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Die hard “Fram”: how Fridtjof Nansen managed to outwit the Arctic ice

The famous “Fram” went around the world, wintered among the ice of the Arctic, reached Antarctica. Fridtjof Nansen thought through all the design details himself, secured government funding, and persuaded a leading Norwegian shipbuilder, Colin Archer, to take over the project. On October 26, 1892, this ship began its adventurous life, and upon its completion, a museum was built for it in Oslo, at the opening of which the first persons of Norway, King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olaf, were present.

At first, Nansen’s idea caused a fair amount of doubt, and a heated discussion erupted in the Royal Geographical Society in London. The most famous polar explorers criticized the idea of ​​​​creating a ship capable of withstanding ice compression, which has already destroyed more than one ship. Sir Allen Young strongly assured that there was no point in experimenting with the form – whatever it was, the ice would crush any hull. American Adolf Greeley certified the whole idea as “pointless suicide project”he was also sure that no constructive ideas would help to cope with the pressure of hummocks.

Nansen, however, stood his ground: he needed a strong vessel capable of accommodating a supply of coal and provisions for 12 people for a period of five years. A vessel with rounded sides, which the ice could not squeeze, but would simply be pushed to the surface. The Storting, the Norwegian parliament, to which the polar explorer turned for help, hesitated for a long time whether it was worth investing in the creation of such a ship. But in the end, he still approved the budget financing. By this time, the restless traveler had already signed a construction contract with Colin Archer, who also did not immediately succumb to persuasion.

“The ship should have such sloping sides that the ice pressing on it would not receive a foothold and could not crush it, like the Jeannette and other ships of various Arctic expeditions, but would squeeze it upwards. <...> The ship should be small in size, so how, firstly, it is easier to maneuver in ice with a small ship; secondly, during ice compression, it is easier to squeeze upward, and it is easier to give a small ship the necessary strength.<...> A ship of the indicated shape and size cannot, of course, be comfortable and stable for sea navigation, but this is not particularly important for ice-choked waters.”

Fridtjof Nansen “Fram in the polar sea”

Archer liked the project proposed by the polar explorer, and he did not find any reason for criticism. Work has begun. The keel bars for the ship were ordered in Scotland, for the hull they purchased Italian oak from the naval shipyard in Horten, which had aged under the roof for more than 30 years. The drawing of the vessel was constantly being corrected – before moving on to construction, Archer created three models of the Fram and prepared four sets of drawings. Nansen conducted a series of experiments, revealing how different materials behave when rubbing against ice. Experiments have shown that the ship’s hull is stronger than the Arctic hummocks.

The vessel was very different from the usual ones – in cross section it resembled a half of a coconut and had a significant draft. Particular attention was still paid to the reliability of the design: the outer skin was made three-layer, all iron parts were reinforced with galvanized coating, the hull was divided into three compartments, separating them from each other with watertight bulkheads.

The steam engine, manufactured by Akers Mekaniske Wærksted, was economical and reliable. In the event of an accident, a special mechanism made it possible to turn off part of the cylinders, which made it possible to vary the degree of pressure. In addition, a dynamo was installed on the ship, which made it possible to generate electricity. She could work from a steam engine, from a windmill or with a manual drive. Nansen believed that such “exercises” could be good entertainment during the long polar night. However, “assault” was not required.

In general, the construction and equipment of the future polar sea traveler cost 117,720 crowns. A very significant amount for such a small vessel.

October 26, 1892 was cold but clear. Eva Nansen, the polar explorer’s wife, held the ship’s christening ceremony under the gaze of several hundred spectators. So “Fram” got its name. After the ceremony, Fridtjof Nansen reported the event by telegram to the King of Sweden and Norway, Oscar II, and received an immediate response.

“I send you my heartfelt congratulations on a successful prologue. I hope it bodes well for the whole grand undertaking.”

Telegram from King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway to Nansen

The enterprise really turned out to be grandiose, but not one. Twice “Fram” traveled the Arctic seas, it was on it that Nansen made the expedition of 1893-1896, and Otto Sverdrup – the expedition of 1898-1902. On it, Roald Amundsen traveled in 1910-1912 to the South Pole, circumnavigating the world along the way. Is it any wonder that for the heroic ship they built their own “house”, where “guests” from all over the world can come to admire it. The Fram Museum opened in 1936 and continues to this day.

Curious fact

Nansen was not the first to come up with a form that would not allow the polar ice to crush the ship. Even in pre-Petrine times, Russian coast-dwellers reached Svalbard on kochs, karbass and boats of a similar shape.

You can read about why these ships disappeared here: The revival of the legend: why a pre-Petrine ship is being built in Arkhangelsk

Olga Ladygina

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