The French Arctic and Antarctic explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot belonged to a family of physicians, although from an early age Charcot had decided to become a sea traveler or sailor. At the age of 25, he bought his first yacht, Courlis. During his earliest navigations, Charcot cruised the Shetland and Faroe islands, and also visited Jan Mayen Island in the Greenland Sea. These sailings marked the future interests and commitments of Charcot in the Polar Regions.
In 1903, Charcot was planning to sail north again on his purpose-built ship, the Français, but on hearing of the missing Swedish Antarctic explorer Otto Nordenskjold and his expedition, decided to set sail for the Southern Ocean to assist with the search. On hearing that Nordenskjold had already been found, Charcot decided to stay in the Antarctic, but then changed his plans. From 1903 to 1905, Charcot con ducted the French Antarctic Expedition on the Français to explore the western coast of the Antarctic peninsula. He conducted surveys in the Palmer Archipelago, the northwestern part of which at that time was still uncharted. Charcot's expedition confirmed some findings of islands and straits in this region made by previous visitors of those waters, particularly by German whalers. The wintering of Charcot's ship in 1904 was one of the first winterings of European travelers in the Antarctic region. On March 4, 1905, Français dropped anchor in Puerto-Madrin, and the ship was later sold to the Argentine government. The results of this polar trip included 65 boxes of geological and zoological specimens, meteorological observations, as well as three maps with 1000 km of new lands charted by the expedition.
Charcot's next voyage to the Antarctic, financially aided by the French government as a scientific expedition, was the Second French Antarctic Expedition (August 15, 1908 to June 5, 1910). He outfitted a new ship, the Pourquois-pas?, which was larger and more powerful than the Français, comprising three laboratories and a library. During the expedition of the Pourquois-pas? in 1908-1910, Charcot continued the cartographic research of the Antarctic peninsula, Alexander III Island, and the Peninsula of Peter I. Charcot conducted measurements of depth and geodesic works, took pictures of the lands, and collected other measurements and specimens of the bottom with dredge. On January 11, 1909, Charcot explored and named an unknown island of the Palmer Archipelago— the Charcot Island (70° S 77° W). During the trip, Charcot reached the border of the Antarctic Continent. His ship was stopped by ice at 124° W, and returned to South America. The scientific results of this expedition included 28 volumes of research and maps.
In 1911, Charcot conducted oceanographic researches in the English Channel. The French Navy requisitioned the Pourquoi-pas? for work as a training ship. After serving as a medical doctor and then commanding a Q-boat for Britain's Royal Navy during World War I, Charcot resumed command of the Pourquoi-pas?, conducting various expeditions to the Arctic. From 1920 to 1925, he worked with expeditions in the Atlantic Ocean, where the object of his interests included underwater lithology and geology using dredging methods. In 1921, Charcot visited Rockall Bank twice, where his research helped establish the origin of this remarkable geographical object. In 1925, Charcot led investigations near Iceland and Jan Mayen Island. In 1927, he conducted depth measurements in the English Channel and in the Bay of Biscay. From 1926 to 1936, Charcot participated and led several expeditions on the ship Pourquoi-pas? to the shores of Greenland. On July 28, 1928, Charcot arrived at Troms0 and took part in the search for Roald Amundsen, whose airplane "Latam" and its crew had disappeared. The expeditions of 1931-1933 were conducted as contributions to the polar researches during the International Polar Year. In 1931, Charcot participated in the opening of the polar station in Ittoqqortoormiit (Scoresbysund) in Greenland.
The summer of 1936 marked Charcot's final voyage as well as the last sailing of his old and reliable ship Pourquoi-pas?. After the expedition to Greenland, Pourquoi-pas? arrived in Reykjavik. On the morning of September 16, during a severe storm near the shore of Iceland, Pourquoi-pas? was shipwrecked. Charcot perished with all the other members of the crew—a total of 40 people died; only one sailor was saved by Icelanders. Twenty-three bodies of the crew members of Pourquoi-pas?, the body of Charcot among them, were found and transported to France for burial.
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