Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More media coverage of Rondeau's expedition

Rob Rondeau and the ProCom Diving Company's expedition this summer is suddenly getting a lot of attention. When expeditions like this get covered in Canada's so-called "national newspaper", the Globe and Mail, you know you are starting to hit the mainstream consciousness.

On the trail of the Arctic's most enduring mystery

An Alberta archeologist feels certain he can locate the lost ships of the Franklin expedition

Katherine O'Neill

EDMONTON — From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Last updated on Wednesday, Jul. 15, 2009 05:08AM EDT

A marine archeologist from landlocked Alberta has set his sights on finding two of the world's most coveted shipwrecks: the long-lost Royal Navy vessels from the doomed 19th-century Franklin expedition.

Rob Rondeau and his small team plan to travel to the central Arctic archipelago later this summer to launch a privately funded underwater search.

The race to find the fabled shipwrecks has been continuing for more than 160 years, but Mr. Rondeau is confident his group's research and use of state-of-the-art sonar will solve the vexing mystery.

Parks Canada was supposed to dispatch its own marine archeologists to the Arctic later this summer as part of a high-profile, three-year search for the ships that began last year. It scrubbed this year's effort because no government vessel was available.

While most modern-day Franklin hunters, including Parks Canada, have focused their attention on areas southwest of King William Island, Mr. Rondeau is confident the shipwrecks are in fact located north of the island, in the waters of Larsen Sound.

The missing ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, were part of an 1845 British expedition led by Sir John Franklin to map the Arctic and locate the fabled Northwest Passage to Asia.

The vessels and their crews never returned, and since the late 1840s, dozens of search efforts, both public and private, have been mounted to answer one of the Arctic's greatest riddles. Graves of some of the crew and wreckage from the expedition are all that have been recovered.

The search for the Franklin expedition over the decades has become a lifelong obsession for many people around the world, but Mr. Rondeau, who is head of Alberta-based ProCom Diving Services, said he picked the project primarily to test newly developed sonar equipment in the Arctic.

A sidebar to the story highlighted some of the attempts to find Franklin or any relics. It notes that on Canada's Centenial in 1967, Canadian soldiers took part in "Project Franklin" to mark the occasion in which they conducted air, land and sea searches. I did not know about that historical Canadian government involvment in the search efforts. They seem to have gone a fair bit further then than the current government is prepared to do now, when searchers can't even get a ship.

The reference to the Canadian Centennial does serve as an occasion for me to raise a topic I expect to come back to many times as this website progresses. Franklin set sail in 1845. The bicentennial 170th anniversary of that date is coming up in a few years and some of the events that could be planned, like a new book or an expedition retracing his steps or a re-enactment of the departure, would take a lot of time and planning.

So not only is it my hope to collect here all information about any planned events, I hope to be involved and would like to know of any events or plans so that I may participate and help somehow. It is still a bit premature, here in 2009, but feel free to send me an email or a comment if you become aware of any Franklin Bicentennial 170th anniversary plans.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

ProCom Diving Company's "Finding Franklin: 2009 Expedition"

The Parks Canada expedition in search of Franklin's ships may be off, but privately-funded ProCom Diving Company's "Finding Franklin: 2009 Expedition" is still going ahead this summer.

The expedition will will depart from Resolute and travel south to around Larsen Sound - following the same route used by Franklin, and be led by Robert Rondeau, chief marine archeologist and President of ProCom. They will conduct a non-intrusive remote sensing survey underwater using side scan sonar aboard the Arctic research vessel, the Aurora Magnetica.

From the ProCom Diving website, their description of the Finding Franklin Expedition is set out below. There is even a Facebook Group set up for the expedition, so you can keep up-to-date on the status of the expedition and any discoveries.

The search for the Northwest Passage was one of the last frontiers of exploration in the Victorian Age. In 1845 the British Admiralty organized one more attempt to find it. Two ships, Erebus and Terror, under the command of Sir John Franklin would undertake an expedition. Their mission, to find a route through the Canadian Arctic linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Two months after leaving England both ships were seen entering Lancaster Sound at the northern end of Baffin Island. That was the last time any European ever saw them.

In 1859, the members of a search expedition, organized and paid for by Sir John’s widow, found what remains the best source of evidence as to the fate of the Franklin Expedition. On the northwest coast of King William Island they discovered a cairn made of stones. Inside was an empty food tin containing a note. It had been written by the captain of the Erebus, Capt. James Fitzjames, and his second-in-command, Lt. Graham Gore.

The note confirmed the physical evidence found by the search party: That in late April, 1848, the crew had abandoned their two ships and had headed south across King William Island on foot.

The “Victory Point Letter,” written on April 25th, 1848, by Captain Fitzjames accurately states the location of the cairn. It also lists the last known position of both ships - which had been abandoned three days before. Both the Erebus and Terror, the letter stated, were five leagues, approximately 28 kms, northwest of the cairn.

Finding what remains of the Erebus and Terror would be one of the greatest marine archaeological finds of all time - rivaling the discovery of Titanic or Bismark.

The 2009 Expedition

A team of archaeologists and documentary film makers will attempt to find evidence of both shipwrecks. They will conduct a non-intrusive remote sensing survey underwater using side scan sonar aboard the Arctic research vessel, the Aurora Magnetica. It is a prototype of a new generation of small research ship purpose-designed for the exploration of the Arctic’s remotest regions. At 61 feet long, it’s much smaller than conventional ice-strength vessels. And, with a draft of less than 5 feet, it has the ability to manoeuvre in shallow water - unlike bigger vessels.

The expedition will depart from Resolute and travel south - following the same route used by Franklin.

For more information about the expedition please contact the expedition’s leader, Rob Rondeau.
tel. (403) 575-5671 The Aurora Magnetica, a new generation of ice-strength research vessel.

UPDATE: Russell Potter in the comments provided this link to a map segment that he uploaded showing Larsen Sound, which I reproduce here:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Franklin Expedition search called off

This report is rather unfortunate: the Canadian government has called off a planned expedition to search for the two Franklin ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. It seems more bad luck in terms of coordination with Arctic plans for suitable ships from the Canadian Forces or the Coast Guard, rather than budgetary cut-backs.

I remember quite a bit of excitement last year when the Canadian government announced a $75,000 contribution to the Parks Canada expedition headed up by Robert Grenier, a senior underwater archeologist.

The expedition last summer resulted in some artifacts, most notably some sheets of iron that Mr. Grenier identified as coming from different Franklin expedition ships. You can see Peter Mansbridge interview Mr. Grenier here.

Franklin Expedition search called off

A government-sponsored search for Sir John Franklin's missing ships in the High Arctic has been scrubbed this summer, but private entrepreneurs hope to score an archeological coup by conducting their own search in late August.

Ottawa announced last August it was mounting an effort to find Franklin's two ships, the Erebus and Terror, which went missing more than 160 years ago.

Some graves of the crew members have been discovered over the years and relics have been uncovered.

But the search for the missing ships has become a potential prize — made even bigger when then Federal Environment Minister John Baird announced Ottawa was backing a search and that experts would be relying on Inuit knowledge to aid the search.

On Thursday, Parks Canada's senior marine archeologist, Ryan Harris, confirmed the official search for the Franklin ships has been called off for this summer.

Harris said Parks Canada had asked the navy for ship time but therewon't be a Canadian Forces ship in the vicinity and the search team was unable to get time aboard one of the Canadian Coast Guard's icebreakers.

"Unfortunately this particular season, Coast Guard had other scientific programs that they had to prioritize. But we intend to continue with the survey next year. The Coast Guard remains a very important partner for us in this three-year project."

Gjoa Haven historian Louis Kamookak, who is part of Parks Canada's Franklin team, says it was a three-year project and is disappointed that it is on hold this year.

"Briefly I talked with the guy from Parks [Canada] and what I'm hearing is that this summer the icebreaker has some other commitments."

Nine years ago, Kamookak approached the crew of the the RCMP ship St. Roch II. He invited the skipper, RCMP Sgt. Ken Burton, to see some remains from the Franklin Expedition on the shores of one of the Todd Islands.

Locating ships would be big news
Unlike other remains found over the years, the Todd Islands graves were located quite far south from where Franklin's two ships were believed to have been stuck in the ice.

Other sites showed signs of cannibalism, and that the 128 members of Franklin's crew died of disease and lead poisoning soon after they abandoned their ships.

The Inuit say they have known about this site since the 19th century, but Kamookak thinks others could well find Franklin's ships first.

For example, Rob Rondeau, a marine archeologist with Alberta-based ProCom Diving Services, has teamed up with a British archeologist to conduct their own search for Erebus and Terror in late August.

"We're quite confident based on the research that we've done that we have a pretty good idea of where the remains of the two ships are," said Rondeau. "We'll actually be using some state-of-the-art sonar equipment."

Rondeau said Britain remains fascinated with the Franklin story and locating the ships would be big news in the United Kingdom and in Nunavut.