Jennifer Niven's exemplary novel The Ice Master proves the old adage that fact is stranger than fiction. This is the story of the tragic 1913 arctic expedition aboard the HMCS Karluk. The journey was a wholly scientific one, made at the time of tremendous interest in exploration of the polar ice caps. The boat was not seaworthy but chosen for its low cost and availability by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the head of the expedition. He also selected a crew of ill-prepared sea men to sail the vessel into treacherous waters. His staff of international scientists were equally ill-suited to the task. To round out the cast of individuals, they brought along several Inuit hunters to help serve as guides, one with his young family, and dozens of sled dogs.
The Karluk set out on June 17th 1913, very late for an arctic voyage. The boat takes little time to prove its unreliability causing delays and rerouting from its desired path due to mechanical breakdowns. By August they were icebound but the huge ice floe they were trapped in was drifting with the tide. Unable to determine their own direction they were now captives and the Karluk would never break free of it's icy prison.
Stefansson with a small band sets off with dog sleds and provisions to continue the exploration leaving the majority to fend for themselves. What follows are the diary accounts of the life and death struggle to survive in the harsh arctic fall, winter and spring before the surviving members of the party are rescued late in the summer of 1914. Not including the Inuit guides all of whom survived, the initial crew and scientific staff numbered 25 of which 16 would perish in the arctic.
This report prepared by David Fletcher