• Share
  • Read Later

HUNDREDS of men and dozens of ships have dared to challenge the forbidding Northwest Passage, only to be crushed. In 1845, Sir John Franklin and his crew were driven to cannibalism. Henry Hudson was set adrift after his crew discovered that he had been pilfering the ship's stores. When Robert McClure finally traversed the passage in 1854, he went the final 200 miles by dogsled.

Aboard the mammoth oil tanker S.S. Manhattan last week, latter-day explorers could relive the ordeals in the comfort of the ship's library. After traveling aboard the Manhattan on its epic journey, TIME'S Joe Rychetnik filed this story:

Scurvy may once have been the curse of the Arctic mariner; on the Manhattan, where three meals and fresh fruit are served daily, the only threat was to the waistline. In 1819, the ice-trapped crew of the Hecla passed the Arctic nights by performing Garrick's Mm in Her Teens; on the Manhattan, the glacial boredom was punctuated by a movie every other day.

The Humble Oil & Refining Co., which had launched the $40 million venture, seemed determined not only to prove that the Northwest Passage could be tamed, but also that it could be tamed in style. Even as the 1,005-ft. ship rammed through 40-ft. polar packs, it moved smoothly. In their specially fitted cabins above the waterline, newsmen and other visitors barely heard the deep throb of the Manhattan's huge 43,000-h.p. engines.

Soviet Snooper. While their guests enjoyed pleasure-cruise comforts, Captain Roger A. Steward and his crew faced an uncharted sea. At times, their ship sliced easily through the ice, throwing up chunks the size of a bus. But often the Manhattan, which purposely plowed into massive ice floes to test its reinforced steel hull and battering bow, had to call for help from its Canadian icebreaker escort.

As the Manhattan and its escort cut gingerly from Resolute into the Barrow Strait, radar operators spotted a blip on their screens. The interloper, probably a rubbernecking Soviet submarine, remained faithful through the passage. Beyond the strait, the Manhattan faced the most dangerous leg of the journey —Viscount Melville Sound and, finally, ice-choked McClure Strait. An elaborate scouting system went into action. A Canadian DC-4 survey plane, with a special ice-scanning dome, surveyed the 1,100-mile passage. Photographs were taken of the route just ahead and dropped to the Manhattan for study. Two helicopters, based on the ship's fantail, flew ahead of the convoy, occasionally landing on the ice so that University of Alaska specialists could take core samples.

Nibbling on Ice. At Cape Providence, the Manhattan slowed to wait for its U.S. Coast Guard escort, the Northwind, which was hobbling on five of its six engines. Within seconds, the tanker was surrounded by ice hummocks blown into its wake by high winds. Captain Steward reversed the engines, then charged the Arctic ice, which, because of its age, had lost its salt content and become rock-hard. When the 10-to 15-ft.-thick ice would not give after twelve hours, the stubby Canadian icebreaker John A. Macdonald was called to the rescue.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2