The remains of the polar ship “Maud” are back home on the Oslo Fjord again, a century after Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen sailed away on what would be an unsuccessful expedition to the North Pole. It’s been a long voyage, with plenty of drama along the way.
The vessel was built especially for operations in polar pack ice at the old Anker & Jensen’s Shipyard in Vollen, located on the Oslo Fjord southwest of Oslo itself. Amundsen’s plan was to sail, from Vardø in Northern Norway, through the Northeast Passage and deliberately get stuck in the ice north of the Bering Straits. He then expected that Maud would drift with the ice across the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole.
Amundsen had been the first to sail through the entire Northwest Passage and make it to the South Pole, but his expedition on Maud didn’t go nearly as well. As the organization (Maud Returns Home) behind Maud’s recovery recalled, the vessel became icebound off the Siberian coast over the next three winters. While scientific research and measurements made during the expedition were successful and valuable, Amundsen’s Maud never made it to the North Pole.
The vessel reached Seattle in August 1921 and Maud was overhauled, but Amundsen ran into financial trouble. The vessel was ultimately arrested when it returned to Seattle via Nome, Alaska four years later, after a second unsuccessful attempt at drifting to the North Pole. Maud was sold by creditors at auction to Canada’s Hudson Bay Company in 1925 and later put into service as a floating warehouse and wireless radio station. It sunk while tied up at Cambridge Bay in Canada in 1931, and remained under the water, snow and ice for more than eight decades.
In 1990, the Norwegian municipality of Asker, where Vollen is located, symbolically bought the sunken wreckage for one Canadian dollar and efforts began to raise the vessel, tow it home to Norway and perhaps even restore it. That project stranded but was revived in 2011 by real estate development firm Tandberg Eiendom, as what it called “a final initiative” to bring the remains of the old polar ship back to Vollen. It has spent nearly NOK 30 million moving Maud from Canada to Norway.
The vessel was finally raised from what had been a watery grave in the summer of 2016 and towed back out through the Northwest Passage that Amundsen had been the first to navigate completely from 1903-1906. Maud then spent time in Greenland until the return voyage could begin earlier this summer, around Greenland and over the North Atlantic.
After making a ceremonial call at Bergen, Maud was towed onward to Vollen, arriving in unusually bad weather for August on Saturday morning and accompanied by a flotilla of small boats. The sun came out again on Sunday, when Maud was towed to Bunnfjorden, to a spot just off the coast from Amundsen’s historic home, and then on to Oslo, where Maud was put on public display.
Then it was back to Vollen, where a new Oslofjord Museum will take care of the vessel and where local patriots hope to draw more attention to the Anker & Jensen’s Shipyard that also built some of Europe’s fastest regatta sailboats and several for the royal family during its glory days from 1905 to 1939.
“We have been looking so forward to this,” Tron Wigeland Nilsen, leader of the museum, told newspaper Aftenposten. “Now folks can finally get close to Maud, and see how a polar ship was actually built.”
Plans now call for Maud to be towed to Tofte at the southern tip of Hurum for conservation work. “The wood on the vessel is 100 percent healthy, even though it’s worn,” project leader Jan Wangaard, who oversaw the voyage from Greenland to Norway, told Aftenposten. He said Maud won’t be restored to original condition, though: “The vessel can tell its own history as it looks today.”
Then the vessel will be placed in Vollen, not no one can say yet just where or when. “We’ve been working on this for seven years, so we don’t need to hurry,” Wangaard said.