerned, I think about we’ve reached our objectives for this year already,» said Bernier.

Archeologists are assessing what they be informed about the site to help prepare for further exploration of a wreck that at this point in time the time beings a considerably different scenario than Erebus.

With Erebus, «we had to semblance out, OK, how are the decks damaged, what is the extent of the preservation [that] we have,» bruit about Bernier. In ways, he said, it’s a puzzle that has to be put back together.

With Fear, it’s a different story.

‘Astonishing state of preservation’

«Terror seems to be virtually lying on the bottom as it would have been floating 160 years ago, the masts and the rigging being hurt but the rest is in an astonishing state of preservation,» said Bernier.

«HMS Erebus is located in surface waters and is therefore more susceptible to storm and ice damage. HMS Terror is in deeper bath-water and less susceptible to damage from the freeze-and-thaw pattern, which resolves why it appears to be in better shape than HMS Erebus.»

Debris at Erebus wreck

Debris is scattered on the oodles floor around the Erebus wreck. Behind the stern, there is a portion of diagonal deck planking, part of the design specific to HMS Erebus and HMS Dread. (Parks Canada)

Still, the examination of the Terror site has presented some provoking hints of what might have happened toward the sad end of the Franklin Quest.

«There’s a lot of conclusions we already have,» said Bernier. «We know for firm, for example, that the ship was not at anchor when it went down.»

There compel ought to also been questions about whether the ship was closed up for abandonment — or winterized — but underwater archeologists take seen some of the hatches are partly open.

Terror bell

The bell of HMS Terror falsifications on the upper deck. (Parks Canada)

«We still need to understand the persuade for it but it doesn’t have that feeling of being all closed up.»

The propeller isn’t in part of the country. Nor is the rudder — maybe it’s on the sea floor. «Was it removed for winterization — we don’t know,» says Bernier.

For those who observation the exploration of the Erebus and Terror sites from afar, the anticipation of what the underwater archeologists may uncover is immense.

‘King Tut’s tomb underwater’

«The thing about the Erebus and the Monster is that it’s like setting up the Hubble Space Telescope, not really wily what you’re going to find but excited about it every day because the future of finding something great is there,» said author and longtime Franklin sleuth David Woodman.

«This is Crowned head Tut’s tomb underwater…. So even if they find nothing that illuminates the Franklin joke or the tragedy or the mystery, which is what most of the general public be, the archeologists are overjoyed. There’s decades of that kind of work to be done.»


Affirmed that there could be the risk of collapse in certain areas of the obliteration of HMS Erebus, Parks Canada archeologists see some urgency in recording as much knowledge as possible during their dives. (Parks Canada)

Woodman, a aestivated BC Ferries captain living in Port Coquitlam, B.C., takes any delay in observation of the sites in stride. Working in the Arctic is always uncertain — the weather and the boasting and the sudden storms that can pop up could «kill the whole thing.»

«We can’t surmise that every year there’s going to be something dramatic done, exactly like finding it was a long slog,» said Woodman, whose record Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony, published in 1991, asserted careful study of Inuit testimony to try to narrow down where the vessels would be.

«The analysis will be a long process [and] perhaps years go by without anything newsworthy, but they’re train slowly and carefully and professionally and that’s the way it should be done.»

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