The South Pole: The Fram
Return to Table of Contents of The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram"
By Commodore Christian Blom
Colin Archer says in his description of the Fram, in Fridtjof Nansen's account of the Norwegian Arctic Expedition, 1893 -- 1896, that the successful result of an expedition such as that planned and carried out by Dr. Nansen in the years 1893 -- 1896 must depend on the care with which all possible contingencies are foreseen, and precautions taken to meet them, and the choice of every detail of the equipment with special regard to the use to which it will be put. To no part of the equipment, he says, could this apply with greater force than to the ship which was to carry Dr. Nansen and his companions on their adventurous voyage.
Colin Archer then built the ship -- Fram was her name -- and she showed -- first on Fridtjof Nansen's famous voyage, and afterwards on Sverdrup's long wintering expedition in Ellesmere Land, that she answered her purpose completely, nay, she greatly exceeded the boldest expectations.
Then Roald Amundsen decided to set out on a voyage not less adventurous than the two former, and he looked about for a suitable ship. It was natural that he should think of the Fram, but she was old -- about sixteen years -- and had been exposed to many a hard buffet; it was said that she was a good deal damaged by decay.
Roald Amundsen, however, did not allow himself to be discouraged by these misgivings, but wished to see for himself what kind of a craft the Fram was after her two commissions. He therefore came down to Horten with Colin Archer on June 1, 1908, and made a thorough examination of the vessel. He then, in the spring of 1909, requested the Naval Dockyard at Horten to repair the ship and carry out the alterations he considered necessary for his enterprise.
Before giving an account of the repairs and alterations to the vessel in 1909 -- 1910, we shall briefly recapitulate, with the author's permission, a part of the description of the Fram in Fridtjof Nansen's work, especially as regards the constructive peculiarities of the vessel.
The problem which it was sought to solve in the construction of the Fram was that of providing a ship which could survive the crushing embrace of the Arctic drift-ice. To fit her for this was the object before which all other considerations had to give way.
But apart from the question of mere strength of construction, there were problems of design and model which, it was thought, would play an important part in the attainment of the chief object. It is sometimes prudent in an encounter to avoid the full force of a blow instead of resisting it, even if it could be met without damage; and there was reason to think that by a judicious choice of model something might be done to break the force of the ice-pressure, and thus lessen its danger. Examples of this had been seen in small Norwegian vessels that had been caught in the ice near Spitzbergen and Novaya Zemlya. It often happens that they are lifted right out of the water by the pressure of the ice without sustaining serious damage; and these vessels are not particularly strong, but have, like most small sailing-ships, a considerable dead rising and sloping sides. The ice encounters these sloping sides and presses in under the bilge on both sides, until the ice-edges meet under the keel, and the ship is raised up into the bed that is formed by the ice itself.
In order to turn this principle to account, it was decided to depart entirely from the usual flat-bottomed frame-section, and to adopt a form that would offer no vulnerable point on the ship's side, but would cause the increasing horizontal pressure of the ice to effect a raising of the ship, as described above. In the construction of the Fram it was sought to solve this problem by avoiding plane or concave surfaces, thus giving the vessel as far as possible round and full lines. Besides increasing the power of resistance to external pressure, this form has the advantage of making it easy for the ice to glide along the bottom in any direction.
The Fram was a three-masted fore-and-aft schooner with an auxiliary engine of 200 indicated horse-power, which was calculated to give her a speed of 6 knots, when moderately loaded, with a coal consumption of 2.8 tons a day.
The vessel was designed to be only large enough to carry the necessary coal-supply, provisions, and other equipment for a period of five years, and to give room for the crew.
Her principal dimensions are:
Length of keel 103.3 English feet Length of waterline 119' Length over all 128' Beam on waterline 34' Greatest beam 36' Depth 17.2'
Her displacement, with a draught of 15.6 feet, is 800 tons. The measurements are taken to the outside of the planks, but do not include the ice-skin. By Custom-house measurement she was found to be 402 gross tons register, and 807 tons net.
The ship, with engines and boilers, was calculated to weigh about 420 tons. With the draught above mentioned, which gives a freeboard of 3 feet, there would thus be 380 tons available for cargo. This weight was actually exceeded by 100 tons, which left a freeboard of only 20 inches when the ship sailed on her first voyage. This additional immersion could only have awkward effects when the ship came into the ice, as its effect would then be to retard the lifting by the ice, on which the safety of the ship was believed to depend in a great measure. Not only was there a greater weight to lift, but there was a considerably greater danger of the walls of ice, that would pile themselves against the ship's sides, falling over the bulwarks and covering the deck before the ice began to raise her. The load would, however, be lightened by the time the ship was frozen fast. Events showed that she was readily lifted when the ice-pressure set in, and that the danger of injury from falling blocks of ice was less than had been expected. The Fram's keel is of American elm in two lengths, 14 inches square; the room and space is 2 feet. The frame-timbers are almost all of oak obtained from the Naval Dockyard at Horten, where they had lain for many years, thus being perfectly seasoned. The timbers were all grown to shape. The frames consist of two tiers of timbers everywhere, each timber measuring 10 to 11 inches fore and aft; the two tiers of timbers are fitted together and bolted, so that they form a solid and compact whole. The joints of the frame-timbers are covered with iron plates. The lining consists of pitch-pine in good lengths and of varying thickness from 4 to 6 inches. The keelson is also of pitch-pine, in two layers, one above the other; each layer 15 inches square from the stem to the engine-room. Under the boiler and engine there was only room for one keelson. There are two decks. The beams of the main-deck are of American or German oak, those of the lower deck and half-deck of pitch-pine and Norwegian fir. All the deck planks are of Norwegian fir, 4 inches in the main-deck and 3 inches elsewhere. The beams are fastened to the ship's sides by knees of Norwegian spruce, of which about 450 were used. Wooden knees were, as a rule, preferred to iron ones, as they are more elastic. A good many iron knees were used, however, where wood was less suitable. In the boiler and engine room the beams of the lower deck had to be raised about 3 feet to give sufficient height for the engines. The upper deck was similarly raised from the stern-post to the mainmast, forming a half-deck, under which the cabins were placed. On this half-deck, immediately forward of the funnel, a deck-house was placed, arranged as a chart-house, from which two companions (one on each side) led down to the cabins. Besides the ice-skin, there is a double layer of outside planking of oak. The two first strakes (garboard strakes), however, are single, 7 inches thick, and are bolted both to the keel and to the frame-timbers. The first (inner) layer of planks is 8 inches thick, and is only fastened with nails; outside this comes a layer of 4-inch planks, fastened with oak trenails and through bolts, as usual. The two top strakes are single again, and 6 inches thick. The ice-skin is of greenheart, and covers the whole ship's side from the keel to 18 inches from the sheer strake. It is only fastened with nails and jagged bolts. Each layer of planks was caulked and pitched before the next one was laid. Thus only about 3 or 4 inches of the keel projects below the planking, and this part of the keel is rounded off so as not to hinder the ice from passing under the ship's bottom. The intervals between the timbers were filled with a mixture of coal-tar, pitch, and sawdust, heated together and put in warm. The ship's side thus forms a compact mass varying in thickness from 28 to 32 inches. As a consequence of all the intervals between the timbers being filled up, there is no room for bilge-water under the lining. A loose bottom was therefore laid a few inches above the lining on each side of the keelson. In order to strengthen the ship's sides still more, and especially to prevent stretching, iron braces were placed on the lining, running from the clamps of the top deck down to well past the floor-timbers.
The stem consists of three massive oak beams, one inside the other, forming together 4 feet of solid oak fore and aft, with a breadth of 15 inches. The three external plankings as well as the lining are all rabbeted into the stem. The propeller-post is in two thicknesses, placed side by side, and measures 26 inches athwart-ship and 14 inches fore and aft. It will be seen from the plan that the overhang aft runs out into a point, and that there is thus no transom. To each side of the stern-post is fitted a stout stern-timber parallel to the longitudinal midship section, forming, so to speak, a double stern-post, and the space between them forms a well, which goes right up through the top deck. The rudder-post is placed in the middle of this well, and divides it into two parts, one for the propeller and one for the rudder. In this way it is possible to lift both the rudder and the screw out of the water. The rudder is so hung that the rudder-stock, which is cylindrical, turns on its own axis, to prevent the rudder being jammed if the well should be filled with ice. Aft of the rudder-well the space between the stern-timbers is filled with solid wood, and the whole is securely bolted together with bolts running athwart-ship. The frame-timbers join the stern-timbers in this part, and are fastened to them by means of knees. The stem and stern-post are connected to the keelson and to the keel by stout knees of timber, and both the ship's sides are bound together with solid breasthooks and crutches of wood or iron.
Although the Fram was not specially built for ramming, it was probable that now and then she would be obliged to force her way through the ice. Her bow and stern were therefore shod in the usual way. On the forward side of the stem a segment-shaped iron was bolted from the bobstay-bolt to some way under the keel. Outside this iron plates (3 x 3/4 inches) were fastened over the stem, and for 6 feet on each side of it. These iron plates were placed close together, and thus formed a continuous armour-plating to a couple of feet from the keel. The sharp edge of the stern was protected in the same way, and the lower sides of the well were lined with thick iron plates. The rudder-post, which owing to its exposed position may be said to form the Achilles' heel of the ship, was strengthened with three heavy pieces of iron, one in the opening for the screw and one on each side of the two posts and the keel, and bolted together with bolts running athwart-ship.
Extraordinary precautions were taken for strengthening the ship's sides, which were particularly exposed to destruction by ice-pressure, and which, on account of their form, compose the weakest part of the hull. These precautions will best be seen in the sections (Figs. 3 and 4). Under each beam in both decks were placed diagonal stays of fir (6 x 10 inches), almost at right angles to the ship's sides, and securely fastened to the sides and to the beams by wooden knees. There are 68 of these stays distributed over the ship. In addition, there are under the beams three rows of vertical stanchions between decks, and one row in the lower hold from the keelson. These are connected to the keelson, to the beams, and to each other by iron bands. The whole of the ship's interior is thus filled with a network of braces and stays, arranged in such a way as to transfer and distribute the pressure from without, and give rigidity to the whole construction. In the engine and boiler room it was necessary to modify the arrangement of stays, so as to give room for the engines and boiler. All the iron, with the exception of the heaviest forgings, is galvanized.
When Otto Sverdrup was to use the Fram for his Polar expedition, he had a number of alterations carried out. The most important of these consisted in laying a new deck in the fore part of the ship, from the bulkhead forward of the engine-room to the stem, at a height of 7 feet 4 inches (to the upper side of the planks) above the old fore-deck. The space below the new deck was fitted as a fore-cabin, with a number of state-rooms leading out of it, a large workroom, etc. The old chart-house immediately forward of the funnel was removed, and in its place a large water-tank was fitted. The foremast was raised and stepped in the lower deck. A false keel, 10 inches deep and 12 inches broad, was placed below the keel. A number of minor alterations were also carried out.
After the Fram returned in 1902 from her second expedition under Captain Sverdrup, she was sent down to Horten to be laid up in the Naval Dockyard.
Not long after the vessel had arrived at the dockyard, Captain Sverdrup proposed various repairs and alterations. The repairs were carried out in part, but the alterations were postponed pending a decision as to the future employment of the vessel.
The Fram then lay idle in the naval harbour until 1905, when she was used by the marine artillery as a floating magazine. In the same year a good deal of the vessel's outfit (amongst other things all her sails and most of her rigging) was lost in a fire in one of the naval storehouses, where these things were stored.
In 1903 the ship's keel and stem (which are of elm and oak) were sheathed with zinc, while the outer sheathing (ice-skin), which is of greenheart, was kept coated with coal-tar and copper composition. In 1907 the whole outer sheathing below the water-line was covered with zinc; this was removed in 1910 when the ship was prepared for her third commission under Roald Amundsen.
In 1907 a thorough examination of the vessel was made, as it was suspected that the timber inside the thick cork insulation that surrounded the cabins had begun to decay.
On previous expeditions the cabins, provision hold aft, and workrooms forward of the fore-cabin, had been insulated with several thicknesses of wooden panelling. The interstices were filled with finely-divided cork, alternately with reindeer hair and thick felt and linoleum. In the course of years damp had penetrated into the non-conducting material, with the result that fungus and decay had spread in the surrounding woodwork. Thus it was seen during the examination in 1907 that the panelling and ceiling of the cabins in question were to a great extent rotten or attacked by fungus. In the same way the under side of the upper deck over these cabins was partly attacked by fungus, as were its beams, knees, and carlings. The lower deck, on the other hand, was better preserved. The filling-in timbers of spruce or fir between the frame-timbers in the cabins were damaged by fungus, while the frame-timbers themselves, which were of oak, were good. The outer lining outside the insulated parts was also somewhat damaged by fungus.
In the coal-bunkers over the main-deck the spruce knees were partly rotten, as were some of the beams, while the lining was here fairly good.
The masts and main-topmast were somewhat attacked by decay, while the rest of the spars were good.
During and after the examination all the panelling and insulation was removed, the parts attacked by fungus or decay were also removed, and the woodwork coated with carbolineum or tar. The masts and various stores and fittings were taken ashore at the same time.
It was found that the rest of the vessel-that is, the whole of the lower part of the hull right up to the cabin deck-was perfectly sound, and as good as new. Nor was there any sign of strain anywhere. It is difficult to imagine any better proof of the excellence of the vessel's construction; after two protracted expeditions to the most northern regions to which any ship has ever penetrated, where the vessel was often exposed to the severest ice-pressure, and in spite of her being (in 1907) fifteen years old, the examination showed that her actual hull, the part of the ship that has to resist the heavy strain of water and ice, was in just as good condition as when she was new.
The vessel was then left in this state until, as already mentioned, Roald Amundsen and her builder, Colin Archer, came down to the dockyard on June 1, 1908, and with the necessary assistance made an examination of her.
After some correspondence and verbal conferences between Roald Amundsen and the dockyard, the latter, on March 9, 1909, made a tender for the repairs and alterations to the Fram. The repairs consisted of making good the damage to the topsides referred to above.
The alterations were due in the first instance to the circumstance that the steam-engine and boiler (the latter had had its flues burnt out on Sverdrup's expedition) were to be replaced by an oil-motor; as a consequence of this the coal-bunkers would disappear, while, on the other hand, a large number of oil-tanks, capable of containing about 90 tons of oil, were to be put in. It was also considered desirable to rig square-sails on the foremast in view of the great distances that were to be sailed on the proposed expedition.
The present arrangement of the vessel will best be followed by referring to the elevation and plan (Figs. 1 and 2).
In the extreme after-part of the lower hold is placed the 180 horse-power Diesel engine, surrounded by its auxiliary machinery and air-reservoirs.
In addition, some of the tanks containing the fuel itself are placed in the engine-room (marked O); the other tanks shown in the engine-room (marked 9) serve for storing lubricating oil. The existing engine-room was formerly the engine and boiler room, with coal-bunkers on both sides in the forward part. Forward of the watertight bulkhead of the engine-room we have, in the lower hold, the main store of oil-fuel, contained in tanks (marked O) of various sizes, on account of their having to be placed among the numerous diagonal stays. The tanks are filled and emptied by means of a pump and a petroleum hose through a manhole in the top, over which, again, are hatches in the deck above; no connecting pipes are fitted between the different tanks, for fear they might be damaged by frost or shock, thus involving a risk of losing oil. The main supply tank for fuel is placed over the forward side of the engine-room, where it is supported on strong steel girders; inside this tank, again, there are two smaller ones -- settling tanks -- from which the oil is conveyed in pipes to the engine-pumps. The main tank is of irregular shape -- as will be seen from the drawing -- since a square piece is taken out of its starboard after-corner for a way down into the engine-room. Besides this way down, an emergency way leads up from the engine-room, right aft, to one of the after-cabins. The oil hold is closed forward by a watertight bulkhead, which goes up to the main-deck. The hold forward of the oil-supply is unaltered, and serves for stowing cargo (mainly provisions), as does the hold above the oil-supply and below the main-deck.
On the main-deck right aft we now find a space arranged on each side of the well for the propeller and rudder; the lower part of this space is occupied by two tanks for lamp-oil, and above the tanks is a thin partition, which forms the floor of two small sail-rooms, with hatches to the deck above. Around the mizzenmast is the after-saloon, with eight cabins leading out of it. From the forward end of the after-saloon two passages lead to the large workroom amidships. These passages run past what were formerly coal-bunkers, but are now arranged as cabins, intended only to be used in milder climates, as they are not provided with any special insulation. From the port passage a door leads to the engine-room companion. In the after-part of the large workroom is the galley. This room is entirely lined with zinc, both on walls and ceiling (on account of the danger of fire), while the deck is covered with lead, on which tiles are laid in cement. Forward of the galley is the main hatch, and two large water-tanks are fitted here, one on each side. The remainder of the workroom affords space for carpenter's benches, turning-lathes, a forge, vices, etc. From the workroom two doors lead into the fore-saloon with its adjoining cabins. Amundsen's cabin is the farthest forward on the starboard side, and communicates with an instrument-room. From the fore-saloon a door leads out forward, past a sixth cabin.
In the space forward on the main-deck we have the fore-hatch, and by the side of this a room entirely lined with zinc plates, which serves for storing furs. Forward of the fur store is fitted a 15 horse-power one-cylinder Bolinder motor for working the capstan; the main features of its working will be seen in the drawing. There are two independent transmissions: by belt and by chain. The former is usually employed. The chain transmission was provided as a reserve, since it was feared that belt-driving might prove unserviceable in a cold climate. This fear, however, has hitherto been ungrounded.
Forward of the motor there is a large iron tank to supply water for cooling it. In the same space are chain-pipes to the locker below and the heel of the bowsprit. This space also serves as cable-tier.
On the upper deck we find aft, the opening of the rudder-well and that of the propeller-well, covered with gratings. A piece was added to the lower part of the rudder to give more rudder area.
Forward of the propeller-well comes the reserve steering-gear, almost in the same position formerly occupied by the only steering-gear; the ordinary steering-gear is now moved to the bridge. The old engine-room companion aft is now removed, and forward of the after-wheel is only the skylight of the after-saloon. Up through the latter comes the exhaust-pipe of the main engine. Forward of and round the mizzenmast is the bridge, which is partly formed by the roofs of the large chart-house and laboratory amidships and the two houses on each side. The chart-house occupies the place of the old boiler-room ventilator, and abuts on the fore-deck. (It is thus a little aft of the place occupied by the chart-house on Nansen's expedition.) It is strongly built of timbers standing upright, securely bolted to the deck. On both sides of this timber work there are panels, 2 inches thick on the outside and 1 inch on the inside, and the space between is filled with finely-divided cork. Floor and roof are insulated in a similar way, as is also the door; the windows are double, of thick plate-glass. Inside the chart-house, besides the usual fittings for its use as such, there is a companion-way to the engine-room, and a hatch over the manhole to the main supply tank for oil-fuel. The opening in the deck has a hatch, made like the rest of the deck (in two thicknesses, with cork insulation between); the intention is to cut off the engine-room altogether, and remove the entrance of this companion during the drift in the ice through the Polar sea. The side houses are constructed of iron, and are not panelled; they are intended for w.c. and lamp-room. On the roof of the chart-house are the main steering-gear and the engine-room telegraph. On the port side, on the forward part of the after-deck, a Downton pump is fitted, which can either be worked by hand or by a small motor, which also serves to drive the sounding-machine, and is set up on the after-deck. Forward of the starboard side house is the spare rudder, securely lashed to deck and bulwarks. On each side of the chart-house a bridge leads to the fore-deck, with ways down to the workroom and fore-saloon. On the fore-deck, a little forward of the mainmast, we find the two ship's pumps proper, constructed of wood. The suction-pipe is of wood, covered on the outside with lead, so as to ]prevent leakage through possible cracks in the wood; the valves are of leather, and the piston of wood, with a leather covering. The pump-action is the usual nickel action, that was formerly general on our ships, and is still widely used on smacks. These simple pumps have been shown by experience to work better than any others in severe cold. The fore-deck also has skylights over the fore-saloon, the main and fore hatches, and finally the capstan. This is of the ordinary horizontal type, from Pusnes Engineering Works; it is driven by the motor below, as already mentioned. The capstan can also be used as a winch, and it can be worked by hand-power.
The Fram carries six boats: one large decked boat (29 x 9 x 4 feet) -- one of the two large boats carried on Nansen's expedition -- placed between the mainmast and the foremast, over the skylight; three whale-boats (20 x 6 feet), and one large and one small pram; the two last are carried on davits as shown in the drawing. One of these whale-boats was left behind on the Ice Barrier, where it was buried in snow when the ship left. It was brought ashore that the wintering party might have a boat at their disposal after the Fram had sailed.
For warming the vessel it is intended to use only petroleum. For warming the laboratory (chart-house) there is an arrangement by which hot air from the galley is brought up through its forward wall.
The vessel was provided with iron chain plates bolted to the timbers above the ice-skin. The mizzenmast is new. There was a crack in the beam that forms the support for the mizzenmast; it was therefore strengthened with two heavy iron plates, secured by through-bolts. Two strong steel stanchions were also placed on each side of the engine, carried down to the frame-timbers. The old mizzenmast has been converted into a bowsprit and jib-boom in one piece. There are now standing gaffs on all three masts. The sail area is about 6,640 square feet.
All the cabins are insulated in the same way as before, though it has been found possible to simplify this somewhat. In general the insulation consists of:
1. In the cabins, against the ship's side and under the upper deck, there is first a layer of cork, and over that a double panelling of wood with tarred felt between.
2. Above the orlop deck aft there is a layer of cork, and above this a floor of boards covered with linoleum.
3. Under the orlop deck forward there is wooden panelling, with linoleum over the deck.
Bulkheads abutting on parts of the ship that are not warmed consist of three thicknesses of boards or planks with various non-conducting materials, such as cork or felt, between them.
When the vessel was docked before leaving Horten, the zinc sheathing was removed, as already stated, since fears were entertained that it would be torn by the ice, and would then prevent the ice from slipping readily under the bottom during pressure. The vessel has two anchors, but the former port anchor has been replaced by a considerably heavier one (1 ton 1 1/2 hundredweight), with a correspondingly heavier chain-cable. This was done with a special view to the voyage round Cape Horn.
In order to trim the ship as much as possible by the stern, which was desirable on account of her carrying a weather helm, a number of heavy spare stores, such as the old port anchor and its cable, were stowed aft, and the extreme after-peak was filled with cement containing round pieces of iron punched out of plates.
Along the railing round the fore-deck strong netting has been placed to prevent the dogs falling overboard. For the upper deck a loose wooden grating has been made, so that the dogs shall not lie on the wet deck. Awnings are provided over the whole deck, with only the necessary openings for working the ship. In this way the dogs have been given dry and, as far as possible, cool quarters for the voyage through the tropics. It is proposed to use the ship's spars as supports for a roof of boards, to be put up during the drift through the ice as a protection against falling masses of ice.
The Fram's new engine is a direct reversible Marine-Polar-Motor, built by the Diesel Motor Co., of Stockholm. It is a Diesel engine, with four working and two air-pump cylinders, and develops normally at 280 revolutions per minute 180 effective horse-power, with a consumption of oil of about 7 3/4 ounces per effective horse-power per hour. With this comparatively small consumption, the Fram's fuel capacity will carry her much farther than if she had a steam-engine, a consideration of great importance in her forthcoming long voyage in the Arctic Sea. With her oil capacity of about 90 tons, she will thus be able to go uninterruptedly for about 2,273 hours, or about 95 days. If we reckon her speed under engine power alone at 4 1/2 knots, she will be able to go about 10,000 nautical miles without replenishing her oil-supply. It is a fault in the new engine that its number of revolutions is very high, which necessitates the use of a propeller of small diameter (5 feet 9 inches), and thus of low efficiency in the existing conditions. This is the more marked on account of the unusual thickness of the Fram's propeller-post, which masks the propeller to a great extent. The position of the engine will be seen in Fig. 1. The exhaust gases from the engine are sent up by a pipe through the after-saloon, through its skylight, and up to a large valve on the bridge; from this valve two horizontal pipes run along the after side of the bridge, one to each side: By means of the valve the gases can be diverted to one side or the other, according to the direction of the wind.
Besides the usual auxiliary engines, the main engine drives a large centrifugal bilge-pump, an ordinary machine bilge-pump, and a fan for use in the tropics.
When the Fram left Christiania in the spring of 1910, after taking her cargo on board, she drew 17 feet forward and 19 feet 5 inches aft. This corresponds to a displacement (measured outside the ice-skin) of about 1,100 tons. The ice-skin was then 12 1/2 inches above the waterline amidships.
This is a chapter from The South Pole (e-book).
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