The schooner Challenge was a member of the CAE's "Little Arctic Navy"
for only a few weeks, but she served just long enough to save Stefansson from
an unplanned overwintering on Banks Island at the end of his 1917 exploration
Challenge was a small gasoline-powered schooner that
could carry between 150 and 175 tons of cargo. She had been commanded for a number
of years by Captain Theodore Peterson, one of the most able of the Arctic whaling
skippers. Stefansson had visited Challenge in December 1908, when under
Captain Petersen; she was wintering inside the Point Barrow lagoon in Alaska.
The next summer, Stefansson, Pannigabluk, and Natkusiak travelled along the coast
to Herschel Island on the Challenge (Stefansson 1913).
In the autumn of 1913 the trader Charlie Madsen bought the
Challenge from a Laplander at Nome. Madsen overhauled the ship, installed
an Atlas Imperial engine, and sailed her to the Siberian coast in the spring of
1914. When Challenge returned to Nome after a battering in the ice of Bering
Strait (but a successful trading voyage), Madsen sailed south and overwintered
on the Alaska Peninsula. He returned to Nome late in the season, 1915 and there
"with regrets, I sold my fine ship" to "a representative of the
Canadian Arctic Expedition" who was "looking for a vessel to replace
the lost Karluk. The stoutly built Challenge met his needs and he
made me a generous offer" (Madsen).
The new owner, James Crawford, former engineer of Mary Sachs
and a member of the CAE from 1913 to 1916, and his partner Leo Wittenberg, prepared
to take the Challenge on a trading expedition to Herschel and Banks Islands
(Hunt 1975). In February 1917 the Challenge was wintering in Minto Inlet
near the CAE camp on Victoria Island. Among the men stationed on the ship were
Otto Binder and August Masik, who were later hired to help with the CAE.
When Challenge later appeared at Cape Kellett, where
Stefansson was stranded in autumn 1917, it was a stroke of luck for Stefansson
and his men. Stefansson bought the Challenge from Crawford and Wittenberg
in spite of the weaknesses he knew "from having considered buying her in
Nome in 1913 before we chose the Sachs." Having no choice, he bought her
for for $6,000 and gave all the CAE supplies on Banks Island and the wreck of
the Mary Sachs, including her engines, to Crawford and his men. Under Masik
as mate and Binder as engineer, Challenge sailed for the west with Wittenberg
as passenger. After they caught up to Polar Bear, Challenge became surplus
to Stefansson's need. Binder, Noice, and Carroll formed a partnership and bought
Challenge from Stefansson for $6,000 to sail east for trapping, trading
and the adventure of exploration. Unfortunately, the ship was wrecked in winter
quarters on the mainland coast of Amundsen Gulf the first year.