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Trapped: May 5th-9th, 1811

May 5, 2011

For most of the month of May the crew of the Resolution and those of around 40 British whalers, struggled to find an opening for their vessels to escape from amongst heavy ice. Between May 5th and 15th the situation was especially perilous, so much so that Scoresby remarked on the 5th:

I was not fond of the situation in which we now lay the Ice had frozen so thick about us that a Boat could scarcely break it. We were in the midst of heavy pieces of Ice frozen together by Bay Ice. This should the Frost continue would in the space of a week or two (were we to be so long detained) become impervious to our feeble efforts … Therefore anxious to be in a less confined spot.

With that aim, Scoresby “set all Hands to work to break the Ice with two Boats”. They were helped by the crew of the Aimwell, so that by six PM on Monday, May 6th, using saws, boats, sallying, and brute strength, they had succeeded in dragging the two ships 150 yards into a more open position. All around them other ships were doing the same thing, and all were relieved on the 7th by a swell which broke up the ice enough for them to make sail until around 1PM, when the ice gathered again.

Tuesday was also spent in trying to break up the ice and find room to make sail:

We frequently cut the Bay Ice round the larger pieces or heavy Ice at considerable distance whereby loosening that next the Ship … [by 11PM] the Aimwell near us … Many ships in sight.

By the morning of Wednesday May 8th, the Resolution had reached an opening, but with a strong wind blowing, the ice gathered again, and they were forced to “make fast” to large pieces of ice, along with many other ships. Frustratingly, clear, open water was visible from the masthead, but there was no way through.

As before, Scoresby took the opportunity to set up experiments and observations, this time “on the freezing and thawing of water”. He observed different formations of ice in vials corked, and uncorked, and noted that the air trapped in the vial formed bubbles in the ice, before the bottle burst.

On May 9th, there were “Fresh gales small showers of snow” but the ship had not moved for 24 hours. The Resolution stood among “30 sail” of ships, with land observed 70 miles to the ENE.

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