In breaking up a floe of great extent and thickness, which is rarely attempted, as the coal and labor thus expended might be saved by a movement of the ice in a few hours, two vessels work to great advantage in concert, striking alternate blows at an angle with each other, thus breaking off wedge-shaped sections, which are shoved out of the way as fast as an advance is made into the floe.
Various other methods are employed for breaking a way through the ice or relieving the pressure on the ship, but they are all insignificant compared with the mighty results of dashing and fearless ramming. Without it, in spite of the utmost exertions of officers and men, Greely would not have been rescued. The dispersive effect of explosives in water-soaked ice is small, and placing the torpedoes requires time; the ice-saw is clumsy, slow, and rapidly exhausts an already overwrought crew, while warping and towing floes are but the last safeguards from despair.
The Dundee skippers are not held to too strict account for damages that the vessels may sustain during their short but exciting cruise. Desperate risks are taken every day; the man who fears responsibility would never succeed, while another hesitating or lacking resource would quickly lose his ship. Starting from Dundee in April, they generally reach Godhavn, in latitude 69° 15' north, before June, but from that point to their destination it is a long and plucky fight with the ice. Continually following up the breaches made in the solid field by storms and tides, their only fear, though surrounded by floes capable of crushing the ships if taken unawares, is that the lead will open in some other place, leaving them inclosed by vast immovable floes until some rare northwest wind loosens the pack, or the summer's sun so weakens it that the ship is able to smash through and escape.
On the approach of a gale, when the ice may be expected to move rapidly and through its great weight and extent accumulate pressure, a fine solid floe is selected in which to form a protected dock. In it the ship is rammed as far as possible, if necessary the slip being deepened with the ice-saw; so long as the floe holds together the ship will be subjected to the pressure of only those small fragments that may be forced into the entrance to the dock.
To take advantage of every little patch of open water in breaking through the pack, a pilot is stationed aloft in the "crow's nest"; this is a large cask, with a trap-door in the bottom for entrance, secured to the mast. It is sometimes quite cozy, being fitted with a wind-screen, rest for the long glass, engine-room bell pull or indicator, helm-director, and compass. The height of the observer is about one hundred and fifteen feet, and the greatest distance at which ordinary pack ice is visible from that height is less than seven miles; it is evident, then, how much experience and