Ghost Ships: The SS Baychimo

The Baychimo was a steel-hulled 1,322-ton steam ship, built in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1914 at the Ångermanelfven (Yard No 420) by the Lindholmens shipyard. After World War I, she was transferred to the United Kingdom 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, the ship regularly traveled to the Victoria Island coast of the Northwest Territories of Canada, transporting goods and passengers, and fur trading with the Inuit who lived along the Beaufort Sea.

On October 1st 1931, the Baychimo was making a return trip to Vancouver after she had completed a run to Victoria Island, and her hold was stuffed with furs. Unfortunately for captain John Cornwell and the crew, winter arrived sooner than expected with freezing temperatures, strong winds, and approaching blizzards. The Baychimo then became stuck in the pack-ice, near the coastline of Barrow, Alaska, and the crew were helpless to do anything except wait it out.

The crew briefly abandoned the ship, travelling 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 8th, more thoroughly this time, and on October 15th the Hudson's Bay Company sent aircraft to retrieve 22 of the crew. Remaining behind were the captain and 14 men, building a shelter on the ice. Intending to wait out the winter if necessary, they constructed a wooden shelter some distance away. On November 24th, a powerful blizzard struck. and after it abated the next morning on November 25th, the captain went to check on the ship. However, there was no sign of the Baychimo.

Captain Cornwell decided that the Baychimo must have broken up during the storm overnight and been completely sunk, cargo and all. Most of the crew then returned to Vancouver. A few weeks later, an Inuit seal hunter told the captain that he had seen the Baychimo about 45 miles away from their position near Skull Cliff, south of Barrow, and the remaining crewmen were able to track the down the ship. Fearing she was unlikely to survive the winter in the thick pack ice as she had already been damaged by the storms, they salvaged what they could to transport by air, and they set the ship adrift. The Baychimo had been abandoned.

The ship surprisingly did not sink, and as time passed, the company continued to receive reports from eyewitnesses who had seen the drifting ghost ship. For the next 8 years, the Baychimo was repeatedly sighted across the Arctic, gliding silently across the freezing waters, drifting from one location to another, totally intact. Some vessels claimed to have been able to board the ship, but each time were either unequipped to salvage her or were driven away by bad weather. Then, after 1939, it was reported that other ships had tried to catch up to the Baychimo, which continued to uncannily elude pursuit.

The last sighting occurred in 1969, 37 years after she was left abandoned. The ship was seen at a distance, once again trapped in an ice pack in the Beaufort Sea between Point Barrow and Icy Cape, off the northwestern Alaskan coast. The Baychimo was still intact and seaworthy, but has not been seen since.