Restoration of the Gjøa underway
M. Michael Brady
Restoration of the Gjøa, the sloop used by polar explorer Roald Amundsen and a crew of six for his first-ever transit of the Northwest Passage, is now underway at the Fram Museum in Oslo.
The Gjøa is a square-sterned, 70 ft. long sloop built in 1872 by the Knut Johannesson Skaale shipyard at Rosendal in the Hardanger district of western Norway, to order for Nordland Ship Captian Asbjørn Sexe of Ullensvang, also in Hardanger. She was named Gjøa (modern form of the Old Norse name Gyða) after Captain Sexe’s wife and served him for 28 years as a herring fishing boat.
In 1901, Captain Sexe sold the Gjøa to Roald Amundsen, who had chosen her as the ideal vessel for his planned attempt to sail the Northwest Passage. The Gjøa was smaller than other vessels used by Arctic expeditions, which suited Amundsen’s strategy for the expedition: take as few people as possible and live off the resources of the land and the sea, as did the native peoples of the far north. Moreover, the Gjøa had a shallow draft, which would help her negotiate the shoals of the Arctic straits. Auspiciously, Amundsen had been born in 1872, the year the Gjøa was built.
After the successful transit of the Northwest Passage from June 1903 to August 1906, the Gjøa sailed south to San Francisco, arriving there October 19, 1906. The Norwegian-American community there persuaded Amundsen to sell the Gjøa to them as a sensible alternative to sailing her around Cape Horn back to Norway. The Gjøa then was donated to the city of San Francisco and put on display at the northwest corner of Golden Gate Park. In 1972, the Gjøa was returned to Norway on the deck of the M/S Star Billabong, a Norwegian freighter. In June she was placed on a concrete foundation outside the Fram Museum in Oslo, purpose built in 1936 to house the Fram, the expedition ship used in the Arctic and the Antartic by Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, Oscar Wisting, and Roald Amundsen. In 2013 a separate building for the Gjøa, similar to the Fram Museum, was put up close by, and she was moved indoors. The ongoing restoration reflects the heritage of the Hardanger of the building of the Gjøa: the work of it is being performed by specialist craftsmen from the Hardanger Fartøyvernsenter (Historic Vessel Preservation Center).
Visiting the Gjøa: You can view the Gjøa and follow her restoration online on the Fram Museum blog at: frammuseum.no/polar_history/vessels/restoration_of_gjoa. When in Oslo, you can see her physically at the Fram Museum on the Bygdøy Peninsula; further details on the museum website at frammuseum.no.
This article originally appeared in the March 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.