With the news that the private search for Franklin's ships will be the only one this summer, the practical question of where to look for Franklin's ships is re-opened. Robert Grenier had planned to search in the vicinity of the Royal Geographical Society Islands, but apparently Rob Rondeau and his team plan to look much further north, in the vicinity of Larsen sound, scanning an area south of where the ships were reported abandoned in the "Victory Point" record of 1848. But what are the odds that something will be found there? The map above, which I obtained some years ago from Ice Services Canada, shows the mean surface water currents throughout the Canadian Arctic. If you look at the area in question, you'll see two currents -- one hugging the shores of King William Island and tending to the north and northeast, and another, heading south and southwest along the coast of Victoria Island. The ice, of course, is subject to other forces than current, and generally flows south/southwest through the channel, though younger ice along the coast of KWI can often follow the contrary current northward.
If we assume that one of Franklin's ships was crushed not far from the original abandonment, the debris from this wreck could then go in either direction. Material embedded in the ice would have tended south, while material caught in the current way well have scattered to the north. Only a heavy object -- such as the ship's modified railway engine -- would be likely to plummet to the bottom at the site of the sinking. Yet whether one ship was crushed at this point is debatable; there are clear accounts by Inuit eyewitnesses to the sinking of one ship, and as David Woodman points out, this must have happened later, and further south than the abandonment, as the Inuit almost never visited the northwest quadrant of King William Island -- a fact corroborated by the clear evidence that the large cache of materials near Victory Point was not disturbed by Inuit until after they heard about it from white men. The crushing of one ship, then, may well have occurred much further south, and indeed the RGS Islands are a likely site, as the ice floes here, compressed by the narrowing channels, are turned into a jumbled, upended mouthful of teeth that could easily masticate any matter sent through them.
We do, as it happens, have some material evidence of where debris might end up -- when Dr. John Rae was on Victoria Island, he discovered several large pieces of wood, parts of which were painted a distinctive yellow color used by the Royal Navy, which he only belatedly realized must have come from the "Erebus" or "Terror." Such a find, if it came from a crushed ship, strongly suggests that the vessel was nearer the Victoria than the King William shore, as otherwise the surface ice would not have brought it within Rae's sight.
One last tale -- and a more terrifying one it is than any of the ship's slow crushing -- is that one or both of Franklin's ships was trapped in an iceberg and carried out to sea. This idea, long championed by my good friend Joe O'Farrell, is based on accounts by passengers on ships far to the east, who saw, or seemed to see, an iceberg pass by in which were embedded two stranded ships. Such a tale might be easily dismissed, were it not for cases such as that of HMS "Resolute," which drifted, unpiloted, along the same general route as this iceberg would have had to take, ending up in the Davis Straits. If indeed this story holds any (frozen) water, then Franklin's ships would be far off in the North Atlantic somewhere -- perhaps even near where the Titanic kept its much later date with an iceberg.
There remain many Inuit tales of a ship, apparently deliberately anchored in relatively shallow water, with a boarding plank lowered and some sweepings or debris from the deck on the ice nearby. These stories are detailed and vivid, and were repeated with nearly all the same details to Schwatka in the 1870's and Rasmussen in the 1920's. It is this ship -- the "Ootjoolik" wreck -- which David Woodman has searched for so patiently, as it is far more likely to be at least partially intact. Outside of the channels of the scouring ice, it may well be in a state of preservation approaching that of the "Breadalbane" near Beechey Island, which vessel was found with its sails still hanging from upright masts.