The original Northwest Passage was discovered in October 1851 by Captain Robert McClure while standing on Banks Island - he could see a mountain peak on the northeast horizon - using a chronometer he was able to determine longitude by observing local apparent noon against his watch set to London GMT knowing it was zero longitude, a simple calculation knowing there are 24 hours in the earth's 360 degree rotation so 15 degrees each hour (360/24=15) or one degree every 4 minutes (60/15=4). Using celestial sightings they determined their position as 73°10′ N, 117°10′ W.
He knew from reading Captain John Ross's second arctic voyage log from 1829 that the VICTORY was stuck in the ice four years in Prince Regent. Ross's nephew James Clark Ross found the magnetic north pole on the Boothia Peninsula during this encampment. In 1832, Ross and his crew abandoned their ship and walked to the wreck of HMS Fury off Sumerset Island which had been abandoned by William Edward Parry's 1824-1825 Arctic expedition, seven years earlier. A year went by before a break in the ice allowed them to leave, on that ship's longboats. They were eventually picked up by a British vessel, HMS Isabella (which Ross had commanded on his 1818 expedition), and taken home.
He had found the Northwest Passage!
On October 21st, Captain McClure crossed the frozen sea strait, later named after him as McClure Strait, and found Winter Harbor along with a cache of supplies from previous explorers. He placed a written note in a stone carin should anyone find it telling of his crew's position at Mercy Bay on Banks Island.
This is Parry's Rock, a Canadian landmark located at Winter Harbour on Melville Island. It was where William Parry and his ships, Hecla and Griper spent the winter of 1819/1820 on the first recorded voyage into the Arctic islands. The rock is engraved by his expedition. In 1909, the Canadian Joseph-Elzéar Bernier visited the rock and claimed the Arctic in the name of Canada. There is also a plaque on the side of the rock commemorating the event.
Captain McClure returned to Mercy Bay on Banks Island on October 31st.
"October 31st, the Captain returned at 8.30. A.M., and at 11.30. A.M., the remainder of the parting, having, upon the 26th instant, ascertained that the waters we are now in communicate with those of Barrow Strait, the north-eastern limit being in latitude 73°31′, N. longitude 114°39′, W. thus establishing the existence of a NORTH-WEST PASSAGE between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans."
Halloween on October 31st will always have a new meaning for me - The first discovery of a Northwest Passage. And hopefully in 2013 the anniversary of the first boat to navigate it from Atlantic Arctic Circle to Pacific Arctic Circle.
McClure and his crew were also the first to both circumnavigate the Americas, and to transit the Northwest Passage!
Since the discovery in 1851 I have not been able to document another surface vessel who has made a "Northwest Passage" from Atlantic Arctic Circle to Pacific Arctic Circle "Over-The-Top" of Banks Island through McClure Strait.
Who would like to go and retrace the original 1851 Northwest Passage during a 2013 attempt aboard M/V GREY GOOSE?
A deadline of November 2012 has been set - email me if you are interested in more information.
Departure would be May 2013 from Mobile Alabama.
Arrival in Astoria Oregon October 2013.
Announcement on October 31, 2013 that the original 1851 Northwest Passage was navigated by the M/V GREY GOOSE and crew.
Crew berths are limited - don't wait much longer to sign on.
Email: mvgreygoose (at) clear.net
When will the ice be open around Banks Island? About a week more - August 20th - Check back.