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The Baymaud

Underwater Treasure of Cambridge Bay

by Murray Lundberg

      Born in Vollen, in the municipality of Asker, Norway on June 7, 1917 as Maud, this ship was the culmination of all of Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen's ideas about what qualities a stout Arctic research ship should possess. Her first voyage, and indeed the rest of her life, proved his ideas to be correct. Now, however, she lies in shallow water in Carl's Bay, a small section of Cambridge Bay.

      The Maud's first voyage lasted 3 years, crossing from Norway to Alaska through the Northeast Passage. Amundsen barely survived the voyage after being mauled by a polar bear and then being poisoned by carbon monoxide in a research tent, but when the expedition arrived in Nome on July 27, 1920, he became the first person to circumnavigate the globe in Arctic waters. In 1905, guided by a group of Inuit in kayaks, he had sailed the Gjoa through the final section of the fabled Northwest Passage, from Gjoa Haven to Cambridge Bay; the Northeast Passage voyage completed the circumnavigation.

      By 1925, Amundsen had run out of money (again), and the Maud was sold for $40,000 after being seized in Seattle by the company that had outfitted her 3 years previously and had never been paid. The following June, after a refit in Vancouver, she sailed north under new owners, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), and with a new name. She was now the Baymaud, and under the command of Captain Gus Foellmer, had the critical mission of supplying the company's outposts in the Western Arctic.

      The ship turned out to be not particularly suitable for work in the region due to her size and deep draft. In the fall of 1927, she was moored at Cambridge Bay, where she was used as a warehouse, machine shop and wireless station. That winter, the first regular weather reports to be sent by radio from the Arctic coast originated from the ship.

      Over the winter of 1930-1931, the Baymaud sank at her moorings, in about 7 meters (20 feet) of water. Over the next 5 years or so, everything above the water was salvaged, with the material being used as everything from building a new HBC warehouse, to firewood. In 1947, the RCMP blew the stern of the boat apart with dynamite so that the fuel tanks could be removed and drained.

      It is thought that the Baymaud was the inspiration for the design of the RCMP schooner St. Roch, which in 1944 became the first ship to travel the Northwest Passage in both directions.

In 1990, the community of Asker, Norway bought the Baymaud from the HBC for $1, with the intention of raising her and returning her to the port where she had been built. However, although the wreckage of the Baymaud is in surprisingly good condition after 69 years on the bottom on the ocean, salvaging her will be a huge undertaking. In 1991, the estimate of the cost of removal and complete restoration had been 230 million kroner ($43,200,000). A Cultural Properties Export permit for the ship to be moved to Norway was issued by the Canadian government in 1993, but was allowed to expire.

      Following a detailed underwater examination of the wreck made in 1995 and 1996, team leader James P. Delgado stated that "...the wreck at Cambridge Bay is an internationally significant cultural resource and archaeological site of particular interest to both Norway and Canada."

      It is to be hoped that this cultural resource will not now just be allowed to fade away into the sea floor.

2011 update: A Norwegian project called Maud Returns Home has announced plans to salvage the Baymaud and return her to her birthplace as the centrepiece of a new museum.

References & Further Reading:

  • James P. Delgado, Made for the Ice (Vancouver, BC: Vancouver Maritime Museum, 1997)