When it comes to polar exploration, Fram is one of the most famous names in Norway.
WORDS CARRIE HUTCHINSON
The original Fram
It is an issue that faces anyone wanting to explore the polar regions: having the ocean freeze around it can crush a ship. In the late 1800s, Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen realised that if he was to lead an expedition across the Polar Sea he’d need to come up with a design that could withstand such environmental pressures.
He came up with a plan to build a ship with a differently shaped hull – one that, when encased in ice, would be forced upwards rather than down. It would also need to remain stable in its heightened position until the ice floes had carried it to warmer waters.
Nansen took plenty of advice from other seafarers and worked hard to make his plan a reality. He truly believed the Norwegian flag would be the first to fly at the North Pole.
With shipbuilder Colin Archer, he planned and designed the Fram.
“It is our consolation that we have done what we could and that we have even lifted a little more of the veil which conceals this part of our planet.”
— Hjalmer Johansen
The initial voyage
On 24 June 1893, Nansen and the Fram departed Norway. After a month it left Norwegian waters then was finally tested on reaching the New Siberian Islands. The Fram froze into the ice. Thankfully Nansen’s planning paid off and the vessel survived, drifting on the Polar Sea, sometimes north but also south, on the currents. By Christmas they passed the 79th parallel, but Nansen was frustrated by the slow passage, estimating it could take up to seven years to reach the Pole. Six more months, and they finally reached 87º 34’ N, but it became increasingly obvious to the explorer they may never get far enough north to reach his ultimate destination. Nansen made the decision to leave the Fram in the guardianship of Captain Otto Sverdrup and attempt to reach the North Pole by sledge, with one other man, Hjalmer Johansen, and a company of dogs. The conditions were incredibly harsh. Temperatures often dropped to -40ºC, they struggled on their journey for up to 20 hours at a time, and the dogs misbehaved.
Eventually Nansen and Johansen decided to turn back. They had gone further north than any man before them. “Should have liked it if we could have got further,” Johansen wrote in his journal. “It is our consolation that we have done what we could and that we have even lifted a little more of the veil which conceals this part of our planet.” It took them the best part of a year – they overwintered in a hut and survived polar bear attacks – to get back to Norway. They arrived home in August 1896 and, five days later, the Fram, which had been trapped in ice for almost three years, docked in the harbour. Nansen became famous around the world, and the Fram would go on two more expeditions: one to the Canadian Arctic and the other to Antarctica with Roald Amundsen, where the ship was anchored at Framheim in the Bay of Whales while the explorers set out on sledges.
When the Fram returned to Norway from Antarctica in 1914, she was in a poor condition. Thankfully, many Norwegians believed such a historic vessel should be saved and, in 1925, Otto Sverdrup became chairman of the Fram Committee.
She was completely restored to her former glory and was towed to Trondheim, to be part of an exhibition, then on to Oslo and beyond for people to admire her. Then the Fram was covered in corrugated iron and left. Sverdrup, who died in 1930, always meant for the ship he loved to be taken ashore and preserved. It took another six years and donations from all over the world, but on 20 May 1936, Fram House was opened by the King of Norway, Haakon VII. Today visitors to the Fram Museum can visit the Fram and explore her cabins, lounges, cargo hold and engine room. There’s also the chance to see other preserved ships and find out more about the legendary expeditions conducted by Norwegian explorers.
The MS Fram
It should come as no surprise the team at Hurtigruten chose to name one of its ships after the most famous explorer vessel of its time. And, just like the original, MS Fram is built for polar exploration. Built in 2007 and completely refurbished in 2020, MS Fram is our guests’ floating expedition base camp. With 125 comfortable cabins, including a number of suites named after Norwegian polar heroes, this ship is one of our smaller vessels with a passenger capacity of 318 (200 on Antarctic journeys). There is everything necessary for maximum relaxation on board, including two restaurants and a bar, a gym, sauna, hot tubs, shop and Hurtigruten’s signature Science Centre. And, of course, there are spacious decks, including access to the very front of the ship, for observing marine wildlife.