A real-life survival story
This true tale of a whaling disaster averted begins in late spring 1871, when 1,219 men, women and children sailed in 39 whaling ships to the Arctic in pursuit of the bowhead whale. Later, when Eskimos warned them that winter was already settling in, only seven ships left to avoid being trapped in the ice. Captains of the other ships would not abandon the rich whaling grounds. How could they ever explain such a retreat to the owners of their vessels? How could they take advice from these people they viewed as so primitive and childlike?But sure enough, the remaining 32 ships became trapped. After an agonizing decision to abandon their ships, it took a heroic 80-mile journey in 200 open boats down a channel, facing extreme temperatures, snow, hail and driving winds to reach the seven ships they hoped were waiting for them. How many could survive such an ordeal, inevitable though it was?As it turned out, all survived, making this one of the great survival stories of all time, a tale of success against the odds, and Martin W. Sandler relates it with all the vigor and passion his subject demands. The narrative opens with a superb discussion of whaling itself. The dangers whalers faced from temperatures, fog, winds and ice are laid out, followed by an answer to the logical question: why did so many young men sign on if the dangers were so great? Lured by employment, adventure and glory, knowing they were entering one of the most dangerous jobs possible, the men could go home with tales to tell, if they ever made it home. This attractive volume is nicely embellished with an abundance of paintings, lithographs, photographs and maps. Excerpts from whalers' songs add to the fun, and the many sidebars add background information about whales, women at sea, whalers of color, harpoons and New Bedford. The bibliography and glossary are useful, and Sandler's clear, lively writing makes the adventure palpable. Trapped in Ice! is a fine companion to other excellent true tales of the sea, such as Jennifer Armstrong's Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World and Walter Dean Myers' Antarctica. Dean Schneider is a teacher in Nashville.