Return to Table of Contents of The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram"
From Madeira to the Barrier
On the following morning we anchored in Funchal Roads. My brother was to arrive at Funchal, by arrangement, early enough to be sure of preceding us there. It was, however, a good while before we saw anything of him, and we were already flattering ourselves that we had arrived first when he was suddenly observed in a boat coming under our stern. We were able to tell him that all was well on board, and he brought us a big packet of letters and newspapers that gave us news of home. A little officious gentleman, who said he was a doctor, and as such had come in an official capacity to inquire as to the state of our health, was in an amazing hurry to leave the ship again when, at the top of the gangway, he found himself confronted with a score of dogs' jaws, which at the moment were opened wide on account of the heat. The learned man's interest in our health had suddenly vanished; his thoughts flew to the safety of his own life and limbs.
As Funchal was the last place where we could communicate with the outside world, arrangements were made for completing our supplies in every possible way, and in particular we had to take on board all the fresh water we could. The consumption of this commodity would be very large, and the possibility of running short had to be avoided at any price. For the time being we could do no more than fill all our tanks and every imaginable receptacle with the precious fluid, and this was done. We took about 1,000 gallons in the long-boat that was carried just above the main hatch. This was rather a risky experiment, which might have had awkward consequences in the event of the vessel rolling; but we consoled ourselves with the hope of fine weather and a smooth sea during the next few weeks. During the stay at Funchal the dogs had two good meals of fresh meat as a very welcome variety in their diet; a fair-sized carcass of a horse disappeared with impressive rapidity at each of these banquets. For our own use we naturally took a plentiful supply of vegetables and fruits, which were here to be had in abundance; it was the last opportunity we should have of regaling ourselves with such luxuries.
Our stay at Funchal was somewhat longer than was intended at first, as the engineers found it necessary to take up the propeller and examine the brasses. This work would occupy two days, and while the three mechanics were toiling in the heat, the rest of the ship's company took the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the town and its surroundings; the crew had a day's leave, half at a time. An excursion was arranged to one of the numerous hotels that are situated on the heights about the town. The ascent is easily made by means of a funicular railway, and in the course of the half-hour it takes to reach the top one is able to get an idea of the luxuriant fertility of the island. At the hotels one finds a good cuisine, and, of course, still better wine. It is scarcely necessary to add that we did full justice to both.
For the descent a more primitive means of transport was employed: we came down on sledges. It may be startling to hear of sledging in Madeira, but I must explain that the sledges had wooden runners, and that the road was paved with a black stone that was very smooth. We went at a creditable pace down the steep inclines, each sledge being drawn or pushed by three or four swarthy natives, who seemed to be possessed of first-rate legs and lungs.
It may be mentioned as a curiosity that the newspapers of Funchal did not hesitate to connect our expedition with the South Pole. The native journalists had no idea of the value of the startling piece of news they were circulating. It was a canard invented on the supposition that when a Polar ship steers to the south, she must, of course, be making for the South Pole. In this case the canard happened to be true. Fortunately for us, it did not fly beyond the shores of Madeira.
By the afternoon of September 9 we could begin to make our preparations for departure. The engineers had replaced the propeller and tested it; all supplies were on board, and the chronometers had been checked. All that remained was to get rid of the importunate bumboat -- men who swarmed round the vessel in their little craft, each looking like a small floating shop. These obtrusive fellows were quickly sent off down the gangway: besides ourselves only my brother was left on board. Now that we were thus completely isolated from the outer world, the long-expected moment had arrived when I could proceed to inform all my comrades of my decision, now a year old, to make for the South. I believe all who were on board will long remember that sultry afternoon in Funchal Roads. All hands were called on deck: what they thought of I do not know, but it was hardly Antarctica and the South Pole. Lieutenant Nilsen carried a big rolled-up chart; I could see that this chart was the object of many interrogative glances.
Not many words were needed before everyone could see where the wind lay, and what course we should steer henceforward. The second in command unrolled his big chart of the southern hemisphere, and I briefly explained the extended plan, as well as my reasons for keeping it secret until this time. Now and again I had to glance at their faces. At first, as might be expected, they showed the most unmistakable signs of surprise; but this expression swiftly changed, and before I had finished they were all bright with smiles. I was now sure of the answer I should get when I finally asked each man whether he was willing to go on, and as the names were called, every single man had his "Yes" ready. Although, as I have said, I had expected it to turn out as it did, it is difficult to express the joy I felt at seeing how promptly my comrades placed themselves at my service on this momentous occasion. It appeared, however, that I was not the only one who was pleased. There was so much life and good spirits on board that evening that one would have thought the work was successfully accomplished instead of being hardly begun.
For the present, however, there was not much time to spare for discussing the news. We had first to see about getting away; afterwards there would be many months before us. Two hours' grace was allowed, in which every man could write to his people at home about what had just passed. The letters were probably not very long ones; at all events, they were soon finished. The mail was handed over to my brother to take to Christiania, from whence the letters were sent to their respective destinations; but this did not take place until after the alteration of our plans had been published in the Press.
It had been easy enough to tell my comrades the news, and they could not have given it a better reception; it was another question what people at home would say when the intelligence reached their ears. We afterwards heard that both favourable and unfavourable opinions were expressed. For the moment we could not trouble ourselves very greatly with that side of the matter; my brother had undertaken to announce the way we had taken, and I cannot say that I envied him the task. After we had all given him a final hearty shake of the hand he left us, and thereby our communication with the busy world was broken off. We were left to our own resources. No one can say that the situation oppressed us greatly. Our long voyage was entered upon as though it were a dance; there was not a trace of the more or less melancholy feeling that usually accompanies any parting. The men joked and laughed, while witticisms, both good and bad, were bandied about on the subject of our original situation. The anchor came up more quickly than usual, and after the motor had helped us to escape from the oppressive heat of the harbour, we had the satisfaction of seeing every sail filled with the fresh and cooling north-east trade.
The dogs, who must have found the stay at Funchal rather too warm for their taste, expressed their delight at the welcome breeze by getting up a concert. We felt we could not grudge them the pleasure this time.
It was pure enjoyment to come on deck the morning after leaving Madeira; there was an added note of friendliness in every man's "Good-morning," and a smile twinkled in the corner of every eye. The entirely new turn things had taken, and the sudden change to fresh fields for thought and imagination, acted as a beneficent stimulus to those who, the day before, had contemplated a trip round the Horn. I think what chiefly amused them was their failure to smell a rat before. "How could I have been such an ass as not to think of it long ago?" said Beck, as he sent a nearly new quid into the sea. "Of course, it was as plain as a pikestaff. Here we are with all these dogs, this fine 'observation house,' with its big kitchen-range and shiny cloth on the table, and everything else. Any fool might have seen what it meant." I consoled him with the remark that it is always easy to be wise after the event, and that I thought it very lucky no one had discovered our destination prematurely.
Those of us who had been obliged hitherto to keep to themselves what they knew, and to resort to all kinds of stratagems to avoid making any disclosure, were certainly no less pleased at being rid of the secret; now they could talk freely to their heart's content. If we had previously had to resort to mystification, there was now nothing to prevent our laying our cards on the table. So many a conversation had come to a standstill because those who had a number of questions to ask did not dare to put them, and those who could have told held their tongues. Hereafter it would be a very long time before we were at a loss for subjects of conversation; a theme had suddenly presented itself, so varied and comprehensive that it was difficult at first to know where to begin. There were many men on board the Fram with a wealth of experience gained during years spent within the Arctic Circle, but to almost all of us the great Antarctic continent was a terra incognita. I myself was the only man on board who had seen Antarctica; perhaps one or two of my companions had in former days passed in the vicinity of an Antarctic iceberg on a voyage round Cape Horn, but that was all.
What had previously been accomplished in the way of exploration in the South, and the narratives of the men who had endeavoured to extend our knowledge of that inhospitable continent, were also things that very few of the ship's company had had time or opportunity to study, nor had they perhaps had any reason to do so. Now there was every possible reason. I considered it an imperative necessity that every man should acquaint himself as far as possible with the work of previous expeditions; this was the only way of becoming in some measure familiar with the conditions in which we should have to work. For this reason the Fram carried a whole library of Antarctic literature, containing everything that has been written by the long succession of explorers in these regions, from James Cook and James Clark Ross to Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton. And, indeed, good use was made of this library. The works of the two last-named explorers were in chief request; they were read from cover to cover by all who could do so, and, well written and excellently illustrated as these narratives are, they were highly instructive. But if ample time was thus devoted to the theoretical study of our problem, the practical preparations were not neglected. As soon as we were in the trade-winds, where the virtually constant direction and force of the wind permitted a reduction of the watch on deck, the various specialists went to work to put our extensive wintering outfit in the best possible order. It is true that every precaution had been taken beforehand to have every part of the equipment as good and as well adapted to its purpose as possible, but the whole of it, nevertheless, required a thorough overhauling. With so complicated an outfit as ours was, one is never really at the end of one's work; it will always be found that some improvement or other can be made. It will appear later that we had our hands more than full of the preparations for the sledge journey, not only during the long sea voyage, but also during the still longer Antarctic winter.
Our sailmaker, Rönne, was transformed into a -- well, let us call it tailor. Rönne's pride was a sewing-machine, which he had obtained from the yard at Horten after considerable use of his persuasive tongue. His greatest sorrow on the voyage was that, on arriving at the Barrier, he would be obliged to hand over his treasure to the shore party. He could not understand what we wanted with a sewing-machine at Framheim. The first thing he did when the Fram reached Buenos Aires was to explain to the local representative of the Singer Sewing Machine Company how absolutely necessary it was to have his loss made good. His gift of persuasion helped him again, and he got a new machine.
For that matter, it was not surprising that Rönne was fond of his machine. He could use it for all sorts of things -- sailmaker's, shoemaker's, saddler's, and tailor's work was all turned out with equal celerity. He established his workshop in the chart-house, and there the machine hummed incessantly through the tropics, the west wind belt, and the ice-floes too; for, quick as our sailmaker was with his fingers, the orders poured in even more quickly. Rönne was one of those men whose ambition it is to get as much work as possible done in the shortest possible time, and with increasing astonishment he saw that here he would never be finished; he might go at it as hard as he liked -- there was always something more. To reckon up all that he delivered from his workshop during these months would take us too long; it is enough to say that all the work was remarkably well done, and executed with admirable rapidity. Perhaps one of the things he personally prided himself most on having made was the little three-man tent which was afterwards left at the South Pole. It was a little masterpiece of a tent, made of thin silk, which, when folded together, would easily have gone into a fair-sized pocket, and weighed hardly a kilogram.
At this time we could not count with certainty on the possibility of all those who made the southern journey reaching latitude 90º. On the contrary, we had to be prepared for the probability of some of the party being obliged to turn back. It was intended that we should use the tent in question, in case it might be decided to let two or three men make the final dash, and therefore it was made as small and light as possible. Fortunately we had no need to use it, as every man reached the goal; and we then found that the best way of disposing of Rönne's work of art was to let it stay there as a mark.
Our sailmaker had no dogs of his own to look after; he had no time for that. On the other hand, he often assisted me in attending to my fourteen friends up on the bridge; but he seemed to have some difficulty in getting on terms of familiarity with the dogs and all that belonged to them. It did not quite agree with his idea of life on board ship to have a deck swarming with dogs. He regarded this abnormal state of things with a sort of scornful compassion. "So you carry dogs, too, aboard this ship," he would say, every time he came on deck and found himself face to face with the "brutes." The poor brutes, I am sure, made no attempt to attack Rönne's person more than anyone else's, but he seemed for a long time to have great doubts about it. I don't think he felt perfectly safe until the dogs had been muzzled.
A part of our equipment to which we gave special care was, of course, the ski; in all probability they would be our chief weapon in the coming fight. However much we might have to learn from Scott's and Shackleton's narratives, it was difficult for us to understand their statements that the use of ski on the Barrier was not a success. From the descriptions that were given of the nature of the surface and the general conditions, we were forced to the opposite conclusion, that ski were the only means to employ. Nothing was spared to provide a good skiing outfit, and we had an experienced man in charge of it -- Olav Bjaaland. It is sufficient to mention his name. When, on leaving Norway, it was a question of finding a good place for our twenty pairs of ski, we found we should have to share our own quarters with them; they were all disposed under the ceiling of the fore-cabin. At any rate, we had no better place to put them. Bjaaland, who during the last month or two had tried his hand at the unaccustomed work of a seaman, went back to his old trade of ski-maker and carpenter when we came into the trade-winds. Both ski and bindings were delivered ready for use by Hagen and Co., of Christiania; it remained to adapt them, and fit the backstraps to each man's boots, so that all might be ready for use on arrival at the Barrier. A full skiing outfit had been provided for every man, so that those who were to be left on board might also have a run now and then during their stay at the ice edge.
For each of our ten sledges, Bjaaland made during the voyage a pair of loose runners, which it was intended to use in the same way as the Eskimo use theirs. These primitive people have -- or, at all events, had -- no material that was suited for shoeing sledge-runners. They get over the difficulty by covering the runners with a coating of ice. No doubt it requires a great deal of practice and patience to put on this kind of shoeing properly, but when it is once on there can be no question that this device throws all others into the shade. As I say, we had intended to try this on the Barrier; we found, however, that the pulling power of our teams was so good as to allow us to retain our steel-shod runners with an easy conscience.
For the first fourteen days after leaving Madeira the north-east trade was fresh enough to enable us to keep up our average rate, or a little more, with the help of the sails alone. The engine was therefore allowed a rest, and the engineers had an opportunity of cleaning and polishing it; this they did early and late, till it seemed as if they could never get it bright enough. Nödtvedt now had a chance of devoting himself to the occupation which is his delight in this world -- that of the blacksmith; and, indeed, there was opportunity enough for his use of the hammer and anvil. If Rönne had plenty of sewing, Nödtvedt had no less forging -- sledge-fittings, knives, pickaxes, bars and bolts, patent hooks by the hundred for dogs, chains, and so on to infinity. The clang and sparks of the anvil were going all day long till we were well into the Indian Ocean. And in the westerly belt the blacksmith's lot was not an enviable one; it is not always easy to hit the nail on the head when one's feet rest on so unstable a foundation as the Fram's deck, nor is it altogether pleasant when the forge is filled with water several times a day.
While we were fitting out for the voyage, the cry was constantly raised in certain quarters at home that the old Fram's hull was in a shocking state. It was said to be in bad repair, to leak like a sieve -- in fact, to be altogether rotten. It throws a curious light on these reports when we look at the voyages that the Fram has accomplished in the last two years. For twenty months out of twenty-four she has kept going in open sea, and that, too, in waters which make very serious demands on a vessel's strength. She is just as good as when she sailed, and could easily do it all over again without any repairs. We who were on board all knew perfectly well before we sailed how groundless and foolish these cries about her "rottenness" were; we knew, too, that there is scarcely a wooden ship afloat on which it is not necessary to use the pumps now and then. When the engine was stopped, we found it was sufficient to take a ten minutes' turn at the hand-pump every morning; that was all the "leaking" amounted to. Oh no! there was nothing wrong with the Fram's hull. On the other hand, there might be a word or two to say about the rigging; if this was not all it should have been, the fault lay entirely with the plaguy considerations of our budget. On the foremast we had two squaresails; there ought to have been four. On the jib-boom there were two staysails; there was room enough for three, but the money would not run to it. In the Trades we tried to make up for the deficiency by rigging a studding-sail alongside the foresail and a sky-sail above the topsail. I will not assert that these improvised sails contributed to improve the vessel's appearance, but they got her along, and that is a great deal more important. We made very fair progress southward during these September days, and before the month was half over we had come a good way into the tropical belt. No particularly tropical heat was felt, at any rate by us men; and as a rule the heat is not severely felt on board ship in open sea so long as the vessel is moving. On a sailing-ship, lying becalmed with the sun in the zenith, it might be warmer than one would wish; but in case of calms we had the engine to help us, so that there was always a little breeze -- that is, on deck. Down below it was worse; sometimes "hoggishly mild," as Beck used to put it. Our otherwise comfortable cabins had one fault; there were no portholes in the ship's side, and therefore we could not get a draught; but most of us managed without shifting our quarters. Of the two saloons, the fore-saloon was decidedly preferable in warm weather; in a cold climate probably the reverse would be the case. We were able to secure a thorough draught of air forward through the alleyway leading to the forecastle; it was difficult to get a good circulation aft, where they also had the warm proximity of the engine. The engineers, of course, had the hottest place, but the ever-inventive Sundbeck devised a means of improving the ventilation of the engine-room, so that even there they were not so badly off under the circumstances.
One often hears it asked, Which is to be preferred, severe heat or severe cold? It is not easy to give a definite answer; neither of the two is pleasant, and it must remain a matter of taste which is least so. On board ship no doubt most people will vote for heat, as, even if the days are rather distressing, one has the glorious nights to make up for them. A bitterly cold day is poorly compensated for by an even colder night.
One decided advantage of a warm climate for men who have to be frequently in and out of their clothes and their bunks is the simplicity of costume which it allows. When you wear hardly anything it takes a very short time to dress.
If we had been able to take the opinion of our dogs on their existence in the tropics, they would probably have answered as one dog: "Thanks, let us get back to rather cooler surroundings." Their coats were not exactly calculated for a temperature of 90º in the shade, and the worst of it was that they could not change them. It is, by the way, a misunderstanding to suppose that these animals absolutely must have hard frost to be comfortable; on the contrary, they prefer to be nice and warm. Here in the tropics of course they had rather too much of a good thing, but they did not suffer from the heat. By stretching awnings over the whole ship we contrived that they should all be constantly in the shade, and so long as they were not directly exposed to the sun's rays, there was no fear of anything going wrong. How well they came through it appears best from the fact that not one of them was on the sick-list on account of the heat. During the whole voyage only two deaths occurred from sickness -- one was the case of a bitch that died after giving birth to eight pups -- which might just as easily have caused her death under other conditions. What was the cause of death in the other case we were unable to find out; at any rate, it was not an infectious disease.
One of our greatest fears was the possibility of an epidemic among the dogs, but thanks to the care with which they had been picked, there was never a sign of anything of the sort.
In the neighbourhood of the Equator, between the north-east and the south-east trades, lies what is called the "belt of calms." The position and extent of this belt vary somewhat with the season. If you are extremely lucky, it may happen that one trade-wind will practically take you over into the other; but, as a rule, this region will cause quite a serious delay to sailing-ships; either there are frequent calms, or shifting and unsteady winds. We arrived there at an unfavourable time of the year and lost the north-east trade as early as ten degrees north of the line. If we had had the calms we looked for, we could have got across with the help of the engine in a reasonably short time, but we saw very little sign of calms. As a rule, there was an obstinate south wind blowing, and it would not have taken very much of it to make the last few degrees of north latitude stiffer than we cared for.
The delay was annoying enough, but we had another disappointment of a more serious kind, for, curiously enough, we never had a proper shower of rain. Generally in these latitudes one encounters extremely heavy downpours, which make it possible to collect water by the barrelful in a very short space of time. We had hoped in this way to increase our store of fresh water, which was not so large but that extreme economy had to be practised if we were to avoid running short. However, this hope failed us, practically speaking. We managed to catch a little water, but it was altogether insufficient, and the husbanding of our supply had to be enforced in future with authority. The dogs required their daily ration, and they got it -- measured out to a hair's-breadth. Our own consumption was limited to what was strictly necessary; soups were banished from the bill of fare, they used too much of the precious fluid; washing in fresh water was forbidden. It must not be supposed from this that we had no opportunity of washing. We had a plentiful supply of soap, which lathered just as well in salt water as in fresh, and was thus capable of keeping ourselves and our clothes as clean as before. If for a time we had felt a certain anxiety about our water-supply, these fears were banished comparatively quickly, as the reserve we had taken in the long-boat on deck lasted an incredibly long time, almost twice as long as we had dared to hope, and this saved the situation, or very nearly so. If the worst came to the worst, we should be obliged to call at one of the numerous groups of islands that would lie in our route later on.
For over six weeks the dogs had now been chained up in the places assigned to them when they came on board. In the course of that time most of them had become so tame and tractable that we thought we might soon let them loose. This would be a welcome change for them, and, what was more important, it would give them an opportunity for exercise. To tell the truth, we also expected some amusement from it; there would certainly be a proper shindy when all this pack got loose. But before we gave them their liberty we were obliged to disarm them, otherwise the inevitable free fight would be liable to result in one or more of them being left on the battle-field, and we could not afford that. Every one of them was provided with a strong muzzle; then we let them loose and waited to see what would happen. At first nothing at all happened; it looked as if they had abandoned once for all the thought of ever moving from the spot they had occupied so long At last a solitary individual had the bright idea of attempting a walk along the deck. But he should not have done so; it was dangerous to move about here. The unaccustomed sight of a loose dog at once aroused his nearest neighbours. A dozen of them flung themselves upon the unfortunate animal who had been the first to leave his place, rejoicing in the thought of planting their teeth in his sinful body. But to their disappointment the enjoyment was not so great as they expected. The confounded strap round their jaws made it impossible to get hold of the skin; the utmost they could do was to pull a few tufts of hair out of the object of their violent onslaught. This affair of outposts gave the signal for a general engagement all along the line. What an unholy row there was for the next couple of hours! The hair flew, but skins remained intact. The muzzles saved a good many lives that afternoon.
These fights are the chief amusement of the Eskimo dogs; they follow the sport with genuine passion. There would be no great objection to it if they had not the peculiar habit of always combining to set upon a single dog, who is chosen as their victim for the occasion; they all make for this one, and if they are left to themselves they will not stop until they have made an end of the poor beast. In this way a valuable dog may be destroyed in a moment.
We therefore naturally made every effort from the first to quench their love of fighting, and the dogs very soon began to understand that we were not particularly fond of their combats; but we had here to deal with a natural characteristic, which it was impossible to eradicate; in any case, one could never be sure that nature would not reassert itself over discipline. When the dogs had once been let loose, they remained free to run about wherever they liked for the remainder of the voyage; only at meal-times were they tied up. It was quite extraordinary how they managed to hide themselves in every hole and comer; on some mornings there was hardly a dog to be seen when daylight came. Of course they visited every place where they ought not to have gone. Several of them repeatedly took the opportunity of tumbling into the forehold, when the hatches were open; but a fall of 25 feet did not seem to trouble them in the least. One even found his way into the engine-room, difficult as it might seem to gain access to it, and curled himself up between the piston-rods. Fortunately for the visitor, the engine was not started while he was there.
When the first furious battles had been fought out, a calm soon settled upon the dogs' spirits. It was easy to notice a feeling of shame and disappointment in the champions when they found that all their efforts led to nothing. The sport had lost its principal charm as soon as they saw what a poor chance there was of tasting blood.
From what has here been said, and perhaps from other accounts of the nature of Arctic dogs, it may appear as though the mutual relations of these animals consisted exclusively of fighting. This, however, is far from being the case. On the contrary, they very often form friendships, which are sometimes so strong that one dog simply cannot live without the other. Before we let the dogs loose we had remarked that there were a few who, for some reason or other, did not seem as happy as they should have been: they were more shy and restless than the others. No particular notice was taken of this, and no one tried to find out the cause of it. The day we let them loose we discovered what had been the matter with the ones that had moped: they had some old friend who had chanced to be placed in some other part of the deck, and this separation had been the cause of their low spirits. It was really touching to see the joy they showed on meeting again; they became quite different animals. Of course in these cases a change of places was arranged between the different groups, so that those who had associated from their own inclination would in future be members of the same team.
We had expected to reach the Equator by October 1, but the unfavourable conditions of wind that we met with to the north of it caused us to be a little behind our reckoning, though not much. On the afternoon of October 4 the Fram crossed the line. Thus an important stage of the voyage was concluded: the feeling that we had now reached southern latitudes was enough to put us all in holiday humour, and we felt we must get up a modest entertainment. According to ancient custom, crossing the line should be celebrated by a visit from Father Neptune himself, whose part is taken for the occasion by someone chosen from among the ship's company. If in the course of his inspection this august personage comes upon anyone who is unable to prove that he has already crossed the famous circle, he is handed over at once to the attendants, to be "shaved and baptized." This process, which is not always carried out with exaggerated gentleness, causes much amusement, and forms a welcome variety in the monotonous life of a long sea voyage, and probably many on board the Fram looked forward with eagerness to Neptune's visit, but he did not come. There simply was no room for him on our already well-occupied deck.
We contented ourselves with a special dinner, followed by coffee, liqueurs, and cigars. Coffee was served on the fore-deck, where by moving a number of the dogs we had contrived to get a few square yards of space. There was no lack of entertainment. A violin and mandolin orchestra, composed of Prestrud, Sundbeck, and Beck, contributed several pieces, and our excellent gramophone was heard for the first time. Just as it started the waltz from "The Count of Luxembourg," there appeared in the companion-way a real ballet-girl, masked, and in very short skirts. This unexpected apparition from a better world was greeted with warm applause, which was no less vigorous when the fair one had given proof of her skill in the art of dancing. Behind the mask could be detected Gjertsen's face, but both costume and dance were in the highest degree feminine. Rönne was not satisfied until he had the "lady" on his knees -- hurrah for illusion!
The gramophone now changed to a swinging American cake-walk, and at the same moment there opportunely appeared on the scene a nigger in a tail-coat, a silk hat, and -- a pair of wooden shoes. Black as he was, we saw at once that it was the second in command who had thus disguised himself. The mere sight of him was enough to set us all shrieking with laughter, but he made his great success when he began to dance. He was intensely amusing.
It did us a great deal of good to have a little amusement just then, for this part of the voyage was a trial of patience more than anything else. Possibly we were rather hard to please, but the south-east trade, which we were expecting to meet every day, was, in our opinion, far too late in coming, and when at length it arrived, it did not behave at all as becomes a wind that has the reputation of being the steadiest in the world. Besides being far too light, according to our requirements, it permitted itself such irregularities as swinging between the points of south and east, but was mostly in the neighbourhood of the former. For us, who had to lie all the time close-hauled to the westward, this had the effect of increasing our western longitude a great deal faster than our latitude. We were rapidly approaching the north-eastern point of South America -- Cape San Roque. Fortunately we escaped any closer contact with this headland, which shoots so far out into the Atlantic. The wind at last shifted aft, but it was so light that the motor had to be constantly in use. Slowly but surely we now went southward, and the temperature again began to approach the limits that are fitting according to a Northerner's ideas. The tiresome, rather low awning could be removed, and it was a relief to be rid of it, as one could then walk upright everywhere.
On October 16, according to the observations at noon, we were in the vicinity of the island of South Trinidad, one of the lonely oases in the watery desert of the South Atlantic. It was our intention to go close under the island, and possibly to attempt a landing; but unfortunately the motor had to be stopped for cleaning, and this prevented our approaching it by daylight. We caught a glimpse of the land at dusk, which was, at all events, enough to check our chronometers.
South of the 20th degree of latitude the south-east trade was nearly done with, and we were really not sorry to be rid of it; it remained light and scant to the last, and sailing on a wind is not a strong point with the Fram. In the part of the ocean where we now were there was a hope of getting a good wind, and it was wanted if we were to come out right: we had now covered 6,000 miles, but there were still 10,000 before us, and the days went by with astonishing rapidity. The end of October brought the change we wanted; with a fresh northerly breeze she went gallantly southward, and before the end of the month we were down in lat. 40º. Here we had reached the waters where we were almost certain to have all the wind we wished, and from the right quarter. From now our course was eastward along what is known as the southern west wind belt. This belt extends between the 40th and 50th parallels all round the earth, and is distinguished by the constant occurrence of westerly winds, which as a rule blow with great violence. We had put our trust in these west winds; if they failed us we should be in a mess. But no sooner had we reached their domain than they were upon us with full force; it was no gentle treatment that we received, but the effect was excellent -- we raced to the eastward. An intended call at Gough Island had to be abandoned; the sea was running too high for us to venture to approach the narrow little harbour. The month of October had put us a good deal behindhand, but now we were making up the distance we had lost. We had reckoned on being south of the Cape of Good Hope within two months after leaving Madeira, and this turned out correct. The day we passed the meridian of the Cape we had the first regular gale; the seas ran threateningly high, but now for the first time our splendid little ship showed what she was worth. A single one of these gigantic waves would have cleared our decks in an instant if it had come on board, but the Fram did not permit any such impertinence. When they came up behind the vessel, and we might expect at any moment to see them break over the low after-deck, she just raised herself with an elegant movement, and the wave had to be content with slipping underneath. An albatross could not have managed the situation better. It is said that the Fram was built for the ice, and that cannot, of course, be denied; but at the same time it is certain that when Colin Archer created his famous masterpiece of an ice boat, she was just as much a masterpiece of a sea boat -- a vessel it would be difficult to match for seaworthiness. To be able to avoid the seas as the Fram did, she had to roll, and this we had every opportunity of finding out. The whole long passage through the westerly belt was one continual rolling; but in course of time one got used even to that discomfort. It was awkward enough, but less disagreeable than shipping water. Perhaps it was worse for those who had to work in the galley: it is no laughing matter to be cook, when for weeks together you cannot put down so much as a coffee-cup without its immediately turning a somersault. It requires both patience and strong will to carry it through, but the two -- Lindström and Olsen -- who looked after our food under these difficult conditions, had the gift of taking it all from the humorous point of view, and that was well.
As regards the dogs, it mattered little to them whether a gale was blowing, so long as the rain kept off. They hate rain; wet in any form is the worst one can offer an Arctic dog. If the deck was wet, they would not lie down, but would remain standing motionless for hours, trying to take a nap in that uncomfortable position. Of course, they did not get much sleep in that way, but to make up for it they could sleep all day and all night when the weather was fine. South of the Cape we lost two dogs; they went overboard one dark night when the ship was rolling tremendously. We had a coal-bunker on the port side of the after-deck, reaching up to the height of the bulwarks; probably these fellows had been practising boarding drill, and lost their balance. We took precautions that the same thing should not happen again.
Fortunately for our animals, the weather in the westerly belt was subject to very frequent changes. No doubt they had many a sleepless night, with rain, sleet, and hail; but on the other hand they never had to wait very long for a cheerful glimpse of the sun. The wind is for the most part of cyclonic character, shifting suddenly from one quarter to another, and these shifts always involve a change of weather. When the barometer begins to fall, it is a sure warning of an approaching north-westerly wind, which is always accompanied by precipitation, and increases in force until the fall of the barometer ceases. When this occurs, there follows either a short pause, or else the wind suddenly shifts to the south-west, and blows from that quarter with increasing violence, while the barometer rises rapidly. The change of wind is almost always followed by a clearing of the weather.
A circumstance which contributes an element of risk to navigation in the latitudes where we found ourselves is the possibility of colliding with an iceberg in darkness or thick weather; for it sometimes happens that these sinister monsters in the course of their wanderings find their way well up into the "forties." The probability of a collision is of course in itself not very great, and it can be reduced to a minimum by taking proper precautions. At night an attentive and practised look-out man will always be able to see the blink of the ice at a fairly long distance. From the time when we had to reckon with any likelihood of meeting icebergs, the temperature of the water was also taken every two hours during the night.
As Kerguelen Island lay almost directly in the course we intended to follow, it was decided for several reasons that we should call there, and pay a visit to the Norwegian whaling-station. Latterly many of the dogs had begun to grow thin, and it seemed probable that this was owing to their not having enough fatty substances in their food; on Kerguelen Island there would presumably be an opportunity of getting all the fat we wanted. As to water, we had, it was true, just enough to last us with economy, but it would do no harm to fill up the tanks. I was also hoping that there would be a chance of engaging three or four extra hands, for the Fram would be rather short-handed with only ten men to sail her out of the ice and round the Horn to Buenos Aires after the rest of us had been landed on the Barrier. Another reason for the contemplated visit was that it would be an agreeable diversion. We now only had to get there as quickly as possible, and the west wind helped us splendidly; one stiff breeze succeeded another, without our having any excessive weather. Our daily distance at this time amounted as a rule to about one hundred and fifty miles; in one twenty-four hours we made one hundred and seventy-four miles. This was our best day's work of the whole voyage, and it is no bad performance for a vessel like the Fram, with her limited sail area and her heavily-laden hull.
On the afternoon of November 28 we sighted land. It was only a barren rocky knoll, and according to our determination of the position it would be the island called Bligh's Cap, which lies a few miles north of Kerguelen Island; but as the weather was not very clear, and we were unacquainted with the channels, we preferred to lie-to for the night before approaching any nearer. Early next morning the weather cleared, and we got accurate bearings. A course was laid for Royal Sound, where we supposed the whaling-station to be situated. We were going well in the fresh morning breeze, and were just about to round the last headland, when all at once a gale sprang up again, the bare and uninviting coast was hidden in heavy rain, and we had the choice of waiting for an indefinite time or continuing our voyage. Without much hesitation we chose the latter alternative. It might be tempting enough to come in contact with other men, especially as they were fellow-countrymen, but it was even more tempting to have done with the remaining 4,000 miles that lay between us and the Barrier as quickly as possible. It turned out that we had chosen rightly. December brought us a fair wind, even fresher than that of November, and by the middle of the month we had already covered half the distance between Kerguelen Island and our goal. We fortified the dogs from time to time with a liberal allowance of butter, which had a marvellous effect. There was nothing wrong with ourselves; we were all in the best of health, and our spirits rose as we drew nearer our goal.
That the state of our health was so remarkably good during the whole voyage must be ascribed in a material degree to the excellence of our provisions. During the trip from home to Madeira we had lived sumptuously on some little pigs that we took with us, but after these luxuries we had to take to tinned meat for good. The change was not felt much, as we had excellent and palatable things with us. There was a separate service for the two cabins, but the food was precisely the same in each. Breakfast was at eight, consisting of American hot cakes, with marmalade or jam, cheese, fresh bread, and coffee or cocoa. Dinner as a rule was composed of one dish of meat and sweets. As has already been said, we could not afford to have soup regularly on account of the water it required, and it was only served on Sundays. The second course usually consisted of Californian fruit. It was our aim all through to employ fruit, vegetables, and jam, to the greatest possible extent; there is undoubtedly no better means of avoiding sickness. At dinner we always drank syrup and water; every Wednesday and Saturday we were treated to a glass of spirits. I knew from my own experience how delicious a cup of coffee tastes when one turns out to go on watch at night. However sleepy and grumpy one may be, a gulp of hot coffee quickly makes a better man of one; therefore coffee for the night watch was a permanent institution on board the Fram.
By about Christmas we had reached nearly the 150th meridian in lat. 56º S. This left not much more than 900 miles before we might expect to meet with the pack-ice. Our glorious west wind, which had driven us forward for weeks, and freed us from all anxiety about arriving too late, was now a thing of the past. For a change we again had to contend for some days with calms and contrary wind. The day before Christmas Eve brought rain and a gale from the south-west, which was not very cheerful. If we were to keep Christmas with any festivity, fine weather was wanted, otherwise the everlasting rolling would spoil all our attempts. No doubt we should all have got over it if it had fallen to our lot to experience a Christmas Eve with storm, shortened sail, and other delights; worse things had happened before. On the other hand, there was not one of us who would not be the better for a little comfort and relaxation; our life had been monotonous and commonplace enough for a long time. But, as I said, the day before Christmas Eve was not at all promising. The only sign of the approaching holiday was the fact that Lindström, in spite of the rolling, was busy baking Christmas cakes. We suggested that he might just as well give us each our share at once, as it is well known that the cakes are best when they come straight out of the oven, but Lindström would not hear of it. His cakes vanished for the time being under lock and key, and we had to be content with the smell of them.
Christmas Eve arrived with finer weather and a smoother sea than we had seen for weeks. The ship was perfectly steady, and there was nothing to prevent our making every preparation for the festivity. As the day wore on Christmas was in full swing. The fore-cabin was washed and cleaned up till the Ripolin paint and the brass shone with equal brilliance; Rönne decorated the workroom with signal flags, and the good old "Happy Christmas" greeted us in a transparency over the door of the saloon. Inside Nilsen was busily engaged, showing great talents as a decorator. The gramophone was rigged up in my cabin on a board hung from the ceiling. A proposed concert of piano, violin, and mandolin had to be abandoned, as the piano was altogether out of tune.
The various members of our little community appeared one after another, dressed and tidied up so that many of them were scarcely recognizable. The stubbly chins were all smooth, and that makes a great difference. At five o'clock the engine was stopped, and all hands assembled in the fore-cabin, leaving only the man at the wheel on deck. Our cosy cabins had a fairy-like appearance in the subdued light of the many-coloured lamps, and we were all in the Christmas humour at once. The decorations did honour to him who had carried them out and to those who had given us the greater part of them -- Mrs. Schroer, and the proprietor of the Oyster Cellar at Christiania, Mr. Ditlev-Hansen.
Then we took our seats round the table, which groaned beneath Lindström's masterpieces in the culinary art. I slipped behind the curtain of my cabin for an instant, and set the gramophone going. Herold sang us "Glade Jul."
The song did not fail of its effect; it was difficult to see in the subdued light, but I fancy that among the band of hardy men that sat round the table there was scarcely one who had not a tear in the corner of his eye. The thoughts of all took the same direction, I am certain -- they flew homeward to the old country in the North, and we could wish nothing better than that those we had left behind should be as well off as ourselves. The melancholy feeling soon gave way to gaiety and laughter; in the course of the dinner the first mate fired off a topical song written by himself, which had an immense success. In each verse the little weaknesses of someone present were exhibited in more or less strong relief, and in between there were marginal remarks in prose. Both in text and performance the author fully attained the object of his work -- that of thoroughly exercising our risible muscles.
In the after-cabin a well-furnished coffee-table was set out, on which there was a large assortment of Lindström's Christmas baking, with a mighty kransekake from Hansen's towering in the midst. While we were doing all possible honour to these luxuries, Lindström was busily engaged forward, and when we went back after our coffee we found there a beautiful Christmas-tree in all its glory. The tree was an artificial one, but so perfectly imitated that it might have come straight from the forest. This was also a present from Mrs. Schroer.
Then came the distribution of Christmas presents. Among the many kind friends who had thought of us I must mention the Ladies' Committees in Horten and Fredrikstad, and the telephone employées of Christiania. They all have a claim to our warmest gratitude for the share they had in making our Christmas what it was -- a bright memory of the long voyage.
By ten o'clock in the evening the candles of the Christmas-tree were burnt out, and the festivity was at an end. It had been successful from first to last, and we all had something to live on in our thoughts when our everyday duties again claimed us.
In that part of the voyage which we now had before us -- the region between the Australian continent and the Antarctic belt of pack-ice -- we were prepared for all sorts of trials in the way of unfavourable weather conditions. We had read and heard so much of what others had had to face in these waters that we involuntarily connected them with all the horrors that may befall a sailor. Not that we had a moment's fear for the ship; we knew her well enough to be sure that it would take some very extraordinary weather to do her any harm. If we were afraid of anything, it was of delay.
But we were spared either delay or any other trouble; by noon on Christmas Day we had just what was wanted to keep our spirits at festival pitch; a fresh north-westerly wind, just strong enough to push us along handsomely toward our destination. It afterwards hauled a little more to the west, and lasted the greater part of Christmas week, until on December 30 we were in long. 170º E. and lat. 60º S. With that we had at last come far enough to the east, and could now begin to steer a southerly course; hardly had we put the helm over before the wind changed to a stiff northerly breeze Nothing could possibly be better; in this way it would not take us long to dispose of the remaining degrees of latitude. Our faithful companions of the westerly belt -- the albatrosses -- had now disappeared, and we could soon begin to look out for the first representatives of the winged inhabitants of Antarctica.
After a careful consideration of the experiences of our predecessors, it was decided to lay our course so that we should cross the 65th parallel in long. 175º E. What we had to do was to get as quickly as possible through the belt of pack-ice that blocked the way to Ross Sea to the south of it, which is always open in summer. Some ships had been detained as much as six weeks in this belt of ice; others had gone through in a few hours. We unhesitatingly preferred to follow the latter example, and therefore took the course that the luckier ones had indicated.
Of course, the width of the ice-belt may be subject to somewhat fortuitous changes, but it seems, nevertheless, that as a rule the region between the 175th and the 180th degrees of longitude offers the best chance of getting through rapidly; in any case, one ought not to enter the ice farther to the west. At noon on New Year's Eve we were in lat. 62º 15' S. We had reached the end of the old year, and really it had gone incredibly quickly. Like all its predecessors, the year had brought its share of success and failure; but the main thing was that at its close we found ourselves pretty nearly where we ought to be to make good our calculations -- and all safe and well. Conscious of this, we said good-bye to 1910 in all friendliness over a good glass of toddy in the evening, and wished each other all possible luck in 1911.
At three in the morning of New Year's Day the officer of the watch called me with news that the first iceberg was in sight. I had to go up and see it. Yes, there it lay, far to windward, shining like a castle in the rays of the morning sun. It was a big, flat-topped berg of the typical Antarctic form. It will perhaps seem paradoxical when I say that we all greeted this first sight of the ice with satisfaction and joy; an iceberg is usually the last thing to gladden sailors' hearts, but we were not looking at the risk just then. The meeting with the imposing colossus had another significance that had a stronger claim on our interest -- the pack-ice could not be far off. We were all longing as one man to be in it; it would be a grand variation in the monotonous life we had led for so long, and which we were beginning to be a little tired of. Merely to be able to run a few yards on an ice-floe appeared to us an event of importance, and we rejoiced no less at the prospect of giving our dogs a good meal of seal's flesh, while we ourselves would have no objection to a little change of diet.
The number of icebergs increased during the afternoon and night, and with such neighbours it suited us very well to have daylight all through the twenty-four hours, as we now had. The weather could not have been better -- fine and clear, with a light but still favourable wind. At 8 p.m. on January 2 the Antarctic Circle was crossed, and an hour or two later the crow's-nest was able to report the ice-belt ahead. For the time being it did not look like obstructing us to any great extent; the floes were collected in long lines, with broad channels of open water between them. We steered right in. Our position was then long. 176º E. and lat. 66º 30' S. The ice immediately stopped all swell, the vessel's deck again became a stable platform, and after two months' incessant exercise of our sea-legs we could once more move about freely. That was a treat in itself.
At nine in the morning of the next day we had our first opportunity of seal-hunting; a big Weddell seal was observed on a floe right ahead. It took our approach with the utmost calmness, not thinking it worth while to budge an inch until a couple of rifle-bullets had convinced it of the seriousness of the situation. It then made an attempt to reach the water, but it was too late. Two men were already on the floe, and the valuable spoil was secured. In the course of a quarter of an hour the beast lay on our deck, flayed and cut up by practised hands; this gave us at one stroke at least four hundredweight of dog food, as well as a good many rations for men. We made the same coup three times more in the course of the day, and thus had over a ton of fresh meat and blubber.
It need scarcely be said that there was a great feast on board that day. The dogs did their utmost to avail themselves of the opportunity; they simply ate till their legs would no longer carry them, and we could grant them this gratification with a good conscience. As to ourselves, it may doubtless be taken for granted that we observed some degree of moderation, but dinner was polished off very quickly. Seal steak had many ardent adherents already, and it very soon gained more. Seal soup, in which our excellent vegetables showed to advantage, was perhaps even more favourably received.
For the first twenty-four hours after we entered the ice it was so loose that we were able to hold our course and keep up our speed for practically the whole time. On the two following days things did not go quite so smoothly; at times the lines of floes were fairly close, and occasionally we had to go round. We did not meet with any considerable obstruction, however; there were always openings enough to enable us to keep going. In the course of January 6 a change took place, the floes became narrower and the leads broader. By 6 p.m. there was open sea on every side as far as the eye could reach. The day's observations gave our position as lat. 70º S., long. 180º E.
Our passage through the pack had been a four days' pleasure trip, and I have a suspicion that several among us looked back with secret regret to the cruise in smooth water through the ice-floes when the swell of the open Ross Sea gave the Fram another chance of showing her rolling capabilities.
But this last part of the voyage was also to be favoured by fortune. These comparatively little-known waters had no terrors to oppose to us. The weather continued surprisingly fine; it could not have been better on a summer trip in the North Sea. Of icebergs there was practically none; a few quite small floebergs were all we met with in the four days we took to cross Ross Sea.
About midday on January 11 a marked brightening of the southern sky announced that it was not far to the goal we had been struggling to reach for five months. At 2.30 p.m. we came in sight of the Great Ice Barrier. Slowly it rose up out of the sea until we were face to face with it in all its imposing majesty. It is difficult with the help of the pen to give any idea of the impression this mighty wall of ice makes on the observer who is confronted with it for the first time. It is altogether a thing which can hardly be described; but one can understand very well that this wall of 100 feet in height was regarded for a generation as an insuperable obstacle to further southward progress.
We knew that the theory of the Barrier's impregnability had long ago been overthrown; there was an opening to the unknown realm beyond it. This opening -- the Bay of Whales -- ought to lie, according to the descriptions before us, about a hundred miles to the east of the position in which we were. Our course was altered to true east, and during a cruise of twenty-four hours along the Barrier we had every opportunity of marvelling at this gigantic work of Nature. It was not without a certain feeling of suspense that we looked forward to our arrival at the harbour we were seeking What state should we find it in? Would it prove impossible to land at all conveniently?
One point after another was passed, but still our anxious eyes were met by nothing but the perpendicular wall. At last, on the afternoon of January 12, the wall opened. This agreed with our expectations; we were now in long. 164º, the selfsame point where our predecessors had previously found access.
We had before us a great bay, so deep that it was impossible to see the end of it from the crow's-nest; but for the moment there was no chance of getting in. The bay was full of great floes -- sea-ice -- recently broken up. We therefore went on a little farther to the eastward to await developments. Next morning we returned, and after the lapse of a few hours the floes within the bay began to move. One after another they came sailing out: the passage was soon free.
As we steered up the bay, we soon saw clearly that here we had every chance of effecting a landing. All we had to do was to choose the best place.
This is a chapter from The South Pole (e-book).
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