By Don Martin - National Post
Dangling precariously over the side of a Zodiac while peering into the blue-green Arctic Ocean, the wreck of the ghost ship HMS Investigator suddenly looms large just eight metres below the surface.
The pointed bow, the flat stern splintered long ago by a passing iceberg, and a section of railing draped across the middle are easily visible to the naked eye despite the salt water. His hand cupped to block out the sun’s reflection, the usually restrained Environment Minister Jim Prentice excitedly tried to describe what he was seeing. All he could manage was a gushing stream of adjectives punctuated by a whole lot of “wows.”
Goosebumps are inevitable when seeing a well-preserved wreck that is considered to be one of the most significant in the history of a country that didn’t exist when the British exploration vessel sank in 1855 after two deadly winters in this Banks Island Bay.
Until this week, no Canadian had set eyes on this incredibly well-preserved 36-metre, three-masted ship, which sank a year or so after being abandoned by Robert McClure and his crew, who are credited with finding the missing east-west link in the Northwest Passage.
The Parks Canada discovery last weekend happened almost too quickly for dramatic effect, perhaps befitting an archeological dig that is experiencing such an incredible streak of good luck on the water, on land and with the weather, the team is pinching itself in disbelief.
When a trio of Parks Canada archeologists took to their five-metre Zodiac earlier this week, dragging a torpedo-shaped Sonar gun behind them, they were prepared to spend two weeks scouring the bottom of the 30-metre-long bay. Even then, the odds of finding the Investigator were rated 50/50.
Spotting only one clear route through chunks of ice floating a few hundred metres off shore, they aimed their inflatable boat through the passage, flipped the switch to activate the Sonar, and turned their attention to the computer monitor.
The monochrome image almost immediately picked out bits of debris amid the deep gouges on the seabed before Canada’s echo of the Titanic discovery moment: The starboard of the Investigator appeared on the viewing screen.
The archeologists were sure they had it, but almost couldn’t believe a 10-month planning quest had succeeded so rapidly.
They made a second pass, then a third, a fourth, a dozen sweeps, and then — just one hour after they started — the team declared the Investigator found 155 years after it sank.
“Mercy Bay must feel like it got a bad wrap in the history books.
It changed its nature and decided to be more merciful to us,” quipped Ryan Harris, a Parks Canada senior marine archeologist.
University of Western Ontario archaeologist Ed Eastaugh is scouring the land with magnetic scanners to record evidence of Investigator sailors who roamed the barren fields and fished the nearby lakes duringvwmore than two years trapped in the bay by thick ice.