What would you do if you were on a ship that was trapped in the arctic? What would be your escape plan? Most of us probably are not prepared for this kind of situation, but it doesn’t mean that an escape isn’t possible. In 1914 Captain Robert Bartlett gathered his courage and saved the lives of his stranded crew after his leader, Vilhjalmur Stefansson abandoned the Karluk Expidition in the arctic ocean.
How did Captain Bartlett and his crew survive?
What’s the story? What were they doing in the artctic in the first place? That’s probably everyone’s first thought. Am I right? No technology and stuck in the arctic? Sounds like chasing a white whale or something.
The crew upon the Karluk, was part of the Canadian Arctic Expedition that was organized by anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson. The expedition was the first Canadian Government scientific expedition to the western arctic. From 1913-1918 Stefansson and others discovered many animals, plants, fossils and rocks, thousands of artifacts from the Copper Inuit and other Eskimo cultures. New islands were also discovered for geographic resources.
It was a mission in the name of science!
When the Karluk became trapped in January of 1914, Stefansson and a small group left the ship with the intent to hunt caribou. As the Karluk drifted from the ice, it became impossible for the hunting party to get back. It is told that Stefansson then devoted himself to the expidition’s other objective’s and abondoned the rest of the crew. Some historians have contrasting views on why Stefansson never returned. Captain Bartlett then became the leader of the remaining crew.
After the ship’s sinking due to a puncture from ice, Bartlett led the crew towards Wrangel Island, 80 miles away. Eight or so men were lost during that hike due to dangerous ice conditions. After reaching the island, Bartlett and an Inuk companion went across the ice for the Siberian coast for help. They reached Alaska, but sea conditions prevented any sort of rescue mission. The stranded group on the island survived by hunting animals on the island until rescued. By the time they were rescued in September of 1914, three more had died.
By Finetooth; NormanEinstein [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The choices a captain must make.
Bartlett saved as much of his crew as he could. He had to make choices along the way. Each choice had a benefit and a consequence. Bartlett was criticized for taking the Karluk into the ice by an admiralty commission, but was hailed a hero by the public and by his former Karluk shipmates. The men that he led to safety knew what he had to do to make it possible.
Tough choices had to be made in order to survive.
In any leadership role, you will enter situations where time and resources are limited. Even the best ways are not perfect ways in those type of situations. When you lose control of variables, you have to think fast and take risks. In Bartlett’s case it was life or death to reach Wrangel Island. It was the same on his trek to the Siberian coast while his crew stayed in what shelter they could find.
The risks you take can define you. They can change your life.
You are never prepared for the worst. No one is. When you do go through the worst part of your life, you just might learn something. You might have a great story to tell and teach others too.