The schooner Alaska was the only one of the six ships purchased for the
expedition that served from start to finish. The story of her four years with
the expedition is outlined in the expedition reports but comes to life in the
daily journals of Dr. R.M. Anderson, leader of the Southern Party, who directed
her Canadian career, her captains Nahmens and Sweeney, and her engineer Blue.
The Alaska was a 47-ton, 57.5-foot wooden auxiliary
schooner with a 50-horsepower gasoline engine. It was built in Seattle in 1912
for the Bering Sea trade and to carry the United States mail to Kotzebue Sound.
She and a new sister ship, the Arctic, were originally owned by Ira Rank,
an American businessman working out of Nome and Seattle. The selling price was
$8,000, which was to include all her deck gear and tools.
As a new "Canadian Government Ship" C.G.S. Alaska left Nome on
July 19 and arrived at Teller, Alaska five days later with her engine in bad shape.
The departure of the Karluk and the expedition's other auxiliary schooner,
the Mary Sachs, was delayed so the Karluk's engineer could assist
in dismantling and overhauling Alaska's engine. A propeller change also
required that Alaska be unloaded and hauled up, causing a further delay.
Alaska finally got away on August 11, but plagued by engine trouble, made
little headway under sail. "August 14. Captain [Nahmens] threatened... that
unless engines could be made to work... he would head ship into Kotzebue Sound
and throw up the job". Fortunately for the Expedition, the problem salt
water in the starboard fuel tank was solved and "after that the engine
ran smoothly" (R.M. Anderson Diary August 1913).
Nine vessels attempting to reach Herschel Island in 1913 were
stopped by the severe ice conditions off the Alaskan north coast. Alaska
and Mary Sachs got as far as Collinson Point on the north coast of Alaska,
near the Alaska-Yukon boundary, where Alaska was caught in heavy slush
ice and frozen in for the winter by mid-September.
It was not until early July, 1914 that Alaska was again floating
free in the harbour. Following more repairs to the propeller, Alaska left
Collinson Point on July 25, and reached Herschel Island, Yukon on August
5, just ahead of Mary Sachs. These Expedition vessels were the first to come into
Canadian waters in the western Arctic flying the Canadian flag. Alaska
sailed east from Herschel Island in mid-August and reached Bernard Harbour, where
the headquarters of the CAE was established, two weeks later.
After unloading the cargo of Alaska it was necessary
once again to haul her up on the beach, this time to repair a broken propeller.
"Mr. Blue [engineer] nearly froze doing it as propeller was under water,
and he had to work in about three feet of water and stoop down until his chin
was submerged. Worked all forenoon trying to get Alaska out of the mud
in which she had settled and stuck fast" (R.M. Anderson Diary, September
Alaska headed west again on September 6, to collect
driftwood and coal from a cache at the Baillie Islands. Anderson decided to take
Alaska on to Herschel Island to pick up more fuel and other supplies. Alaska
reached Herschel Island, loaded the cargo, and arrived back at Baillie Islands
in mid-September, in the midst of the worst storm of the season. Precious hours
were spent digging out fuel drums and coal sacks that had been buried by the sand
washed up by waves and the storm tide.
In trying to turn around in the narrow anchorage, the bow of the Alaska
ran lightly aground in the mud. With the falling of the westerly wind, the storm
tide fell rapidly and attempts to kedge her off were unsuccessful. The Alaska
was soon settled hard aground. The whole cargo had to be unloaded and the schooner
finally floated free four days later. But it was too late. With increasing darkness
and new ice forming, Anderson put the ship into winter quarters behind the end
of the Cape Bathurst sandspit. Captain Daniel Sweeney, who had joined as master
the previous winter, engineer Daniel Blue, and Mike Siberia their assistant, stayed
with Alaska as ship-keepers for the winter. Anderson returned to Bernard Harbour
by dog sled.
The year 1915 began with the building of a snow-house around
the Alaska's stern to keep the men warm while they dug down through the
ice to the propeller. Blue hoped to remove the propeller and cut it down to a
more appropriate size for the Alaska. However, the hole filled with water and
the project was abandoned.
Following a long struggle with scurvy,
Daniel Blue, chief engineer of the Alaska, died of pneumonia on 2 May 1915
after an illness of ten days.
Alaska came up out of her winter bed in the ice on 15
May and preparations began for her summer trip. Mike and Jacobsen began the long,
frustrating job of getting Alaska's engine running. Twenty-three days later, Jacobsen
was "paid off" with $5.00 cash, 4 sacks of flour, 1 lb. of tobacco,
2 lb. of soap and the late Mr. Blue's caribou skin shirt. But the engine was still
not running. Eventually it was decided that the gasoline brought in last year
was at fault and that they would have to sail to Herschel Island.
The ice left the shore on 10 July and Alaska had her
first grounding of 1915 as she tried to go out of the harbour. She worked her
way through the ice for three days, spent eight hours hung up on a reef, and finally
reached Herschel Island. At Herschel, the engineer of the Gladiator began work
on Alaska's engine. Three days and $50.00 later, it was finally in running
order. When the long-awaited expedition cargo arrived on the Ruby on 21 August,
the crew worked until midnight to get Alaska loaded and they put to sea at 2 a.m.
On board were a new engineer, Mr. J.E. Hoff, Mike's wife Cis and children, three
other Inuit, and Corporal W.V. Bruce of the RNWMP, who was to investigate the
disappearance of two priests thought to have been killed by Inuit. Alaska
arrived at Bernard Harbour on 5 September and was soon frozen in.
The next summer, after several days of cutting and blasting
of ice, Alaska floated free on 23 June 1916. Sporting a bright new coat
of paint and carrying more than a full load, Alaska left Bernard Harbour
on 13 July, and arrived at Herschel Island at the end of August. With a more managable
load and fewer people, she was soon on her way to Nome.
The Alaska encountered heavy ice practically all the
way west from the international boundary to Point Barrow, Alaska. After
passing the Point, Alaska suddenly ran into trouble. "Ship leaking
suddenly worse than usual, and engine room flooded. Pump not working well. Engine
finally stopped. Engineer became discouraged and claimed he could do nothing to
start up again, but after quite a bit of dragging around Sweeney...got the limber-chains
pulled through, and we then pumped the water down a little. Engineer then started
engine again, and we reached Point Hope." (R.M. Anderson Diary, August 1916).
Continuing across the outside of Kotzebue Sound, they passed
into the Bering Sea at the beginning of a heavy gale, on the evening of 11 August.
"Crept along the coast in a terrific gale blowing straight down from the
precipitous cliffs. It was about all we could do to hold up to it. Sometimes we
would fall off a little and start to drift across the Bering sea, but ultimately
headed the ship's nose into a little bight [bay]...and dropped both anchors"
(R.M. Anderson Diary, August 1916). As the gale continued, they were forced to
anchor for some time under the cliffs at Tin City and again behind Sledge Island,
Alaska finally reached Nome again in mid-August 1916.
There Alaska was hauled up on the beach, in good shape except for the engine
and the leakage around the stuffing-box. The extensive collections made by the
party in geology, ethnology, biology, and photography, and the records of the
Southern Party, were thus landed safely at Nome. Alaska had her troubles
with shallow waters, a balky engine, and the Arctic ice, but she successfully
completed her mission as a flagship of the Southern Party of the Canadian Arctic
Alaska was put up for sale at Nome at a price of $5,000, but there were
no takers. In May 1919 a buyer was finally found and Alaska was sold to L. Seidenverg,
through the Alaska Lighterage and Commercial Company, for $3,150. Under new ownership,
she resumed her work along the Alaskan coast.