Fridtjof Nansen


Fridtjof Nansen : biography

10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930

At school, Nansen worked adequately without showing any particular aptitude. Studies took second place to sports, or to expeditions into the forests where he would live "like Robinson Crusoe" for weeks at a time.Scott, pp. 11–12 Through such experiences Nansen developed a marked degree of self-reliance. He became an accomplished skier and a highly proficient skater. Life was disrupted when, in the summer of 1877, Adelaide Nansen died suddenly. Distressed, Baldur Nansen sold the Store Frøen property and moved with his two sons to Christiania.Huntford, pp. 16–17 Nansen’s sporting prowess continued to develop; at 18 he broke the world one-mile (1.6 km) skating record, and in the following year won the national cross-country skiing championship, a feat he would repeat on 11 subsequent occasions.

Fram expedition

Theories and plans

Nansen chose Colin Archer, Norway’s leading shipbuilder and naval architect, to design and build a suitable ship for the planned expedition. Using the toughest oak timbers available, and an intricate system of crossbeams and braces throughout its length, Archer built a vessel of extraordinary strength. Its rounded hull was designed so that it would slip upwards out of the grip of packing ice. Speed and sailing performance were secondary to the requirement of making the ship a safe and warm shelter during a predicted lengthy confinement. With an overall length of and a beam of , the length-to-beam ratio of just over three gave the ship its stubby appearance,Huntford, pp. 192–197 justified by Archer thus: "A ship that is built with exclusive regard to its suitability for [Nansen’s] object must differ essentially from any known vessel."Nansen (1897), Vol. I p. 60 The ship was launched by Eva Nansen at Archer’s yard at Larvik, on 6 October 1892, and was named Fram, in English "Forward".

From thousands of applicants, Nansen selected a party of twelve. Otto Sverdrup from the Greenland expedition was appointed captain of Fram and second-in-command of the expedition. Competition for places on the voyage was such that reserve Army lieutenant and dog-driving expert Hjalmar Johansen signed on as ship’s stoker, the only position available.Nansen (1897), Vol. I pp. 78–81Huntford, pp. 222–223

Into the ice

Fram left Christiania on 24 June 1893, cheered on by thousands of well-wishers.Huntford, pp. 206–207 After a slow journey around the coast, the final port of call was Vardø, in the far north-east of Norway. Fram left Vardø on 21 July, following the North-East Passage route pioneered by Nordenskiöld in 1878–79, along the northern coast of Siberia. Progress was impeded by fog and ice conditions in the mainly uncharted seas.Scott, pp. 128–135 The crew also experienced the dead water phenomenon, where a ship’s forward progress is impeded by friction caused by a layer of fresh water lying on top of heavier salt water.Huntford, pp. 234–237 Nevertheless, Cape Chelyuskin, the most northerly point of the Eurasian continental mass, was passed on 10 September. Ten days later, as Fram approached the area in which Jeannette had been crushed, heavy pack ice was sighted at around latitude 78°N. Nansen followed the line of the pack northwards to a position recorded as 78°49′N, 132°53′E, before ordering engines stopped and the rudder raised. From this point Fram’s drift began.Huntford, pp. 238–240

The first weeks in the ice were frustrating, as the drift moved unpredictably, sometimes north, sometimes south; by 19 November Fram’s latitude was south of that at which she had entered the ice.Huntford, p. 246 Only after the turn of the year, in January 1894, did the northerly direction become generally settled; the 80° mark was finally passed on 22 March.Nansen (1897), Vol. I p. 378 Nansen calculated that, at this rate, it might take the ship five years to reach the pole. As the ship’s northerly progress continued at a rate rarely above a mile (1.6 km) a day, Nansen began privately to consider a new plan—a dog sledge journey towards the pole.Huntford, pp. 257–258 With this in mind he began to practice dog-driving, making many experimental journeys over the ice. In November Nansen announced his plan: when the ship passed latitude 83° he and Hjalmar Johansen would leave the ship with the dogs and make for the pole while Fram, under Sverdrup, continued its drift until it emerged from the ice in the North Atlantic. After reaching the pole, Nansen and Johansen would make for the nearest known land, the recently discovered and sketchily mapped Franz Josef Land. They would then cross to Spitzbergen where they would find a ship to take them home.Reynolds, pp. 105–108