By Don Martin - National Post
The roving remote camera Little Bruce drifted drunkenly over the bow of Investigator on Thursday, recording high-definition video just centimetres from the wrecked ship’s anchor chains and upper-deck planking scratched into rubble by 155 years of passing ice.
The images were a bit shaky because of a faulty joystick but, hey, just a week ago no one figured they’d even find this historic ship, which sank in eight metres of frigid water in 1855 after three winters locked in ice.
Now a Parks Canada team of marine archaeologists has set out to video every centimetre of this incredibly well-preserved wreck and potentially have it ready for Internet downloading next week.
“Operating Little Bruce is like landing an airplane when the tail rudder’s been shot off,” sighed senior marine archaeologist Ryan Harris.
With Mercy Bay cleared of ice floes by a friendly southwest wind on Thursday under an unrelenting sun with temperatures in the teens, the team was prepared to work well past what would be nightfall in southern latitudes.
Up here, the sun never gets below five degrees at the horizon, a disorienting 24 hours of sunshine that allowed me to fish unsuccessfully until 2 a.m. last night and give me a final chance to end the drought late Friday before the field unit departs today.
But I digress. While the team had appeared glum at first by the mechanical setback, Little Bruce’s handiwork has far exceeded anyone’s expectations.
“It’s nice to have a preview viewing so they don’t see us when we get all excited,” grinned Mr. Harris, before he screened the video for Environment Minister Jim Prentice.
“OK, here comes the money shot.” Sure enough, as a colleague eased the camera behind the stern ripped open by ice, rudder attachments, copper plating and even grass marks on the hull appeared on the laptop monitor.
With the bulk of the hard work over, the scientific and cultural team members working this Banks Island Bay, 1,000 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, are relaxed and starting to enjoy themselves immensely.
It may have been suggested as a joke, but when Mr. Prentice was asked whether he wanted to go snorkeling in the freezing Arctic water to check out the Investigator for himself, he jumped at it.
Sporting a bloated black dry-suit but wearing a kid-in-a-candy-store smile, Prentice dropped into the freezing Arctic Ocean.