Posted by: Rob Viens | October 2, 2012

Stranded, Cold and Hungry

Today found Darwin in an odd predicament – stranded on the beach during a storm with 17 fellow crew members and a limited supply of food. Hey – who said traveling around the world in 1832 would be easy?  He describes how the situation started today:

“Early in the morning the Captain with a large party landed in the four whale-boats.— Dinner for all hands was taken, as it was intended to work at the land-mark all day & return in the evening.— King & I went in one direction to geologize & Mr Bynoe in another to shoot.— During our walk I observed the wind had freshened & altered its point; but I paid no further attention to it.— When we returned to the beach, we found two of the boats hauled up high & dry & the others gone on board.— The Captain two hours previously had had some difficulty in getting off & now the line of white breakers clearly showed the impossibility.— It was an unpleasant prospect, to pass the night with thin clothes on the bare ground; but it was unavoidable, so we made the best of it.— Mr Stokes & Johnson were left in command & made what arrangements they could.— At night no supper was served out; as we were 18 on shore & very little food left.— We made a sort of tent or screen with the boats sails & prepared to pass the night.— It was very cold, but by all huddling in a heap, we managed pretty well till the rain began, & then we were sufficiently miserable.” (Oct 2)

This reminds be of an adventure I had geologizing in Alaska.  It was my first trip to Alaska – I was part of a large team studying various aspects of he massive Bering Glacier. About an hour after landing in Cordova, I got on a float plan and proceeded to fly up the coast, land in an iceberg-filled bay, and be deposited on a sandy beach between the Pacific Ocean on one side and Vitus Lake and the Bering Glacier on the other .  (The glacier ended in the lake and was slowly “falling apart” by calving off icebergs. This resulted in a lake that grew in size each year and a glacier that was getting smaller. Darwin had the opportunity to visit similar “calving glaciers” later in the voyage, at which time I’ll have a lot more to say about them.)

Bering Glacier and Vitus Lake (from NASA)

bering glacier

A few days later I was sent, as part of a team of three, to survey the thickness of the glacier using ice-penetrating radar.  We were carried up the lake in a small boat and dropped right in front of the ice. As I watched the zodiac that dropped us drive away, I knew I had never been in a more remote location in all my life. We proceeded to set up camp and prepare for work over the next couple of days.

What does this have to do with Darwin, you might ask?  Unlike Darwin, we were “stranded” on purpose.  But we we still “trapped” with no easy way to gat back to our “ship”. Our radio was spotty, so contacting the base camp was not easy and we were not set to be picket up for a couple of days.  And most importantly we had relied on the camp cook to pack our food supplies.  Well, when we opened them up we found that we had a hodge-podge of offerings – a tin of turkey, a can of beets, some granola bars… but not enough food for three people for three days. And what we did have was certainly an interesting mix of items.  Needless to say, like Darwin, we went a little hungry as we rationed our food at the icy foot of the glacier.  But we got our work done, and after going back to base camp feasted on some fresh caught salmon that made us forget our woes.  And for some reason, ever since then, I have always really liked the taste of beets mixed with turkey.  Go figure…

So what was the fate of the 18 “castaways” in 1832?  Well, it is probably no surprise that Darwin made it, but the details of the story will have to wait until his diary tomorrow. (RJV)



  1. Wow, Rob! You had quite an experience…

  2. […] They stopped at the site where several crewman (including Darwin) had recently been stranded (see Stranded, Cold and Hungry and Survivor: Darwin), hence the name he gives the […]

  3. […] the crew were stranded on a beach near Bahia Blanca for several days with no food or supplies (see Stranded, Cold and Hungry and Survivor: Darwin). (Good news – they were […]

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