Unsinking a ship: Maud returns home
After 85 years underwater, Roald Amundsen’s Arctic explorer has been salvaged and will make its way home to Asker, Norway
M. Michael Brady
Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen’s Maud, the ship built for the first transit of the Northeast Passage, has been salvaged and now is being returned to Norway for restoration and display in a purpose-built museum in Vollen in Asker Kommune on the west bank of the Oslo Fjord, where she was built and launched in 1916.
The Maud is the third of the three Norwegian ships of the heroic age of polar exploration. The other two are the Fram and the Gjøa, now on display in the Fram Museum in Oslo. The Fram was launched in 1892 and used from 1893 to 1912 by explorers Fridtjof Nansen, Roald Amundsen, Otto Sverdrup, and Oscar Wisting in the Arctic and the Antarctic. The Gjøa was launched in 1872 and served as a herring fishing boat for 28 years before being bought in 1901 by Roald Amundsen for the first transit of the Northwest Passage that took three years and finished in 1906.
Like the Fram, the Maud was purpose built for service in the Arctic ice sheet. She was named for Queen Maud, the English-born wife of King Haakon VII, and was launched in June 1916, by Roald Amundsen, who christened her by crushing a block of ice against her bow after saying:
Det er ikke min akt å håne den edle drue. Men allerede nå skal du få føle litt av ditt rette element. For isen er du bygget, og i isen skal du tilbringe din beste tid, og der skal du løse din oppgave. Med vår dronnings tillatelse døper jeg deg Maud.
(It is not my intention to dishonor the glorious grape, but already now you shall get the taste of your real environment. For the ice you have been built, and in the ice you shall stay most of your life, and in the ice you shall solve your tasks. With the permission of our Queen, I christen you Maud.)
Amundsen’s short christening speech was prescient. The Maud spent her entire working life in the ice of the Arctic. She completed an arduous first transit of the Northeast Passage that took six years, from 1918 to 1924 and ended in Nome, Alaska. In 1925 she was sold on behalf of Amundsen’s creditors to the Hudson’s Bay Company, renamed the Baymund, and used as a supply vessel for outposts in the high Arctic. In the winter of 1930-31, she sank at her mooring at Cambridge Bay in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut, Canada, three degrees of latitude north of the Arctic Circle, and has been there since.
In 1990, Asker Kommune bought the sunken Maud from the Hudson’s Bay Company with the intent of salvaging and bringing her back to Vollen. A Canadian Cultural Properties Export Permit was issued, but in face of the high cost of salvage and transport, no action was taken, and the permit expired. In 2011, a local private-sector enterprise, Tandberg Eiendom (Tandberg Properties), initiated new action in the Maud Returns Home project. After negotiations with Canadian authorities, a new export permit was granted. Salvage work began in the summer of 2015, with Tandberg acquiring a suitable transport barge and deploying the Tandberg Polar tugboat.
Now salvage and preparation for transport continue, with the aim of bringing the Maud home on the centennial of her launching in Vollen in 1916. But the imponderables of work in the high north remain, not least in the choices of procedure after the hull is up and floating and then of the return route halfway round the globe, eastward toward Greenland or westward through the high north of Russia.
This article originally appeared in the July 15, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.