Resting about 12 miles from the small subarctic town of Churchill, Manitoba, the MV Ithaka has become one of the area’s iconic landmarks. Although best known for polar bears and beluga whales, Churchill also offers two large wrecks—the Ithaka and the Miss Piggy cargo plane—as tourist attractions. Surrounded by water at high tide, the former may be visited on foot when the tide is out or in winter when the bay freezes.
Built as a lake freighter in Quebec, Canada, for the George Hall Coal Company, the Ithaka was originally christened the Frank A. Augsbury and launched on October 21, 1922. After several ownership, name, and cargo changes—including carrying out transport service during World War II—the ship was sold for the last time in 1960 to the Ithaka Shipping Company and registered to a Greek owner in Nassau, Bahamas.
The Clarke Steamship Company chartered the freighter to transport nickel concentrate between Churchill and the works at Rankin Inlet on Hudson Bay. However, the vessel’s time sailing as the Ithaka was limited to a few short months. On September 14, 1960, the Ithaka left Churchill bound for Rankin Inlet with a 30-ton cargo of supplies and equipment, including two generators and a load of plywood for the Canadian Transport Department. It would be her last voyage.
According to local lore, a severe storm engulfed the ship 10 miles east of Churchill. In hopes of riding out the storm the captain dropped anchor. As the Ithaka tossed and turned the anchor chain snapped, and 80-mile-per-hour winds tore off the ship’s rudder. The Ithaka floundered and ran aground at Bird Cove, coming to rest on the gravel shallows with a massive hole ripped in her bottom. Ithaka’s engine room was completely flooded.
Upon discovering that the outgoing tide left the ship sitting high and dry, the crew of 37 disembarked without injury or incident and walked to safety. Suspicious of the grounding circumstances, Lloyd’s of London, the Ithaka’s insurer, declined to cover the full loss. The Ithaka’s cargo was salvaged, and she was stripped of everything of even modest value. What is left of the Ithaka remains where she stranded, her rusted shell slowly disintegrating.
Know Before You Go
Although the ship can be visited on foot at low tide, but climbing on the wreck is highly discouraged because of the structure's advanced decay and instability. Visitors should also be mindful that polar bears are in the area and are known to visit the site. Some Churchill tour companies offer low tide hikes to the wreck, accompanied by polar bear guards.