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Ill-Equipped Ships Run into Disaster

In May 1845, two Royal Navy ships, HMS Terror and Erebus, embarked from London on a voyage with ambitious aims. The mission would forge a passage through the partially mapped channels of northern Canada and pioneer the Northwest Passage. In the process, the mission would also open new trading routes and allow vessels to forgo the dangerous and lengthy passage around Cape Horn. Led by Arctic veteran Sir John Franklin, the ship was equipped with new technology pioneered in Britain—coal-fired engines powering propeller screws for locomotion, and tinned food.

It was a risky trip. Hostile conditions, the use of new technology, and operating beyond the reach of immediate rescue parties meant the expedition was the equivalent of a Victorian-era moon landing. If men, supplies, technology, knowhow, or leadership failed, then deaths could be expected. But if the ship had been properly equipped with the right resources and decisive leadership it would succeed.

In July 1845, the ships sailed out of Baffin Bay and were never heard from again. After two years of silence, the alarm was raised in Britain and rescue ships dispatched. The rescue mission brought back the tragic news—129 men had died in the greatest single disaster in Arctic exploration.

A rough outline became clear. All had started well but the ships had been poorly equipped from the start. The engines were underpowered and much of the tinned food—produced by a contractor who was the lowest bidder—turned out to be rotten. Franklin's ill-equipped ships became prey to tidal movements in ice, leaving men dangerously short of supplies. Someone on the ship had left a terse note stating that Franklin was dead and survivors were abandoning the ships to head south with rowing boats. Eventually one of those rowing boats was discovered—with the skeletons still on it.

Possible Preaching Angles: (1) The importance of building the right foundation in our spiritual lives with Christ; (2) Planning; Equipping the saints.

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