The restoration of Gjøa
Blog entry January 10, 2017
For a week now, five ship carpenters from Hardanger Fartøyvernsenter (Hardanger Maritime Center, in English) have worked on what will be a major reversal operation on Gjøa, the Hardanger sloop that Roald Amundsen used when he succeeded in bringing the first vessel through the Northwest Passage.
This voyage took place during the years of 1903-1906. Global warming wasn’t an issue at that time, and the polar waters were covered with ice. Explorers had tried to find the waterway from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific for hundreds of years. Amundsen and his crew sailed Gjøa all the way, and ended up in San Francisco in 1906. She remained in the harbor for the next three years, until Amundsen sold her, and she was brought ashore.
From 1909 to 1972 she was on display in Golden Gate Park. As the years passed, Gjøa became “old news”, and the vessel was not maintained as well as it needed to be. In the 1930s, a restoration program began, only to stop as World War II broke out.
In 1947 the restoration began again. However, historical authenticity was not the focus. For example, most of the metal-work and interior details were removed and only the shape of the hull remained somewhat true to the original form. The heavy, old, pine frames where replaced with narrow, redwood frames, and these stood three times farther apart than on the original vessel.
When Gjøa returned to Norway, in 1972, she came to Bygdøy, in Oslo. Not long after, the boatbuilding company, Djupevåg Boatyard, from Hardanger, restored almost everything above the waterline. The redwood frames are still in the boat and are seen as dark sections among the whiter, pine frames that were placed between them during this restoration.
Gjøa was built in the period of April to October of 1873, by the shipbuilder Knut Skaala Nes from Rosendal, in the Hardanger fiord, and 100 years later she returned to Norway. They knew how to build wooden ships in those days.
Just a few years back, the Fram Museum got Gjøa from The Norwegian Maritime Museum. Soon thereafter, they built a brand new house to honor her, and Roald Amundsen’s explorations in the artic.
Twice already Hardanger Maritime Center has worked on Gjøa. First, we strengthened her so she could be moved into the house, where she now stands, without the risk of breaking apart. Our second task was to rig her up to the standard she is today. During the current work being done, we are going to fit out the boat so that she looks more like she did when she sailed through the Northwest Passage. We are not removing anything, only adding new material, so that she will be strong enough to withstand gravity without sagging. When we are done in June of this year, Gjøa will have her ice sheeting, an extra layer of planks, back on the hull. Inside we are also adding a lot of timber that Amundsen had put in before the voyage. In this blog, we will report from the workplace.
After many years in Golden Gate Park, Gjøa was in bad shape. Here we can see her before her 1947 restoration in America.
In 2012 Gjøa had her last journey. Here she is being lifted into her own house in Fram Museum.
Gjøa standing in the museum today.
Blog entry January 11, 2017
While it is raining and blowing outside, we are walking around with dry shoes inside the Gjøa house – sometimes it’s too warm. I have hung my woolen long johns on the scaffolding, along with my woolen undershirt and my winter jacket. Here we are snug and happy, and the atmosphere is good. When I asked Kamilla how it was going with the “ice sheeting” she answered with what I have used as the title for this post. Fram, the boat, is, as we all know, standing in the neighboring house and is going nowhere.
During the day, Ole Marius and Paul worked their way aft at top speed, screwing the first layer of 10 mm thick boards into place on the hull. Kamilla and Mads were breathing down their necks, as they fastened the second layer on top of the first, with both glue and screws. It’s fortunate that we have battery-driven drills with screw-driver bits to screw in all the screws, as we will soon have used 10,000 screws! As Ole Marius and Paul finished the first layer, they returned to the bow to start on layer number three. They are cutting and fitting the boards. We will need just one more layer when they are done, but it won’t be finished this week.
Ole Marius and Paul have begun working with the third layer on the port side of the hull.
While I was home in Hardanger, some time ago, one of the Ship Preservation Consultants, Ørjan, gave me a DSLR camera. This was a really good camera with a bunch of lenses, and I thought it was fantastic. Perhaps I would eventually be able to take some clear pictures. Now, 6 months later, I looked down into the bag and to my great surprise, found a wide-angle lens. For the first time, I changed the lens. Once that was accomplished, of course I had to take a few photos. Suddenly, I could get the person working down at the keel AND the guy who was standing up on the scaffolding in the same picture. And, When I positioned myself aft of Gjøa, I could fit in the entire transom. Holy cow, this was terrific!
Port side is covered with thin boards.
Other than playing photographer, I have kept myself down in the belly of the boat, stripping the interior. In the picture, everything is piled up in the bow of the boat. After lunch, everyone helped me to get it all out of the boat and all the way outside of Gjoa’s house. I can move around inside the boat quite well now.
The photo is taken from aft of the deck inside the Captain’s cabin and facing forward. The materials taken from the crew’s cabin are piled in the bow.
All of the cross-beams, inside of the boat, were placed there when we prepared Gjøa to be moved into her house. They formed part of the framework that stiffened her. A little later, we will replace these with heavier beams, placed somewhat higher than they are now, at about the level of the waterline. I was able to mark where they will be, today.
Tomorrow I will begin with a job that I am not looking forward to, but which has to be done—making a nice curve to the beam shelf. The line of the beam shelf now is crooked and broken. In order to make a nice curve, I will have to remove a good deal of wood in places, working above my head. Another problem is that there are bolts sticking out in all directions which will have to be cut off. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
Blog entry January 29, 2017
"Gjøa" in the Northwest Passage.
The time has not even reached seven o’clock in the morning when five people sneak into the Fram Museum. One person unlocks the entrance door, while another rushes in to turn off the alarm. Inside the museum, it is almost as dark as outside. It feels like playing a part in the movie “A Night at the Museum”. In front of us looms one of the dinosaurs in a polar context. The ship Fram fills the huge room we have entered. It is a powerful sight. In my spare time I have spent many hours on board the ship, and I am always impressed by the quality of the workmanship on board. When I know that Colin Archer never installed electricity in his shipyard, it is almost unbelievable that they built Fram.
Well, there is no time for the five boat builders to daydream in front of Fram. They have a job to do. Quickly they walk through the “Northwest Passage”, which brings them to the Gjøa building. As soon as they turn the electricity on, the familiar sounds and films from the exhibition start up. They have gotten to know it all by heart, now. For three and a half weeks, they have worked to add a strengthening shell on the outside of the old Hardanger sloop that found its way through the real Northwest Passage.
As we sneak into the museum, we see the mighty polarship “Fram” right in front of us.
The shell is part of the 3’’ thick ice sheeting, and the five people making up our “youthful team” have now completed this. Therefore they are all going to work inside of Gjøa for a while. There, Thomas and Morten of the “old boys team” have prepared the ground so that the beamshelf can be made and installed. Kasper has made a template to find the correct shape of the beamshelf, so that it will follow the drawn curve when they force it into place. From now on, every plank that will come on board will have a curve to it. Each plank must be cut and planed into shape. It is a time consuming job.
Mads makes sure that the steam is finding it’s way into the steambox.
The beamshelf aboard Gjøa was originally 4 ½ ” (11.5 cm) thick and 9 ½ ” (25 cm) wide. That is quite a hefty plank to bend into shape when building a new hull. As we are only rebuilding the inner hull, it is unthinkable to work with such thick planks. First and foremost, Gjøa is an older lady. They do often suffer from osteoporosis. Secondly, there is hardly room to move planks like that below deck. When Gjøa was built, the hull was open and spacious. We have to work in a hull with heavy beams and deck just above our heads, and just to get a 30 ft (10 meter) long plank on board and into the hull is a challenge. Therefore, we are making the beamshelf in two layers. Our goal is to have Gjøa look the same as she did when Roald Amundsen sailed her, even though we do not necessarily make everything the same way. We still think most people will have an authentic experience when they see her.
It is hard to get the beamshelf on board and into the hull.
From now on “the youth team” will be busy planking the inside hull of Gjøa. In the periods where “the old boys” are at work, we will cover the exterior hull with planks. I can’t wait to get started.
The beamshelf is bent and forced into place.
Blog entry February 3, 2017
Boat building with modern tools is a dusty affair. Now that we’re going to fit the ceiling, the planks on the inner hull, it is important to plane the inside of the frames so that all of them will get in touch with the planks. When Gjøa was restored in the 1970s they never thought to bring her back with ceiling and all. Therefore, they did not spend time to align all the frames on the inside. Although, it actually does not look bad at all. There are some edges and some frames that need to be trimmed before we lay the ceiling planks. The Youth Team, who are working inside of Gjøa, are now trimming the frames with electric planers. Dust and wooden shavings are thrown out these electric machines, and makes life for the boat builders rather dusty inside the boat. In addition, we must be careful and keep dust from flying out of the boat and into the museum. The museum that surrounds the boat is fully equipped with sensitive electronic equipment that does cannot stand dust as well as the boat builders . They are using dust masks when working. The best would be to wear safety glasses as well, but when you breathe into the dust mask the glasses fog up immediately. Therefore, it happens that some choose the next best thing and go without glasses.
Three boatbuilders working with the batten while breathing heavily into the dust masks
To trim the frames we use a nice knot free batten. Most often, we are three people to bend the batten against the frames, one on each end and one in the middle. When we press it against the frames it bends into a nice curve. Then we see where it touches the frames and where it is just hovering by. Where it touches we mark the frame where wood shall be removed. A horizontal line means that in this area we have to take away some wood. We then make vertical lines to remind us how much wood we have to remove. One line is two millimeters, two linees four millimeters etc. When we have checked and marked the frames throughout the length of the vessel we are ready to plane the frames. That’s when dust start flying like all hell is lose. It is especially the redwood timbers that turns into dust. That is why we have to wear dust masks. Our ancestors, who built Gjøa, did not use either electric machines or dust masks. According to our colleague and retired boatbuilding chief, Kristian Djupevåg, that is why they managed to build the vessels so quickly. They did not have to think about electricity and electrical cables, machines that needed maintenance or simply did not work when they were expected to. They used axes and adzes and removed wood shavings in flakes. Their work was fairly quiet too. Our electric planers from Japan are screaming and yelling as bad as I imagine that the kamikaze pilots did as they flew towards their goal.
Paul catching dust.
Kamilla taking a rest
Blog entry February 8, 2017
Before we started the work on Gjøa, we took several photos of the hull. All of the 151 photos were prosecced in a software called Agisoft Photoscan. Press the link and you see a 3D model that you can rotate and zoom in on.
Outdoors, a cold northerly wind is sweeping across the water and onto our workplace. In between the woodpiles and snowdrifts, Arild and Peter have started to shape and plane long planks for the ice sheathing. They both look cold and frozen.
Peter dressed in a cheap suit to get protection from the ice cold wind.
In the previous period, Thomas and I made a few lines on the hull. They show us how the planks should run to have a nice curve. Right underneath the uppermost line, Arild and Peter nail a thin board to the hull. As the plank they intend to use is long, they nail several thin boards to each other, making this template. Every two feet or so, they measure from the template to the line. They write all the measurements on the template as they go, so there should be no doubt where the measurement was taken. Thereafter, they loosen the template and bring it outside to the plank stack. That’s when the guys get their own “ice skin”. Inside the hall, where Gjøa is standing, it’s quite hot and there’s obviously no wind. The temperature difference is so great that Peter and Arild had sore throats after their first day back at work.
Arild in action.
There are plenty of planks available, and there is no trouble finding a good plank to match our needs. The wood comes from Alvdal Skurlag and has grown high above sea-level. It is good quality pine and many of the planks are knot-free, even if they are up to 33 feet long. I am normally quite skeptical concerning knot-free pine planks, as they normally consists of a lot of outer wood. Outer wood rots a lot faster than core wood, but, as “Gjøa” will never again be exposed to the elements, that should not be a problem. The positive thing about these outer wood planks is that they are soft and easy to bend. Therefore, we don’t have to steam a lot of them.
From the template, Arild and Peter transfer all the measurements to the plank, making a lot of marks on the plank. They set a nail in each mark, and bend a batten so that it touches all the nails. The batten makes a nice curve that is slightly S-shaped in the bow area, and banana-shaped further aft. We cut the planks so that they are 21 cm wide amidships and approximately 17cm at the ends. It looks very harmonious when planks taper towards the ends of the ship.
Even if he has glasses on, Thomas has a hard time finding the line. Time for stronger glasses Thomas?
Thomas is also making a plank for the ice sheathing. His plank is going to stand vertical, right aft of the stem. From old photos we can see that there are two planks standing like this, to cover up the ends of the horizontal planks that butt up to it. They are protecting the ends, and making sure they do not just end up as thin, sharp points. Around the stem, and onto the planks Gjøa, and many other polar vessels, used to have heavy iron bands to protect the area. Someday, I hope we can see Gjøa with her’s once more.
Ole Marius fastening the strip of wood along the keel.
Down by the keel, we find Ole Marius. He is by far the youngest on the team, and naturally belongs to the “youth team”. Instead of following their schedule: 2 weeks on one week off, Ole Marius has shorter weeks and works every week.
All along the keel, he is shaping and fastening a strip of wood, which the keel plank will end on. Normally, the hull planking fits into a trace in the keel, but these planks, sitting on the outside of the hull do not. With this extra strip he bevels the edge so that it sort of ends up like a piece of the keel.
The transom is covered with yet another layer of planks, and here I am fairing the edges.
On the scaffolding aft of Gjøa, I have my workplace. I am making and fastening an extra layer of planks there, as well. The lower part of the transom consists of two layers of planks already. The first layer is horizontal, while the outer layer has standing planks. From old photos we have found that a third layer, the ice sheathing, is covering the transom. These planks are mounted in a fan shape.
Per Michael and Arild fastening another plank.
Here, there and everywhere, we find Per-Michael. He is the oldest guy on the team, and a person that gives us a helping hand wherever needed. He is never hard to ask, and when nobody is asking for his service we often find him sweeping the floor, tidying up the area and so on. Every team deserves a guy like him! At the end of the day he helped Arild hang up a couple of planks. We’re really on the way!
Now I’m here, Per Michael.
Blog entry February 16, 2017
The photo above is taken as "Gjøa" leaves Tromsø 11. May 1892, for the Arctic Ocean.
A few days ago I stumbled over a great picture of Gjøa on the Internet. The picture was shot years before Roald Amundsen bought her, and it woke my interest to know how Gjøa’s previous owners had used her. When Roald Amundsen bought Gjøa she was old and well worn. In fact, both Roald and Gjøa were 30 years old when they sailed across the Atlantic to find the Northwest Passage together. That voyage is well known, while the first 30 years are much less so. Here are a few glimpses into her past.
In 1872, Asbjørn Sexe, from Hardanger, ordered a new vessel from the shipbuilder Knut Johannesen Skaala Nes. The following year, Jøra-Knutt, as he was known, built the vessel. Gjøa was launched in October, 1873 and was named after Asbjørn’s wife. Just like most other Hardanger sloops, Sexe used Gjøa as a cargo ship in what we call “the North and Baltic Sea Trade.” The vessel worked an area ranging from along the Norwegian coast, through the Baltic Sea and down to Brest / the English Channel. In older Norwegian newspapers, we can sometimes see traces of her route. In wintertime, Gjøa sailed to the northern part of Norway where fishermen caught and sold a lot of cod. The sloop owners bought the cod and then sailed south to Bergen with the cargo, as soon as the cod had been dried on the cliffs. In April 1874, Gjøa sailed from Bergen to Sweden with herring and salted fish. The following month she came back to Bergen, and had, in the meantime, been to Riga in the Baltic Sea. In Riga they had bought a ship’s load of rye.
Sexe, and his fellow sailors, continued to sail Gjøa for ten years. Then they were unlucky. Gjøa ran aground off Kabelvåg, in Lofoten, Norway, and Gjøa ended up as a wreck. As such, she was sold to O.J. Kaarbø in Svolvaer. Two years later Kaarbø sold the wreck to Hans Christian Johannesen, from Tromsø, for 700 Nkr. He repaired Gjøa, and outfitted her as a sealer for use in the Arctic Ocean north of Norway and Russia. For the next 16 years, Gjøa could be found in these waters. Every year the vessel was re-equipped in Tromsø, and from May to September / October, Johannesen and his crew hunted walrus, seals, polar bears and reindeer. Some years they also brought back eiderdown and narwhale. In 1889, there were 14 men aboard Gjøa, as she sailed into the arctic area. Four months later, they came back to Tromsø with 50 polar bears (skins), 100 reindeer, 50 walruses and 324 seals and several barrels of blubber.
Johannesen became known as a skilled and experienced skipper and Gjøa got a reputation for being a good vessel. Fritjoff Nansen asked Johannesen for advice before he brought Fram to the North Pole. In the year 1900, Gjøa was used to carry goods and people to Spitsbergen for the Swedish-Russian Arc expedition. Helmer Hanssen, who was aboard Gjøa through the Northwest Passage and Amundsen’s South Pole expedition, participated in this measurement expedition from 1899 to 1900. In the local newspaper of Tromsø, we can read when Johannesen sailed Gjøa into the Arctic Ocean and when they returned. What they did the rest of the year is not as clear. In 1889, however, Gjøa brought firewood to Lofoten.
All things must pass, and in 1900 Johannesen advertised Gjøa for sale (above). Roald Amundsen was eager to buy her for Nkr 9500, -. He became the owner of the vessel which he made famous a few years later. In 1901, Johannesen and Amundsen brought Gjøa north for a final hunting season. Whether it is to make money, to strengthen the hull for the Northwest Passage voyage, or to learn from Johannesen is unknown. In 1903, Amundsen and Gjøa were ready for the Northwest Passage. This is the finale for Gjøa, and as with many finales, everyone remembers how things turned out. All the events that led up to the finale are like a faded backdrop.
“Gjøa” as imagined in the Northwest passage
Blog entry February 21, 2017
For a week now there has been a lot of activity inside the hull of Gjøa. The boatbuilders have carried one plank after the other on board and threaded them through the cargo hatch. When the planks are inside the hull, the visitors at the museum are not able to see them anymore, but that does not mean they do not notice that something special is happening onboard. There is sawing, planing and not to forget the deafening racket when the planks get fastened to the frames. Heavy ship nails are driven through the plank to hold the ends fixed to the hull. The rest of the plank is fastened to the frames with lag bolts. It is when we screw them in that the racket takes off. The electric machine screws and hammers simultaneously, and to everybody outside the boat, it sounds like a machine gun is going wild inside. For every bolt it sounds like a burst of gunfire as the plank settles nicely in to the frames.
Kasper is planing a ceiling plank
What is going on is that the gang is laying the ceiling. Before I started as a ship’s carpenter I did not know what the ceiling was. I thought it was the boards above our heads in a house. But no, onboard a ship the ceiling is the planking covering up the frames on the inside of the ship, and on steel boats it can even be the wooden floor. It is simply a lining applied to the interior of the hull to prevent the ship’s cargo from falling in between the frames and on to the hull surface.
Yet another plank is bent into shape
In Norway we “always” lay the right side of the pine planks, ie the surface of the plank closest to the core wood, into the boat. This means that the planks on the outside of the boat have the most heartwood toward the frames, while the ceiling planks have the outer wood towards the frames. Obviously, this is for practical reasons. The heartwood is more resistant to fungus and rot, and that is very important on the hull and deck planks. It is important when we caulk, both when the planks are originally put on the boat and when re-caulking after some years, that the seams have a nice, hard bottom to them. We make the vessel watertight by filling these seams between the planks with hard packed oakum. If the inside of the plank has rotted the oakum will be hammered right through the seam, and will be hard to keep tight.
Mads in action
In the ceiling we typically use the planks in their full width. By this, I mean that they can have waning on one side, or rough, unfinished edges. The side which faces the hold must be fully planed and have sharp edges so that they will lay together tightly, to prevent the cargo from falling through. The side facing the frames, however, does not have to be perfectly square and we can accept missing corners and unfinished edges. These missing edges form longitudinal air channels across the frames. Aeration is important when trying to preserve wood as long as possible. Therefore, it is actually a good thing that the ceiling planks are not fully edged.
Kamilla fastening the ceiling planks
Kasper & Co. saw and plane the planks into shape so that they are ready to be bent into place on board. Fortunately, it’s possible to force them and lash them down toward the frames without steaming most of them. Only where there is a lot of bending, twisting and flexing, will we have to heat the planks with steam. They get softer and cooperative, but it takes extra time. We have to steam each plank one hour per inch of thickness. As I said, we only steam the stiffest and most stubborn planks. If only it was that easy with humans. After a few hours in the sauna even the US President might have been jacked down a few notches. Maybe somebody should invite him to Finland?