“Such a change would only complicate our difficulties,” replied the doctor, “since we have adopted the shortest one. If it would be difficult to reach Behring’s Straits by the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, it would be impossible by the Cape of Good Hope, or Cape Horn, for either of these routes would necessarily take five or six months.”
“There is another way which would shorten our voyage, instead of lengthening it, and where we would be sure not to meet Tudor Brown,” said Erik.
“Another way?” answered Dr. Schwaryencrona; “upon my word I do not know of any unless you are thinking of the way of Panama. But it is not yet practicable for vessels, and it will not be yet for several years.”
“I am not thinking of Panama, nor of Cape Horn, nor of the Cape of Good Hope,” answered the young captain of the “Alaska.” “The route I propose is the only one by which we can reach Behring’s Strait in three months: it is to go by way of the Arctic Ocean, the north-west passage.”
Then seeing that his friends were stupefied by this unexpected announcement, Erik proceeded to develop his plans.
“The north-west passage now is no longer what it was formerly, frightful to navigators—it is intermittent, since it is only open for eight or ten weeks every year, but it is now well known, marked out upon excellent charts, and frequented by hundreds of whaling-vessels. It is rarely taken by any vessel going from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, I must admit. Most of them who enter it from either side only traverse it partially. It might even happen, if circumstances were not favorable, that we might find the passage closed, or that it might not be open at the precise time when we desired to enter it. It is a risk that one must take. But I think there are many reasons to make us hopeful of success if we take this route, whilst as far as I can see there is none, if we take any of the others. This being the state of affairs, I think it is our duty—a duty which we owe to those who have fitted out the expedition—to take the shortest way of reaching Behring’s Strait. An ordinary vessel equipped for navigating tropical waters might hesitate before deciding upon such a course, but with a vessel like the ‘Alaska’ fitted out especially for polar navigation, we need not hesitate. For my part I declare that I will not return to Stockholm before having attempted to find Nordenskiold.”
Erik’s reasoning was so sound that nobody tried to contradict it.
What objections could the doctor, Mr. Bredejord, and Mr. Malarius raise?
They saw the difficulties which beset the new plan. But it was possible that these difficulties might not prove insurmountable, whilst, if they pursued any other course, they must abandon all hopes of success. Besides, they did not hesitate to agree with Erik that it would be more glorious, in any case, to make the attempt, than to return to Stockholm and acknowledge themselves conquered.