Sail with Charcot
See what life was like on the polar pioneer’s ship in Sandgerði
Jean-Baptiste Charcot was born in 1867.He took an old soapbox when he was 3 years old, scrawled “Pourquoi Pas?” on its side and set sail—in the garden pool! It sank, leaving him wet but undaunted!
French society was too superficial for him. In 1892, aged 25, he bought his first ship and sailed north to the Shetlands, Hebrides, Faroes and Iceland.
His father died the following year, leaving him a large inheritance, allowing him to leave medicine behind for a life of scientific investigation and sea-faring adventure.
On his first trip to the Antactic, he charted more than 600 miles of new Antarctic coastline and islands. Another, equally successful expedition followed. Scott of the Antarctic nicknamed him, ‘The Gentleman of the Pole’.
After the 1st World War, he led expeditions to the Færoe Islands, Jan Mayen Island, Iceland and Greenland. The ‘Pourquoi Pas?’ was a scientific research vessel with a library and three laboratories on board.
The ship stopped often in Iceland, where Charcot made many friends, including the eminent Icelandic naturalist, Bjarni Sæmundsson. When the ‘Pourquoi Pas?’ put into Reykjavik to repair its boiler, they had a meeting that was to prove to be their last.
Disaster in the Bay
The ship set sail on the 16th September, 1936, heading for Fran
ce, when a sudden, very violent storm drove them off course, across the Faxafloi Bay onto the rocks. Of the crew of over 40 souls, only one survived. The news shocked all Iceland and a memorial service was held in Reykjavik for them.
You can get an idea of what it was like on the ‘Pourquoi Pas?’ at the Suðurnes University Research Centre in Sandgerði, where part of the ship has been reconstructed with many items from both the ship and Charcot’s personal belongings on display.
This is a dramatic display that really gives a clear impression of life on board the ship and is well worth a visit to the centre, close to the harbour.