Sea to Sky exploration firm owner's 'thrill of a lifetime' search for lost Franklin ships 

Squamish-based tourism company helps uncover one of Canadian history's greatest mysteries

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - One Ocean Andrew Prossin (third from left) and the One Ocean crew pose with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wife Laureen earlier this year.
  • Photo submitted
  • One Ocean Andrew Prossin (third from left) and the One Ocean crew pose with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wife Laureen earlier this year.

It's as if Andrew Prossin was born to explore the sea.

Growing up in a house overlooking the Sydney Harbour in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Prossin would spend hours watching the ships coming in with his binoculars.

When he grew a little bit older he got into competitive sailing, once winning a race across the Atlantic Ocean in a 30-foot sailboat.

For a time, he gave up his seafaring to attend university in Ontario, followed by a landlocked job in the corporate confines of Toronto.

But it wasn't long before the sea pulled him back.

"I went away to sea for three months just to find myself, and then found myself owning a business," Prossin said.

And two decades later, Prossin's One Ocean Expeditions was part of a different "find" altogether.

For the past month, the Squamish-based company has been part of the search for Sir John Franklin's long-lost expedition, which culminated in the historic discovery of one of the two ill-fated ships last week.

"I've been saying it's a big moment for Canada, but an even bigger moment for One Ocean," said Prossin, who calls Whistler home.

"We're just so proud to have been a part of it."

One Ocean got involved with the search after Parks Canada reached out following last year's speech from the throne.

"And of course it was a no-brainer when we first heard about it," Prossin said.

"We jumped at the chance to be able to do something for our country, as they say."

The mission was different from the type of job One Ocean usually takes on.

"Most of what we do is tourism," Prossin said.

"So basically 80 to 90 per cent of the time we run pre-scheduled tours and then the rest of the time we do one-off projects."

Joining the search for Franklin was the one-off of a lifetime.

The 400-foot One Ocean Voyager was just one of four ships involved in this year's search, which involved a number of public and private partners and about 200 people working in the field, Prossin said.

"We weren't the ship that found the ship, but we ended up playing quite a role," he said.

The Voyager set sail from Halifax in early August, sailing closely alongside the Royal Canadian Navy's HMCS Kingston.

When the ships ran into heavy ice, the Kingston couldn't continue, meaning the Voyager had to double back and take on all the survey equipment for the mission.

"So at one point we were delivering all the survey equipment plus the motor boats that were going to be used in the search... We held the whole project on the back deck of our ship at one point basically," Prossin said.

"We were dealing with very heavy ice, but of course there was no way we were going to fail on getting through... We enjoyed the fact that the heat was on us to get through once the navy couldn't get through, and the whole project would have been lost for the year if we didn't."

But the Voyager prevailed, eventually meeting up with the Canadian Coast Guard's Sir Wilfrid Laurier, where they offloaded some of the survey equipment.

But the heavy ice conditions in the area meant that the Wilfrid Laurier couldn't launch its boats, forcing it to instead explore what Prossin calls the "secondary area."

"That's the area that the Inuit legend, the oral histories, all said that the ship was," he said.

"And that's where they found the ship."

There it was, either the HMS Erebus or HMS Terror, resting peacefully at the bottom of the ocean, 11 metres deep.

"So it was right there under everybody's noses, if they just came and looked for it over the last 200 years," Prossin said with a laugh.

In the immediate aftermath of the discovery, everyone involved was flown to Ottawa in anticipation of the big announcement.

"That was a thrill of a lifetime of course, to sit there as history unfolds, and the picture was unveiled," Prossin said.

In many ways, the discovery opens the door to a whole new world of Arctic exploration.

"That ship is relatively intact, so imagine the stories that are going to come out because of the things that are going to be found inside," Prossin said.

"All sorts of fun and intriguing things. The historians are going to love it."

And then there's the matter of finding Franklin's other lost ship, which One Ocean hopes to assist in searching for next year.

"If the ship is there, we're going to find it, so we're pretty excited to go back," Prossin said.

But growing up in Cape Breton, watching the ships come in and out with his binoculars, Prossin could never have guessed the ocean would someday bring him here.

"You only dream about this stuff," he said.

"As a small kid, you think you're going to change the world, and you dream you're going to be part of something big, but this is wild. It really is."

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