It's impossible not to marvel at the seafaring accomplishments of the sailors in the 19th century and for the centuries prior to that. Without the advantages of modern technology and global positioning systems, ships were at the mercy of the sea, the wind and the weather and their mere survival bound to the wits and instincts of the captain and his crew. Perhaps without the benefit of technology, men were able to better read the subtleties of the wind and tides and there was an understanding of how to manage extreme weather that would likely create panic in the modern world.
Obviously, countless sailors and adventurers died on the sea throughout history, but the accomplishments of those who did not are nothing short of incredible. The HMS Investigator navigated the narrow and dangerous route that would ultimately prove to the largely impassable northwest passage. The Investigator was a wooden-hulled vessel, as all were at the time of its launch in 1848. The lessons learned in attempting the Northwest Passage route in prior years, boats like the Investigator were reinforced with steel throughout their hulls. The deck planking was extra thick to endure the weight of ice and snow as it accumulated. There was even a rudimentary heating system that kept working and living quarters more comfortable than they otherwise would have been.
The HMS Investigator was last seen above water in 1853 on the coast of Banks Island, near the Prince of Wales Strait. The ship had been trapped thereby pack ice in 1850 and its crew was never able to free it to complete its voyage through the Northwest Passage. The ship's captain, Robert McClure, documented the ordeal of the boat's stranding and the survival of his crew for the more than two years that they were stranded. The vast majority of the crew survived the ordeal and was rescued by another British vessel in 1853. At least three of the crew members died of scurvy and they are buried somewhere near where the boat was found.
The mission of the HMS Investigator was to attempt to locate and possibly rescue the Terror and the Erebus, the ships commanded by Sir John Franklin and his doomed expedition of 1845. Neither the Terror nor the Erebus has ever been found and there is much debate as to exactly where modern archaeologists should be looking.
With the help of detailed accounts provided by the surviving crew of the Investigator, historians and archaeologists have long known the likely resting place of the ship. But because of the constant ice pack and the remote location of Banks Island, the remains of the ship had never been located. An expedition to locate the Investigator arrived at Mercy Bay on July 22 and after three days waiting for the ice to open, sonar equipment located the ship in only 15 minutes.
It was found to be resting upright on the bottom of the strait, with its deck approximately 25 feet below water surface. Its masts had broken, presumably by the ice and the raised sides of the vessel also appeared to have given way under duress. One of the masts was still visible lying on the deck and it is visible from the surface of the water with the naked eye in still water. Due to the frigid temperatures and the cleanliness of the water, the boat has been preserved remarkably well.
At this time, there are no plans to attempt to move any piece of the wreckage and it is likely that it will remain in place in perpetuity. The next step for archaeologists will be documenting the find and cataloging any pieces or artifacts that may be reasonably inspected. The same group is currently attempting to locate the still-missing HMS Erebus and Terror using the same equipment that found the Investigator. Given that no one knows the exact location of the other two boats, this expedition will probably take longer than expected.