Articles: Greenheart timber used for strengthening Ship Hulls

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s greenheart timber was used to strengthen the hulls of two ships, the Fram and the Endurance, so that they would be strong enough to tackle the icy conditions of the Arctic and Antarctica. Both of the ships were at the forefront of wooden ship building and had very different ways of dealing with the ice. One of which proved more successful than the other.

The Fram goes further North and South than any other wooden ship

The Fram was built by Colin Archer, who was a Scottish-Norwegian ship-builder, for Fridtjof Nansen’s Arctic expedition. Nansen wanted to test his theory that there was an ocean current flowing underneath the Arctic sheet after wreckage of a ship that was lost in Siberia turned up in Svalbard and Greenland. This suggested that a current flowed under the Ice sheet from East to West.

The main obstacle in the path of the expedition was the Ice itself, as freezing Ice can crush the hull of a ship, so the ship was designed with this in mind. Instead of relying on strength alone the hull of the Fram was shallower than normal and designed so that as Ice formed, the ship would be push above the Ice and float on top, rather than being crushed.

The ship was at sea for three years – Between 1893 and 1896 – having been trapped in the ice for long periods of time proving that the hulls design had worked. However, the Fram didn’t make it all the way to the North pole, with Nansen completing the expedition on Skis and then return to Norway a few days before the ship turned up.

In 1898 the Fram was commissioned again to go on a second trip to the Arctic with Otto Sverdrup. Their aim was to chart the Canadian Arctic Islands and after 4 years they charted 260,000km2 which is more than any other Arctic Expedition. Interestingly it was Sverdrup who had brought the ship home After Nansen continued without it on its previous voyage.

The final major voyage of the Fram was between 1910-1912 when Roald Amundsen used it on his expedition to the South Pole. Amundsen’s initial plan was to reach the North Pole, but there was a problem, two American explorers (Frederick Cook and Robert Peary) each claimed to have reached the North Pole before Amundsen had set sail. So, he revised his plan and worried that he would lose financial backing, kept the new destination a secret (even from his crew). It was only when they left their last port of call at Madera that he told them of his new intentions to sail to the South Pole.

After its expeditions it is widely believed that the Fram has been further North and further South than any other wooden ship. Its ingenious design and expert sailors more than helped in its travels across the world.

The Endurance doesn’t live up to its name

The Endurance is another ship that was created for Arctic travel, but things didn’t quite go as smoothly for this ship as the Fram. Completed in 1912 the Endurance was initially designed to be a cruise ship which would take tourists around the Arctic. As such it was built with luxurious cabins without a cargo bay.

But there were issues when one of its owners, Adrian de Gerlache, ran into financial troubles and had to pull out of his partnership with Lars Christensen. This left Christensen unable to pay the remaining balance for the ship and desperate to sell it. After struggling to find a buyer, because its lack of a cargo hold made it useless to the whaling industry, the Endurance was eventually sold to Earnest Shackleton.

Upon purchasing the ship Shackleton relocated the ship from Norway to London where it was refitted and modified for expedition purposes. Once completed the ship was sailed to Buenos Aires in Argentina to get ready for its journey to the Arctic.

The Endurance was praised for being built specifically for Arctic conditions with its reinforced wooden hull being one of the strongest ever built. Designed to resist collisions with ice and ramming through pack ice. It was not designed to be frozen in ice, under this circumstance the strength of the hull alone would be its only protection.

After setting sale from Argentina and its last port of call in South Georgia the Endurance set sail for the Arctic for its last voyage. Two days after leaving Georgia the expedition came across polar pack ice which they struggled to force their way through. After weeks of forging through the ice the pack ice was eventually blown away making progress a little easier until they reencountered the ice.

They made their way through the new pack ice only to find that something was wrong. The newly encountered ice was soft brash ice and the ship became beset as the gale compressed the ice against the ship. It was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened, the hull was broken by the pressure exerted by the ice and the ship had to be abandoned.

Some of the crew had to remain behind for several weeks as Shackleton went to find rescue for them in South Georgia. It was three months later when Shackleton eventually rescued all of his crew after his third attempted rescue mission.