Given its vastness and minimal population, “America’s Last Frontier” has spawned many a strange tale. But none may be any weirder than the story of the SS Baychimo—Alaska’s ghost ship.
STUCK IN THE ICE
The SS Baychimo, a huge cargo steamer, was built in Sweden in 1914 and was used on trade routes between Hamburg, Germany and its home country until World War I. After the war she wound up in the UK as part of reparations by Germany for shipping losses. Owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company and based in Scotland, the Baychimo successfully plied the waters of Canada’s northern coast, and farther north along Alaska’s coastline, stopping at trading posts and collecting pelts.
In early October of 1931, while carrying a large cargo of furs, the Baychimo became trapped in pack ice up near the Arctic Circle. Its crew left the vessel and hiked over the ice to the nearby town of Barrow for shelter. When they returned a couple of days later, they found that the ship had broken free. But that did not last long, as the Baychimo again got stuck. This time they contacted the Hudson’s Bay Company, which sent aircraft to retrieve more than half of the crew. The rest, fifteen in all, built a shelter nearby to keep an eye on the ship and its valuable cargo. They were determined to wait out the winter.
WHERE DID IT GO?
A blizzard pounded the area in late November, and after it passed the crew discovered that the Baychimo had—disappeared! WTF, they must’ve thought. The captain finally decided that the ship had sunk. Goodbye valuable cargo.
But no; an Inuit seal hunter soon reported seeing the Baychimo—forty-five miles away! The crew, following up, managed to find the ship, once again stuck in ice. They retrieved the cargo and, figuring the Baychimo would sink during the harsh Alaska winter, they abandoned it.
Ah, but this was a determined vessel, and a few months later it was spotted—crewless, of course—about 300 miles farther east. Henceforth, from the time it was abandoned until 1969 there were numerous sightings of the SS Baychimo.
WHO’S MANNING THE WHEEL?
A guy on a dog sled, and a group of prospectors, were among the first to spot the ship off the Alaska coast. In 1933 the Hudson’s Bay Company learned that the Baychimo was still around, but they chose not to try and salvage it. That same year a group of indigenous Alaskans boarded the ship but were trapped on it for over a week by a storm. They finally managed to get out.
More sightings occurred during that decade, and in 1939 an attempt was made to salvage the Baychimo, but numerous ice floes ended that enterprise. From that time through the early 1960s she was spotted numerous times, always on the move, always without crew.
Then, in 1969, the Baychimo was spotted frozen in pack ice, thirty-eight years after its initial abandonment. This wound up being the last time anyone saw the vessel. Many believed that it finally gave up the ghost and wound up on the bottom of the Bering Sea.
In an attempt to solve the mystery of what it called the “Ghost Ship of the Arctic,” the Alaskan government initiated a project in 2006 to locate the SS Baychimo. To date, this phantom vessel has not been found.