The month of May, 1910, ran its course, beautiful as only a spring month in Norway can be — a lovely dream of verdure and flowers. But unfortunately we had little time to admire all the splendour that surrounded us; our watchword was “Away” — away from beautiful sights, as quickly as possible.
From the beginning of the month the Fram lay moored to her buoy outside the old walls of Akershus. Fresh and trim she came from the yard at Horten; you could see the shine on her new paint a long way off. Involuntarily one thought of holidays and yachting tours at the sight of her; but the thought was soon banished. The first day after her arrival, the vessel’s deck assumed the most everyday appearance that could be desired: the loading had begun.
A long procession of cases of provisions made its way unceasingly from the basement of the Historical Museum down into the roomy hold of the Fram, where Lieutenant Nilsen and the three Nordlanders were ready to receive them. This process was not an altogether simple one; on the contrary, it was a very serious affair. It was not enough to know that all the cases were duly on board; the problem was to know exactly where each particular case was placed, and, at the same time, to stow them all in such a way that they could easily be got at in future. This was a difficult piece of work, and it was not rendered any more easy by the attention that had to be paid to the numerous hatches leading down into the lower hold, where the big petroleum tanks stood. All these hatches had to be left accessible, otherwise we should have been cut off from pumping the oil into the engine-room.
However, Nilsen and his assistants accomplished their task with brilliant success. Among the hundreds of cases there was not one that was misplaced; not one that was stowed so that it could not instantly be brought into the light of day.
While the provisioning was going on, the rest of the equipment was also being taken on board. Each member of the expedition was busily engaged in looking after the needs of his own department in the best way possible. Nor was this a question of trifles: one may cudgel one’s brains endlessly in advance, but some new requirement will constantly be cropping up — until one puts a full stop to it by casting off and sailing. This event was becoming imminent with the arrival of June.
The day before leaving Christiania we had the honour and pleasure of receiving a visit from the King and Queen of Norway on board the Fram. Having been informed beforehand of their Majesties’ coming, we endeavoured as far as possible to bring some order into the chaos that reigned on board. I do not know that we were particularly successful, but I am sure that every one of the Fram’s crew will always remember with respectful gratitude King Haakon’s cordial words of farewell.
On the same occasion the expedition received from their Majesties the gift of a beautiful silver jug, which afterwards formed the most handsome ornament of our table on every festive occasion.
On June 3, early in the forenoon, the Fram left Christiania, bound at first for my home on Bundefjord. The object of her call there was to take on board the house for the winter station, which stood ready built in the garden. Our excellent carpenter Jörgen Stubberud had superintended the construction of this strong building. It was now rapidly taken to pieces, and every single plank and beam was carefully numbered. We had quite an imposing pile of materials to get aboard, where even before there was not much room to spare. The bulk of it was stowed forward, and the remainder in the hold.
The more experienced among the members of the expedition were evidently absorbed in profound conjectures as to the meaning of this “observation house,” as the newspapers had christened it. It may willingly be admitted that they had good reason for their speculations. By an observation house is usually meant a comparatively simple construction, sufficient to provide the necessary shelter from wind and weather. Our house, on the other hand, was a model of solidity, with three double walls, double roof and floor. Its arrangements included ten inviting bunks, a kitchener, and a table; the latter, moreover, had a brand-new American-cloth cover. “I can understand that they want to keep themselves warm when they’re making observations,” said Helmer Hanssen; “but what they want with a cloth on the table I can’t make out.”
On the afternoon of June 6 it was announced that everything was ready, and in the evening we all assembled at a simple farewell supper in the garden. I took the opportunity of wishing good luck to every man in turn, and finally we united in a
“God preserve the King and Fatherland!”
Then we broke up. The last man to get into the boat was the second in command; he arrived armed with a horseshoe. In his opinion it is quite incredible what luck an old horseshoe will bring. Possibly he is right. Anyhow, the horseshoe was firmly nailed to the mast in the Fram’s saloon, and there it still hangs.
When on board, we promptly set to work to get up the anchor. The Bolinder motor hummed, and the heavy cable rattled in through the hawse-hole. Precisely at midnight the anchor let go of the bottom, and just as the Seventh of June3, rolled in over us, the Fram stood out of Christiania Fjord for the third time. Twice already had a band of stout-hearted men brought this ship back with honour after years of service. Would it be vouchsafed to us to uphold this honourable tradition? Such were, no doubt, the thoughts with which most of us were occupied as our vessel glided over the motionless fjord in the light summer night. The start was made under the sign of the Seventh of June, and this was taken as a promising omen; but among our bright and confident hopes there crept a shadow of melancholy. The hillsides, the woods, the fjord — all were so bewitchingly fair and so dear to us. They called to us with their allurement, but the Diesel motor knew no pity. Its tuff-tuff went on brutally through the stillness. A little boat, in which were some of my nearest relations, dropped gradually astern. There was a glimpse of white handkerchiefs in the twilight, and then — farewell!
The next morning we were moored in the inner harbour at Horten. An apparently innocent lighter came alongside at once, but the lighter’s cargo was not quite so innocent as its appearance. It consisted of no less than half a ton of gun-cotton and rifle ammunition, a somewhat unpleasant, but none the less necessary, item of our equipment. Besides taking on board the ammunition, we availed ourselves of the opportunity of completing our water-supply. When this was done, we lost no time in getting away. As we passed the warships lying in the harbour they manned ship, and the bands played the National Anthem. Outside Vealös we had the pleasure of waving a last farewell to a man to whom the expedition will always owe a debt of gratitude, Captain Christian Blom, Superintendent of the dockyard, who had supervised the extensive repairs to the Fram with unrelaxing interest and obligingness. He slipped past us in his sailing-boat; I do not remember if he got a cheer. If he did not, it was a mistake.
Now we were on our way to the South, as the heading of this chapter announces, though not yet in earnest. We had an additional task before us: the oceanographical cruise in the Atlantic. This necessitated a considerable détour on the way. The scientific results of this cruise will be dealt with by specialists in due course; if it is briefly referred to here, this is chiefly for the sake of continuity. After consultation with Professor Nansen, the plan was to begin investigations in the region to the south of Ireland, and thence to work our way westward as far as time and circumstances permitted. The work was to be resumed on the homeward voyage in the direction of the North of Scotland. For various reasons this programme afterwards had to be considerably reduced.
For the first few days after leaving Norway we were favoured with the most splendid summer weather. The North Sea was as calm as a millpond; the Fram had little more motion than when she was lying in Bundefjord. This was all the better for us, as we could hardly be said to be absolutely ready for sea when we passed Færder, and came into the capricious Skagerak. Hard pressed as we had been for time, it had not been possible to lash and stow the last of our cargo as securely as was desirable; a stiff breeze at the mouth of the fjord would therefore have been rather inconvenient. As it was, everything was arranged admirably, but to do this we had to work night and day. I have been told that on former occasions sea-sickness made fearful ravages on board the Fram, but from this trial we also had an easy escape. Nearly all the members of the expedition were used to the sea, and the few who, perhaps, were not so entirely proof against it had a whole week of fine weather to get into training. So far as I know, not a single case occurred of this unpleasant and justly dreaded complaint.
After passing the Dogger Bank we had a very welcome north-east breeze; with the help of the sails we could now increase the not very reckless speed that the motor was capable of accomplishing. Before we sailed, the most contradictory accounts were current of the Fram’s sailing qualities. There were some who asserted that the ship could not be got through the water at all, while with equal force the contrary view was maintained — that she was a notable fast sailer. As might be supposed, the truth as usual lay about half-way between these two extremes. The ship was no racer, nor was she an absolute log. We ran before the north-east wind towards the English Channel at a speed of about seven knots, and with that we were satisfied for the time being. The important question for us was whether we should keep the favourable wind till we were well through the Straits of Dover, and, preferably, a good way down Channel. Our engine power was far too limited to make it of any use trying to go against the wind, and we should have been obliged in that case to have recourse to the sailing-ship’s method — beating. Tacking in the English Channel — the busiest part of the world’s seas — is in itself no very pleasant work; for us it would be so much the worse, as it would greatly encroach on the time that could be devoted to oceanographical investigations. But the east wind held with praiseworthy steadiness. In the course of a few days we were through the Channel, and about a week after leaving Norway we were able to take the first oceanographical station at the point arranged according to the plan. Hitherto everything had gone as smoothly as we could wish, but now, for a change, difficulties began to appear, first in the form of unfavourable weather When the north-wester begins to blow in the North Atlantic, it is generally a good while before it drops again, and this time it did not belie its reputation. Far from getting to the westward, we were threatened for a time with being driven on to the Irish coast. It was not quite so bad as that, but we soon found ourselves obliged to shorten the route originally laid down very considerably. A contributing cause of this determination was the fact that the motor was out of order. Whether it was the fault of the oil or a defect in the engine itself our engineer was not clear. It was therefore necessary to make for home in good time, in case of extensive repairs being required. In spite of these difficulties, we had a quite respectable collection of samples of water and temperatures at different depths before we set our course for Norway at the beginning of July, with Bergen as our destination.
During the passage from the Pentland Firth we had a violent gale from the north, which gave us an opportunity of experiencing how the Fram behaved in bad weather. The trial was by no means an easy one. It was blowing a gale, with a cross sea; we kept going practically under full sail, and had the satisfaction of seeing our ship make over nine knots. In the rather severe rolling the collar of the mast in the fore-cabin was loosened a little; this let the water in, and there was a slight flooding of Lieutenant Nilsen’s cabin and mine. The others, whose berths were to port, were on the weather side, and kept dry. We came out of it all with the loss of a few boxes of cigars, which were wet through. They were not entirely lost for all that; Rönne took charge of them, and regaled himself with salt and mouldy cigars for six months afterwards. Going eight or nine knots an hour, we did not make much of the distance between Scotland and Norway. On the afternoon of Saturday, July 9, the wind dropped, and at the same time the lookout reported land in sight. This was Siggen on Bömmelö. In the course of the night we came under the coast, and on Sunday morning, July 10, we ran into Sælbjömsfjord. We had no detailed chart of this inlet, but after making a great noise with our powerful air-siren, we at last roused the inmates of the pilot-station, and a pilot came aboard. He showed visible signs of surprise when he found out, by reading the name on the ship’s side, that it was the Fram he had before him. “Lord, I thought you were a Russian!” he exclaimed. This supposition was presumably intended to serve as a sort of excuse for his small hurry in coming on board.
It was a lovely trip through the fjords to Bergen, as warm and pleasant in here as it had been bitter and cold outside. We had a dead calm all day, and with the four knots an hour, which was all the motor could manage, it was late in the evening when we anchored off the naval dockyard in Solheimsvik. Our stay in Bergen happened at the time of the exhibition, and the committee paid the expedition the compliment of giving all its members free passes.
Business of one kind and another compelled me to go to Christiania, leaving the Fram in charge of Lieutenant Nilsen. They had their hands more than full on board. Diesel’s firm in Stockholm sent their experienced fitter, Aspelund, who at once set to work to overhaul the motor thoroughly. The work that had to be done was executed gratis by the Laxevaag engineering works. After going into the matter thoroughly, it was decided to change the solar oil we had on board for refined petroleum. Through the courtesy of the West of Norway Petroleum Company, we got this done on very favourable terms at the company’s storage dock in Skaalevik. This was troublesome work, but it paid in the future.
The samples of water from our trip were taken to the biological station, where Kutschin at once went to work with the filtering (determination of the proportion of chlorine).
Our German shipmate, the oceanographer Schroer, left us at Bergen. On July 23 the Fram left Bergen, and arrived on the following day at Christiansand, where I met her. Here we again had a series of busy days. In one of the Custom-house warehouses were piled a quantity of things that had to go on board: no less than 400 bundles of dried fish, all our ski and sledging outfit, a waggon-load of timber, etc. At Fredriksholm, out on Flekkerö, we had found room for perhaps the most important of all — the passengers, the ninety-seven Eskimo dogs, which had arrived from Greenland in the middle of July on the steamer Hans Egede. The ship had had a rather long and rough passage, and the dogs were not in very good condition on their arrival, but they had not been many days on the island under the supervision of Hassel and Lindström before they were again in full vigour. A plentiful supply of fresh meat worked wonders. The usually peaceful island, with the remains of the old fortress, resounded day by day, and sometimes at night, with the most glorious concerts of howling. These musical performances attracted a number of inquisitive visitors, who were anxious to submit the members of the chorus to a closer examination, and therefore, at certain times, the public were admitted to see the animals. It soon turned out that the majority of the dogs, far from being ferocious or shy, were, on the contrary, very appreciative of these visits. They sometimes came in for an extra tit-bit in the form of a sandwich or something of the sort. Besides which, it was a little diversion in their life of captivity, so uncongenial to an Arctic dog; for every one of them was securely chained up. This was necessary, especially to prevent fighting among themselves. It happened not infrequently that one or more of them got loose, but the two guardians were always ready to capture the runaways. One enterprising rascal started to swim over the sound to the nearest land — the object of his expedition was undoubtedly certain unsuspecting sheep that were grazing by the shore — but his swim was interrupted in time.
After the Fram’s arrival Wisting took over the position of dog-keeper in Hassel’s place. He and Lindström stayed close to the island where the dogs were. Wisting had a way of his own with his four-footed subjects, and was soon on a confidential footing with them. He also showed himself to be possessed of considerable veterinary skill — an exceedingly useful qualification in this case, where there was often some injury or other to be attended to. As I have already mentioned, up to this time no member of the expedition, except Lieutenant Nilsen, knew anything of the extension of plan that had been made. Therefore, amongst the things that came on board, and amongst the preparations that were made during our stay at Christiansand, there must have been a great deal that appeared very strange to those who, for the present, were only looking forward to a voyage round Cape Horn to San Francisco. What was the object of taking all these dogs on board and transporting them all that long way? And if it came to that, would any of them survive the voyage round the formidable promontory? Besides, were there not dogs enough, and good dogs too, in Alaska? Why was the whole after-deck full of coal? What was the use of all these planks and boards? Would it not have been much more convenient to take all that kind of goods on board in ‘Frisco? These and many similar questions began to pass from man to man; indeed, their very faces began to resemble notes of interrogation. Not that anyone asked me — far from it; it was the second in command who had to bear the brunt and answer as well as he could — an extremely thankless and unpleasant task for a man who already had his hands more than full.
In order to relieve his difficult situation, I resolved, shortly before leaving Christiansand, to inform Lieutenants Prestrud and Gjertsen of the true state of affairs. After having signed an undertaking of secrecy, they received full information of the intended dash to the South Pole, and an explanation of the reasons for keeping the whole thing secret. When asked whether they wished to take part in the new plan, they both answered at once in the affirmative, and that settled it.
There were now three men on board — all the officers — who were acquainted with the situation, and were thus in a position to parry troublesome questions and remove possible anxieties on the part of the uninitiated.
Two of the members of the expedition joined during the stay at Christiansand — Hassel and Lindström — and one change was made: the engineer Eliassen was discharged. It was no easy matter to find a man who possessed the qualifications for taking over the post of engineer to the Fram. Few, or perhaps no one, in Norway could be expected to have much knowledge of motors of the size of ours. The only thing to be done was to go to the place where the engine was built — to Sweden. Diesel’s firm in Stockholm helped us out of the difficulty; they sent us the man, and it afterwards turned out that he was the right man. Knut Sundbeck was his name. A chapter might be written on the good work that man did, and the quiet, unostentatious way in which he did it. From the very beginning he had assisted in the construction of the Fram’s motor, so that he knew his engine thoroughly. He treated it as his darling; therefore there was never anything the matter with it. It may truly be said that he did honour to his firm and the nation to which he belongs.
Meanwhile we were hard at work, getting ready to sail. We decided to leave before the middle of August — the sooner the better.
The Fram had been in dry dock, where the hull was thoroughly coated with composition. Heavily laden as the ship was, the false keel was a good deal injured by the severe pressure on the blocks, but with the help of a diver the damage was quickly made good.
The many hundred bundles of dried fish were squeezed into the main hold, full as it was. All sledging and ski outfit was carefully stowed away, so as to be protected as far as possible from damp. These things had to be kept dry, otherwise they, would become warped and useless. Bjaaland had charge of this outfit, and he knew how it should be treated.
As is right and proper, when all the goods had been shipped, it was the turn of the passengers. The Fram was anchored off Fredriksholm, and the necessary preparations were immediately made for receiving our four-footed friends. Under the expert direction of
Bjaaland and Stubberud, as many as possible of the crew were set to work with axe and saw, and in the course of a few hours the Fram had got a new deck. This consisted of loose pieces of decking, which could easily be raised and removed for flushing and cleaning. This false deck rested on three-inch planks nailed to the ship’s deck; between the latter and the loose deck there was therefore a considerable space, the object of which was a double one — namely, to let the water, which would unavoidably be shipped on such a voyage, run off rapidly, and to allow air to circulate, and thus keep the space below the animals as cool as possible. The arrangement afterwards proved very successful.
The bulwarks on the fore-part of the Fram’s deck consisted of an iron railing covered with wire-netting. In order to provide both shade and shelter from the wind, a lining of boards was now put up along the inside of the railing, and chains were fastened in all possible and impossible places to tie the dogs up to. There could be no question of letting them go loose — to begin with, at any rate; possibly, we might hope to be able to set them free later on, when they knew their masters better and were more familiar with their surroundings generally.
Late in the afternoon of August 9 we were ready to receive our new shipmates, and they were conveyed across from the island in a big lighter, twenty at a time. Wisting and Lindström superintended the work of transport, and maintained order capitally. They had succeeded in gaining the dogs’ confidence, and at the same time their complete respect — just what was wanted, in fact. At the Fram’s gangway the dogs came in for an active and determined reception, and before they had recovered from their surprise and fright, they were securely fastened on deck and given to understand with all politeness that the best thing they could do for the time being was to accept the situation with calmness. The whole proceeding went so rapidly that in the course of a couple of hours we had all the ninety-seven dogs on board and had found room for them; but it must be added that the Fram’s deck was utilized to the utmost. We had thought we should be able to keep the bridge free, but this could not be done if we were to take them all with us. The last boat-load, fourteen in number, had to be accommodated there. All that was left was a little free space for the man at the wheel. As for the officer of the watch, it looked as if he would be badly off for elbow-room; there was reason to fear that he would be compelled to kill time by standing stock-still in one spot through the whole watch; but just then there was no time for small troubles of this sort. No sooner was the last dog on board than we set about putting all visitors ashore, and then the motor began working the windlass under the forecastle. “The anchor’s up!” Full speed ahead, and the voyage towards our goal, 16,000 miles away, was begun. Quietly and unobserved we went out of the fjord at dusk; a few of our friends accompanied us out.
After the pilot had left us outside Flekkerö, it was not long before the darkness of the August evening hid the outlines of the country from our view; but Oxö and Ryvingen flashed their farewells to us all through the night.
We had been lucky with wind and weather at the commencement of our Atlantic cruise in the early summer; this time we were, if possible, even more favoured. It was perfectly calm when we sailed, and the North Sea lay perfectly calm for several days after. What we had to do now was to become familiar with and used to, all these dogs, and this was enormously facilitated by the fact that for the first week we experienced nothing but fine weather.
Before we sailed there was no lack of all kinds of prophecies of the evil that would befall us with our dogs. We heard a number of these predictions; presumably a great many more were whispered about, but did not reach our ears. The unfortunate beasts were to fare terribly badly. The heat of the tropics would make short work of the greater part of them. If any were left, they would have but a miserable respite before being washed overboard or drowned in the seas that would come on deck in the west wind belt. To keep them alive with a few bits of dried fish was an impossibility, etc.
As everyone knows, all these predictions were very far from being fulfilled; the exact opposite happened. Since then I expect most of us who made the trip have been asked the question — Was not that voyage to the South an excessively wearisome and tedious business? Didn’t you get sick of all those dogs? How on earth did you manage to keep them alive?
It goes without saying that a five months’ voyage in such waters as we were navigating must necessarily present a good deal of monotony; how much will depend on what resources one has for providing occupation. In this respect we had in these very dogs just what was wanted. No doubt it was work that very often called for the exercise of patience; nevertheless, like any other work, it furnished diversion and amusement, and so much the more since we here had to deal with living creatures that had sense enough fully to appreciate and reciprocate in their own way any advance that was made to them.
From the very first I tried in every way to insist upon the paramount importance to our whole enterprise of getting our draught animals successfully conveyed to our destination. If we had any watchword at this time it was: “Dogs first, and dogs all the time.” The result speaks best for the way in which this watchword was followed. The following was the arrangement we made: The dogs, who at first were always tied up on the same spot, were divided into parties of ten; to each party one or two keepers were assigned, with full responsibility for their animals and their treatment. For my own share I took the fourteen that lived on the bridge. Feeding the animals was a manoeuvre that required the presence of all hands on deck; it therefore took place when the watch was changed. The Arctic dog’s greatest enjoyment in life is putting away his food; it may be safely asserted that the way to his heart lies through his dish of meat. We acted on this principle, and the result did not disappoint us. After the lapse of a few days the different squads were the best of friends with their respective keepers.
As may be supposed, it was not altogether to the taste of the dogs to stand chained up all the time; their temperament is far too lively for that. We would gladly have allowed them the pleasure of running about and thus getting healthy exercise, but for the present we dared not run the risk of letting the whole pack loose. A little more education was required first. It was easy enough to win their affection; to provide them with a good education was of course a more difficult matter. It was quite touching to see their joy and gratitude when one gave up a little time to their entertainment. One’s first meeting with them in the morning was specially cordial. Their feelings were then apt to find vent in a chorus of joyful howls; this was called forth by the very sight of their masters, but they asked more than that. They were not satisfied until we had gone round, patting and talking to every one. If by chance one was so careless as to miss a dog, he at once showed the most unmistakable signs of disappointment.
There can hardly be an animal that is capable of expressing its feelings to the same extent as the dog. Joy, sorrow, gratitude, scruples of conscience, are all reflected as plainly as could be desired in his behaviour, and above all in his eyes. We human beings are apt to cherish the conviction that we have a monopoly of what is called a living soul; the eyes, it is said, are the mirror of this soul. That is all right enough; but now take a look at a dog’s eyes, study them attentively. How often do we see something “human” in their expression, the same variations that we meet with in human eyes. This, at all events, is something that strikingly resembles “soul.” We will leave the question open for those who are interested in its solution, and will here only mention another point, which seems to show that a dog is something more than a mere machine of flesh and blood — his pronounced individuality. There were about a hundred dogs on board the Fram. Gradually, as we got to know each one of them by daily intercourse, they each revealed some characteristic trait, some peculiarity. Hardly two of them were alike, either in disposition or in appearance. To an observant eye there was here ample opportunity for the most amusing exercise. If now and then one grew a little tired of one’s fellow-men — which, I must admit, seldom happened — there was, as a rule, diversion to be found in the society of the animals. I say, as a rule; there were, of course, exceptions. It was not an unmixed pleasure having the whole deck full of dogs for all those months; our patience was severely tested many a time. But in spite of all the trouble and inconvenience to which the transport of the dogs necessarily gave rise, I am certainly right in saying that these months of sea voyage would have seemed far more monotonous and tedious if we had been without our passengers.
During the first four or five days we had now been making our way towards the Straits of Dover, and the hope began to dawn within us that this time, as last, we should slip through without any great difficulty. There had been five days of absolute calm; why should it not last out the week? But it did not. As we passed the lightship at the western end of the Goodwins the fine weather left us, and in its place came the south-west wind with rain, fog, and foul weather in its train. In the course of half an hour it became so thick that it was impossible to see more than two or three ship’s lengths ahead; but if we could see nothing, we heard all the more. The ceaseless shrieks of many steam-whistles and sirens told us only too plainly what a crowd of vessels we were in. It was not exactly a pleasant situation; our excellent ship had many good points, but they did not prevent her being extraordinarily slow and awkward in turning. This is an element of great danger in these waters. It must be remembered that a possible accident — whether our own fault or not — would to us be absolutely fatal. We had so little time to spare that the resulting delay might ruin the whole enterprise. An ordinary trading vessel can take the risk; by careful manoeuvring a skipper can almost always keep out of the way. Collisions are, as a rule, the result of rashness or carelessness on one side or the other. The rash one has to pay; the careful one may perhaps make money out of it. Carefulness on our part was a matter of course; it would have been a poor consolation to us if another ship had had to pay for her carelessness. We could not take that risk; therefore, little as we liked doing so, we put into the Downs and anchored there.
Right opposite to us we had the town of Deal, then in the height of its season. The only amusement we had was to observe all these apparently unconcerned people, who passed their time in bathing, or walking about the white, inviting sands. They had no need to worry themselves much about what quarter the wind blew from. Our only wish was that it would veer, or in any case drop. Our communication with the land was limited to sending ashore telegrams and letters for home.
By the next morning our patience was already quite exhausted, but not so with the south-wester. It kept going as steadily as ever, but it was clear weather, and therefore we decided at once to make an attempt to get to the west. There was nothing to be done but to have recourse to the ancient method of beating. We cleared one point, and then another, but more than that we could not manage for the time being. We took one bearing after another; no, there was no visible progress. Off Dungeness we had to anchor again, and once more console ourselves with the much-vaunted balm of patience. This time we escaped with passing the night there. The wind now thought fit to veer sufficiently to let us get out at daybreak, but it was still a contrary wind, and we had to beat almost all the way down the English Channel. A whole week was spent in doing these three hundred miles; that was rather hard, considering the distance we had to go.
I fancy most of us gave a good sigh of relief when at last we were clear of the Scilly Isles. The everlasting south-west wind was still blowing, but that did not matter so much now. The main thing was that we found ourselves in open sea with the whole Atlantic before us. Perhaps one must have sailed in the Fram to be able fully to understand what a blessing it was to feel ourselves altogether clear of the surrounding land and the many sailing-ships in the Channel — to say nothing of constantly working the ship with a deck swarming with dogs. On our first voyage through the Channel in June we had caught two or three carrier pigeons, which had come to rest in the rigging utterly tired out. On the approach of darkness we were able to get hold of them without difficulty. Their numbers and marks were noted, and after they had been taken care of for a couple of days and had recovered their strength, we let them go. They circled once or twice round the mast-heads, and then made for the English coast.
I think this episode led to our taking a few carrier pigeons with us when we left Christiansand; Lieutenant Nilsen, as a former owner of pigeons, was to take charge of them. Then a nice house was made for them, and the pigeons lived happily in their new abode on the top of the whale-boat amidships. Now, in some way or other the second in command found out that the circulation of air in the pigeon-house was faulty; to remedy this defect, he one day set the door a little ajar. Air certainly got into the house, but the pigeons came out. A joker, on discovering that the birds had flown, wrote up “To Let” in big letters on the wall of the pigeon-house. The second in command was not in a very gentle frame of mind that day.
As far as I know, this escape took place in the Channel. The pigeons found their way home to Norway.
The Bay of Biscay has a bad name among seamen, and it fully deserves it; that tempestuous corner of the sea conceals for ever in its depths so many a stout ship and her crew. We for our part, however, had good hopes of escaping unharmed, considering the time of year, and our hopes were fulfilled. We had better luck than we dared to anticipate. Our stubborn opponent, the south-west wind, got tired at last of trying to stop our progress; it was no use. We went slowly, it was true, but still we got along. Of the meteorological lessons of our youth, we especially recalled at that moment the frequent northerly winds off the coast of Portugal, and as a pleasant surprise we already had them far up in the Bay. This was an agreeable change after all our close-hauled tacking in the Channel. The north wind held almost as bravely as the south-west had done before, and at what was to our ideas quite a respectable rate, we went southward day after day towards the fine-weather zone, where we could be sure of a fair wind, and where a sailor’s life is, as a rule, a pleasant one.
For that matter, as far as seamanship was concerned, our work had gone on smoothly enough, even during these first difficult weeks. There were always willing and practised hands enough for what was wanted, even though the work to be done was frequently of a not very pleasant kind. Take washing decks, for instance. Every seaman will have something to say about what this is like on board ships that carry live animals, especially when these are carried on deck, in the way of all work that has to be done. I have always held the opinion that a Polar ship ought not, any more than any other vessel, to be a wholesale establishment for dirt and filth, however many dogs there may be on board. On the contrary, I should say that on voyages of this kind it is more than ever vitally necessary to keep one’s surroundings as clean and sweet as possible. The important thing is to get rid of anything that may have a demoralizing and depressing effect. The influence of uncleanliness in this way is so well known that it is needless to preach about it here.
My views were shared by everyone on board the Fram, and everything was done to act in accordance with them, in spite of what may be considered great difficulties. Twice a day the whole deck was thoroughly washed down, besides all the extra turns at odd times with bucket and scrubber. At least once a week the whole of the loose deck was taken up, and each separate part of it thoroughly washed, until it was as clean as when it was laid down at Christiansand. This was a labour that required great patience and perseverance on the part of those who had to perform it, but I never saw any shortcomings. “Let’s just see and get it clean,” they said.
At night, when it was not always easy to see what one was doing, it might often happen that one heard some more or less heated exclamations from those who had to handle coils of rope in working the ship. I need not hint more explicitly at the cause of them, if it is remembered that there were dogs lying about everywhere, who had eaten and drunk well in the course of the day. But after a time the oaths gave way to jokes. There is nothing in the world that custom does not help us to get over.
It is the universal practice on board ship to divide the day and night into watches of four hours; the two watches into which the crew is divided relieve each other every four hours. But on vessels that sail to the Arctic Ocean, it is customary to have watches of six hours. We adopted the latter plan, which, on its being put to the vote, proved to have a compact majority in its favour. By this arrangement of watches we only had to turn out twice in the course of twenty-four hours, and the watch below had had a proper sleep whenever it turned out. If one has to eat, smoke, and perhaps chat a little during four hours’ watch below, it does not leave much time for sleeping; and if there should be a call for all hands on deck, it means no sleep at all.
To cope with the work of the engine-room, we had from the beginning the two engineers, Sundbeck and Nödtvedt; they took watch and watch, four hours each. When the motor was in use for a long time continuously, this was a rather severe duty, and on the whole it was just as well to have a man in reserve. I therefore decided to have a third man trained as reserve engineer. Kristensen applied for this post, and it may be said in his praise that he accomplished the change remarkably well. Thorough deck-hand as he was, there might have been reason to fear that he would repent of the transfer; but no, he quickly became life and soul an engineer. This did not prevent our seeing him on deck again many a time during the passage through the west wind belt, when there was need of a good man during a gale.
The motor, which during the Atlantic cruise had been a constant source of uneasiness and anxiety, regained our entire confidence under Sundbeck’s capable command; it hummed so that it was a pleasure to hear it. To judge from the sound of the engine-room, one would have thought the Fram was moving through the water with the speed of a torpedo-boat. If this was not the case, the engine was not to blame; possibly, the screw had a share of it. The latter ought probably to have been somewhat larger, though experts are not agreed about this; in any case, there was something radically wrong with our propeller. Whenever there was a little seaway, it was apt to work loose in the brasses. This disadvantage is of very common occurrence in vessels which have to be fitted with lifting propellers on account of the ice, and we did not escape it. The only remedy was to lift the whole propeller-frame and renew the brasses — an extremely difficult work when it had to be done in the open sea and on as lively a ship as the Fram.
Day by day we had the satisfaction of seeing how the dogs found themselves more and more at home on board. Perhaps, even among ourselves, there were one or two who had felt some doubt at first of what the solution of the dog question would be, but in any case all such doubts were soon swept away. Even at an early stage of the voyage we had every reason to hope that we should land our animals safe and sound. What we had to see to in the first place was to let them have as much and as good food as circumstances permitted. As already mentioned, we had provided ourselves with dried fish for their consumption. Eskimo dogs do not suffer very greatly from daintiness, but an exclusive diet of dried fish would seem rather monotonous in the long-run, even to their appetites, and a certain addition of fatty substances was necessary, otherwise we should have some trouble with them. We had on board several great barrels of tallow or fat, but our store was not so large that we did not have to economize. In order to make the supply of fat last, and at the same time to induce our boarders to take as much dried fish as possible, we invented a mixture which was called by a sailor’s term — dænge. This must not be confused with “thrashing,”4 which was also served out liberally from time to time, but the dænge was more in demand. It consisted of a mixture of chopped-up fish, tallow, and maize-meal, all boiled together into a sort of porridge. This dish was served three times a week, and the dogs were simply mad for it. They very soon learned to keep count of the days when this mess was to be expected, and as soon as they heard the rattling of the tin dishes in which the separate portions were carried round, they set up such a noise that it was impossible to hear oneself speak. Both the preparation and the serving out of this extra ration were at times rather troublesome, but it was well worth it. It is quite certain that our complement of dogs would have made a poor show on arrival at the Bay of Whales if we had shrunk from the trouble.
The dried fish was not nearly so popular as the dænge, but to make up for that there was plenty of it. Not that the dogs themselves ever thought they could have enough; indeed, they were always stealing from their neighbours, perhaps more for the sake of the sport than for anything else. In any case, as a sport it was extremely popular, and it took many a good hiding to get the rascals to understand that it could not be allowed. I am afraid, though, that they kept up their thieving even after they knew very well that it was wrong; the habit was too old to be corrected. Another habit, and a very bad one, that these Eskimo dogs have fallen into in the course of ages, and of which we tried to break them, at all events during the sea voyage, is their tendency to hold howling concerts. What the real meaning of these performances may be, whether they are a pastime, or an expression of gratification or the reverse, we could never decide to our satisfaction. They began suddenly and without warning. The whole pack might be lying perfectly still and quiet, when a single individual, who for that occasion had taken upon himself the part of leader of the chorus, would set up a long, blood-curdling yowl. If they were left to themselves, it was not long before the whole pack joined in, and this infernal din was kept going at full steam for two or three minutes. The only amusing thing about the entertainment was its conclusion. They all stopped short at the same instant, just as a well-trained chorus obeys the baton of its conductor. Those of us, however, who happened to be in our bunks, found nothing at all amusing in these concerts, either in the finale or anything else, for they were calculated to tear the soundest sleeper from his slumbers. But if one only took care to stop the leader in his efforts the whole affair was nipped in the bud, and we usually succeeded in doing this. If there were some who at first were anxious about their night’s rest, these fears were soon dispersed.
On leaving Norway we had ninety-seven dogs in all, and of these no less than ten were bitches. This fact justified us in expecting an increase of the canine population on our voyage to the South, and our expectations were very soon fulfilled. The first “happy event “ occurred when we had been no more than three weeks at sea. An incident of this kind may seem in itself of no great importance; to us, living under conditions in which one day was almost exactly like another, it was more than enough to be an object of the greatest interest. Therefore, when the report went round that “Camilla” had got four shapely youngsters, there was general rejoicing. Two of the pups, who happened to be of the male sex, were allowed to live; the females were sent out of this world long before their eyes were opened to its joys and sorrows. It might be thought that, seeing we had nearly a hundred grown-up dogs on board, there would be little opportunity for looking after puppies; that this was done, nevertheless, with all the care that could be wished, is due in the first instance to the touching affection of the second in command for the little ones. From the very first moment he was their avowed protector. Gradually, as the numbers increased, there was a difficulty in finding room on the already well-occupied deck. “I’ll take them in my bunk,” said the second in command. It did not come to that, but if it had been necessary he would certainly have done so. The example was catching. Later on, when the little chaps were weaned, and had begun to take other nourishment, one might see regularly, after every meal, one after another of the crew coming on deck with some carefully scraped-up bits of food on his plate; the little hungry mouths were to have what was left over.
Something more than patience and punctual performance of duty is displayed in such things as those of which I have been speaking; it is love of, and a living interest in, one’s work. From what I saw and heard every day, I was certain that these necessary incentives were present; although, as far as most of the men were concerned, our object was still the protracted one of drifting for years in the Arctic ice. The extension of the plan — the far more imminent battle with the ice-floes of the South — was still undreamt of by the majority of the ship’s company. I considered it necessary to keep it to myself for a little while yet — until our departure from the port we were now making for: Funchal, Madeira. It may possibly appear to many people that I was running a pretty big risk in thus putting off till the last moment the duty of informing my comrades of the very considerable détour we were to make. Suppose some, or perhaps all, of them had objected! It must be admitted that it was a big risk, but there were so many risks that had to be taken at that time.
However, as I got to know each man during these first few weeks of our long voyage, I soon arrived at the conviction that there was nobody on board the Fram who would try to put difficulties in the way. On the contrary, I had more and more reason to hope that they would all receive the news with joy when they heard it; for then their whole prospect would be so different. Everything had gone with surprising ease up to this time; in future it would go even better.
It was not without a certain longing that I looked forward to our arrival at Madeira: it would be grand to be able to speak out! No doubt the others who knew of the plan were equally eager. Secrets are neither amusing nor easy to carry about — least of all on board a ship, where one has to live at such close quarters as we had. We were chatting together every day, of course, and the uninitiated could not be deterred from leading the conversation round to the ugly difficulties that would embitter our lives and hinder our progress when rounding the Horn. It was likely enough that we should manage to bring the dogs safely through the tropics once, but whether we should succeed in doing so twice was more doubtful; and so on to infinity. It is easier to imagine than to describe how awkward all this was, and how cunningly one had to choose one’s words to avoid saying too much. Among inexperienced men there would have been no great difficulty, but it must be remembered that on the Fram pretty nearly every second man had spent years of his life in Polar voyages: a single slight hint to them would have been enough to expose the whole plan. That neither those on board nor anyone else discovered it prematurely can only be explained by its being so obvious.
Our ship was a good deal too dependent on wind and weather to enable us to make any accurate estimate of the time our voyage would occupy, especially as regards those latitudes in which the winds are variable. The estimate for the whole voyage was based on an average speed of four knots, and at this very modest rate, as it may seem, we ought to arrive at the lce Barrier about the middle of January, 1911. As will be seen later, this was realized with remarkable exactness. For reaching Madeira we had allowed a month as a reasonable time. We did a good deal better than this, as we were able to leave Funchal a month to the day after our departure from Christiansand. We were always ready to forgive the estimate when it was at fault in this way.
The delay to which we had been subjected in the English Channel was fortunately made up along the coast of Spain and to the south of it. The north wind held until we were in the north-east trade, and then we were all right. On September 5 our observations at noon told us that we might expect to see the lights that evening, and at 10 p.m. the light of San Lorenzo on the little island of Fora, near Madeira, was reported from the rigging.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05