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Is ghost ship Baychimo still sailing across deep blue sea?

An Ulster Log

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 05/11/2016

The Baychimo
The Baychimo
Dervla Kirwan

On this very date in 1931 - Guy Fawkes Night - Captain John Cornwell and 15 of the crew of the good ship Baychimo, a 1,322-tonner, were not thinking about this historic day as they prepared for a long, hard winter, trapped with their vessel in an ice pack on the coast of Alaska.

They built a wooden shelter on the frozen wastes, waiting for the weather to get warmer and free their stricken freighter. The sailors, two of whom were Irish, could have done with one of the bonfires traditionally associated with Fawkes.

However, as the freezing days and nights rolled slowly by, a great blizzard that raged in mid-November ended with the weather turning surprisingly mild and they emerged from their shelter to find that the Baychimo had vanished.

It was the beginning of her time as a ghost ship - a mystery that goes on to this very day.

What happened 85 years ago was that the floe that had held her fast for weeks had broken away and had drifted her 50 miles along the tip of Alaska.

The ship disappeared again before a salvage crew could reach her, and this time she remained lost in spite of a wide air search.

Since then, it has been no exaggeration to call the Hudson Bay Company's Baychimo a ghostly wanderer of the sea.

She was - or still is - a steel cargo ship designed to withstand the dangerous waters of the Canadian north.

Her purpose was to deliver food and supplies to the Eskimo community in exchange for pelts and, in the summer of 1931, set off from Vancouver on her usual 2,000-mile round-trip to the Victoria Islands, arriving safely. She was returning to her home port when, in atrocious weather, ice packed around her hull leaving her stalled and frozen.

Now, here is where the story gets amazing. Down all those 80-plus years, the Baychimo, still apparently intact, has been spotted all over the North Atlantic. However, no one has been able to catch up to this ghost vessel, which continues to uncannily elude pursuit.

Despite recent searches, the ship's ultimate fate remains unknown. If you've seen her, or have learned of her fate, please tell me.

In case you think this ghost story is all baloney, let me inform you that an estimated 150 ships that refuse to die are drifting, or becalmed, somewhere in the oceans of the world.

Most of them were abandoned as wrecks after a storm or a seafaring tragedy.

Why Dervla is keeping me awake at night

Can somebody tell me how Goodnight Sweetheart ended? I mean, how was the plot brought to a conclusion in the final episode in 1999?

Perhaps they just didn't bother deciding whether time-traveller Gary Sparrow (Nicholas Lyndhurst) should be left in wartime 1941 with his barmaid wife Phoebe (Dervla Kirwan) or return to the present and the arms of his other wife, Yvonne (Michelle Holmes).

The series, which I enjoyed, ran for six years, from 1993, but I've never seen the episode in which Gary decided where he wants to spend the rest of his life - if there ever was such an episode. Perhaps writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran just let the storyline drift.

Goodnight Sweetheart, originally a BBC1 hit, keeps getting repeated on other channels, but how did it all end? Wondering keeps me awake nights. Lyndhurst won awards for his performance as Sparrow. Kirwan has had a good career since her Sweetheart days. You'll remember her once upon a time in Ballykissangel.

Tourist avoids a sticky situation

A Spanish visitor, about to leave her car, was not a little confused by a sign in the Sprucefield car park near Lisburn which proclaimed: "unauthorised vehicles will be stickered".

"What does stickered mean?" the puzzled visitor asked me in her halting English.

I then had to explain to this tourist that the car park notice was trying to warn motorists that, if they left their car in what is a designated spot for disabled drivers, they would have a parking ticket attached to their vehicle's windscreen.

So why not say so in plain English?

What an abuse of the language to use a non-word like "stickered".

Famous store's last resting place

The favourite Robinson & Cleaver store that once adorned the corner of Donegall Square North and Donegall Place in Belfast is long gone, closed down in 1984.

But over there in San Pedro de Alcantara in Marbella, Spain, the Old Lady - as the fashionable shop was known - is still remembered, according to my photographer friend Victor Patterson.

He was sipping a coffee in a restaurant called Ambrosia when he spotted a unique place mat, dedicated to Robinson & Cleaver. "It was one of a series of news cuttings transformed into the mats," he explains.

And the one I reproduce - photographed by him - is the mat in honour of Belfast's grand Old Lady.

"The news cutting turned into a place mat told how Robinson & Cleaver wasn't just a retailer in its heyday, but a weaver, too, of real Irish linen," adds Victor.

There was no date on the newsprint mat, which probably first appeared in a newspaper back in the 1970s.

Ho-ho-hoedown as Jennifer launches Christmas album

Singer and songwriter Jennifer Nettles (39) will star on the Country to Country show in the spring in Dublin and her Ulster fans will be in the 3Arena to see her performing with the likes of Brad Paisley, the Brothers Osborne and the Zac Brown Band from Friday, March 10 until Sunday, March 12.

In the meantime, Jennifer tells me her To Celebrate Christmas album is already in the shops, complete with festive and traditional standards.

Jennifer, from Georgia, married Justin Miller in Tennessee in the summer of 2012 and they now have a four-year-old son, Magnus. A track on the Christmas LP, Little Drummer Boy, pays tribute to him.

C2C is Ireland's largest country music festival, bringing three full days of hoedown from top country & western artists out of Nashville.

Cup commemorating cartoonist Friers set to strike the right note

Remember cartoonist Rowel Friers? Well, the Friers Cup commemorating the man who died in 1998 has just been presented to Holywood Music Festival by his widow, Yvonne.

The trophy will be awarded to the winner of the advanced piano section at the event, running from November 17-26.

Rowel, a talented illustrator and painter, was a leading figure in the Ulster Watercolour Society and his oil paintings hang in the National Portrait Gallery and the Ulster Museum. He illustrated more than 30 books, including John Pepper's Ulster dialect books.

Rowel was also an actor, with a talent for mimicry. He began publishing his cartoons in the 1940s and his work appeared in Punch, national newspapers and the Belfast Telegraph.

Marble Arch Caves plays host to young people's film festival

The Into Film Festival, for young folk, which is supported by Sir Ken Branagh, runs from November 9-25 and one of the movies on screen will be the animated Secret of Kells, directed by Tomm Moore, who is hoping to make an appearance at some point during the event.

The festival will show films all over the province as well as running educational trips to the cinema and events for 5 to 19-year-olds. One of the screenings will be in the Marble Arch Caves near Enniskillen on November 17 (10am).

"There will be a tribute to Roald Dahl's centenary year and screenings linked to diversity, wellbeing and anti-bullying," says one of the organisers, Wendy Kidd, who oversees some 70 events.

For further details, visit www.intofilm.org/festival.

Belfast Telegraph

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