Last Voyage of the
by Richard & Christine Olsenius
Text by Christine Olsenius
Principal Photography by
Óli Lindenskov & Hjaltur Poulsen
Nathaniel Wilson & Richard Olsenius
Video by Óli Lindenskov
Geoff Pope was a man who wanted to sail to places few people go. He was drawn to the remote high latitudes of the Labrador Sea, Greenland, Iceland, the Drake Passage and Cape Horn, places not traveled by the average sailor. He wanted to experience first hand, the landscapes and seascapes that look much the same today as they did when Eric the Red started the first Norse settlement in Greenland over a thousand years ago. Geoff wanted to sense what other explorers experienced; men like Sir Martin Frobisher, Sir Earnest Shackleton or Sir John Franklin, who sailed their ships towards Arctic and Antarctic waters in search of fame and fortune. For hundreds of years, adventurers tried to find and then transit the elusive Northwest Passage, the waterway linking the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Many failed in the process of dodging icebergs, land-fast ice edging coastlines and sea ice moving with wind and ocean currents. The tragic ending of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, with the loss of captain and all 128 crewmembers, confirmed the danger of being icebound in a wooden boat in high latitudes.
So it was on July 12, 1989 that under cover of darkness, the ice pack building off the southern coast of Greenland slowly encircled the Sheila Yeates, grinding against the wooden hull of the 50-foot topsail ketch. Captain Geoff Pope and his crew had been sailing along the outer edge of the sea ice in relatively clear weather when the wind and current conspired to move the ice pack and its adjoining fogbank around them. By early morning of the next day the ship was completely engulfed. They were 50 miles south of Cape Farewell, Greenland. Geoff and the six crewmembers spent the entire day trying to maneuver the ship out of the sea ice to open water, but they were trapped.
Pope sent a request for assistance to Greenland Command but the poor visibility and the ship’s position at the edge of their helicopter range made rescue impossible. The ice continued to compress against the wooden hull. Now a captive of the ice flow, the Sheila Yeates would soon be drifting out of radio range. The waters between the Labrador Sea and the North Atlantic are wild, desolate and unforgiving. A deep fear set in among the captain and crew. Pope thought to himself. “We are seven dead guys.“
Several of the Franklin Expedition crew are buried on Beechey Island along the Northwest Passage.
Captain of the Sheila Yeates, Geoff Pope
A deep fear set in among the captain and crew. Pope thought to himself. “We are seven dead guys.“
Geoff Pope, the skipper of the Sheila Yeates, returns to his boat in the
Apostle Islands of Lake Superior.
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