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Fridtjof Nansen designed the ice-worthy ship christened Fram

Posted in Exploration, Historical articles, History, Ships on Friday, 10 August 2012

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This edited article about Fridtjof Nansen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 761 published on 14th August 1976.

Nansen, picture, image, illustration

Nansen decided to leave the Fram and the rest of his party, setting out over the ice with one companion and dog-sleds, by Graham Coton


Of the many ships famed in polar exploration, one can claim the distinction of having come nearer than any other vessel to both North and South Poles. This is the Fram, the pride of Norway.

In 1890, the Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, produced a plan for reaching the North Pole.

Some years earlier, the American ship Jeannette had become locked in the Arctic ice, and had drifted north-westwards for nearly two years before the pressure of the ice broke her up.

Nansen concluded that, with a ship designed to resist the ice pressure, the north-westerly drift could be used to carry the vessel over the pole, or within a short distance of it.

Encouraged by Norway’s king and parliament, he went ahead with his project. The ship built to his design was christened Fram (“Forward”). She had a timber hull two feet (60cm) thick, and her width was a third of her length. In addition to a full set of sails, she had a powerful engine.

The vital feature in her design was that the sides were angled in such a way that, as ice closed around her, she would tend to rise over it.

The Fram sailed on her historic voyage in the summer of 1893, with Nansen and twelve companions aboard. It was on a day in September that the first test came. Suddenly a deafening sound brought men tumbling out on deck, and the Fram shuddered under a violent shock as ice closed round her.

Fears were soon forgotten. The Fram behaved exactly as Nansen had predicted, and was soon nestling safely on the ice.

Through the following winter and the whole of 1894, she drifted with the ice, approaching within 500 miles (about 800 km) of the pole. But by March, 1895, Nansen decided that his ship would not reach the pole.

He set off with one companion over the ice, using dog sleds. Eventually it was clear that they, too, were being carried wide of their goal by the ice-drift. Turning back, they passed the winter in Franz Josef Land, living on what they could get with gun or fishing-line.

Then they had the amazing luck to meet a British explorer, Frederick Jackson, who arranged for the two Norwegians to return to Norway in his ship.

Meanwhile, the Fram, with the rest of the party, had drifted on. After passing within about 300 miles (480 km) of the North Pole, she broke free from the ice north of Spitsbergen, and sailed home.

Fifteen years later the Fram was again in the news. This time another famous Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, set sail in her. He had planned to succeed where Nansen had failed by becoming the first man at the North Pole. When he learnt that the American Robert Peary had forestalled him, he turned his attention to the Antarctic.

Already an Antarctic expedition led by Britain’s Captain Robert Falcon Scott was under way. Now it was to be a race to the South Pole.

The trusty Fram landed Amundsen’s party in the Bay of Whales, on the fringe of the Ross Ice Shelf, and Amundsen at once prepared for his southward dash. His better organised expedition was to win the race, which ended in tragedy with the death of Scott and his party on their return from the pole.

An honourable retirement awaited the Fram, which is now housed in a museum at Oslo, Norway’s capital.

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