Parry's Voyages for the Discovery of the North-West Passage
The coldest part of the year was now approaching; yet the sun had sufficient power to affect the thermometer, which rose from 40 deg. to 35 deg. when exposed to its rays. The distance at which sounds were heard in the open air during the continuance of this intense cold was truly surprising. Conversation carried on a mile off could be distinctly heard. The smoke from the ships, too, owing to the difficulty it has to rise in a low temperature, was carried horizontally to a great distance. On the 15th, the mercury sunk to 55 deg. below zero, which was the most intense degree of cold observed during the winter. Mercury was malleable in this state of the atmosphere.
From this time the temperature gradually rose. The length of the days had so much increased by the 26th of February, that a very sensible twilight was visible in the north.
For the last three or four days of April, the snow on the black cloth of the housing had begun to thaw a little during a few hours in the middle of the day, and on the 30th so rapid a change took place in the temperature of the atmosphere, that the thermometer stood at the freezing, or, as it may more properly be termed in this climate, the thawing point, being the first time that such an event had occurred for nearly eight months, or since the 9th of the preceding September.
This rapid change in the weather revived their hopes of a speedy departure from Melville Island; and they all had sanguine expectations of leaving their winter quarters before July. On the first of May, however, it blew a gale, and the sun was seen at midnight for the first time that season. On the 6th, the people began the operation of cutting the ships out of the harbor; and on the 17th, the ships were once more afloat. On the 21st, some of the officers took a walk inland, and were able to fill a pint bottle with water from a pool of incited snow, which was the first they had seen; a proof of the extreme severity of the climate.
A perceptible change had now taken place in the ice. The upper surface was covered with innumerable pools of brackish water, so that the liberation of the sea might be daily expected. Being desirous of obtaining as much game as possible during the remainder of the time that must be passed in Winter Harbor, Captain Parry sent out hunting parties to remain ten or twelve miles inland, with orders to send whatever game they might procure, to the ships, and also to observe the ice from the hill tops, and report any change that might take place.
The dissolution of the ice continued daily, and on the 22d, it was observed to be in motion in the offing settling to the eastward at the rate of a mile an hour. The dissolution of the ice of the harbor went on so rapidly, in the early part of July, that they were greatly surprised, on 'the 6th, in finding that in several of the pools of water, on its upper surface, holes were washed quite through to the sea beneath.
On the morning of the 26th, there being a space of clear water for three quarters of a mile to the southward, they took advantage of a northern breeze to run as far as the opening would permit, and then dropped anchor at the edge of the ice, intending to advance step by step as it separated. The ice across the entrance of the harbor in this spot, as well as that in the offing, appeared from the crow's nest quite continuous and unbroken, with the same appearance of solidity as at midwinter.
On the 30th, the whole body of the ice was in motion toward the southeast, breaking away, for the first time, from the points at the entrance of the harbor. This rendering it probable that the ships would soon be released, Captain Parry furnished Lieutenant Liddon with instructions for his guidance during the coming season of operations, and appointed places of rendezvous in case of separation.
On the first of August, the harbor was clear of ice, and there appeared to be water in the direction of their intended course. At one P. M., every thing having been brought on board, they weighed anchor and ran out of Winter Harbor, in which they had passed ten entire months of the year, and a part of the two remaining ones, September and August.
After a few tacks, they had the mortification to perceive that the Griper sailed much worse than before, though great pains had been taken during her reequipment to improve her qualities. By midnight the Hecla had gained eight miles to windward of her, and was obliged to heave to, to avoid parting company.
A southerly wind springing up the next day, made it probable that the ice would close in upon the ships, and they therefore began to look out for a situation where they might be secured inshore, behind some of the heavy grounded ice. At one o'clock they perceived that a heavy floe had already closed completely in with the land at a point a little to the west-ward of them. A proper place having been found for their purpose, the ships were hauled in and secured, the Griper's bow resting on the beach, in order to allow the Hecla to lie in security without her. This place was so completely sheltered from the accession of the main ice, that Captain Parry began to think of taking the Griper's crew on board the Hecla, and pursuing the voyage in that ship alone.
Every moment's delay confirmed Captain Parry in the opinion that it was expedient to attempt to penetrate to the southward, as soon as the ice would allow the ships to move at all, rather than persevere in pushing directly westward. He therefore ordered Lieutenant Liddon to run back a certain distance eastward as soon as he could, without waiting for the Hecla, should that ship still be detained, and to look out for any opening to the southward, which might seem favorable to the object in view, and then wait for the Hecla.