Fram to Pangaea

Mike Horn and Borge Ousland’s Place in Arctic History

Photo by ROAM | Santino Martirano

By Stein Retzlaff

Stein is an expedition leader, photographer, and videographer adventuring with purpose

What is the difference between Fridtj of Nansen’s legendary “Fram” expeditions in the 1890’s and Borge Ousland and Mike Horn’s North Pole crossing expedition in 2019? First, we feel very, very humble even thinking of comparing “Fram” and “Pangaea”. What Nansen did with Fram is one of the most audacious polar explorations ever.

What Mike Horn and Borge Ousland are doing is as close as we can get in our time. The similarities are there, but time, knowledge, and state of the polar ice is vastly different. Nansen’s ship, the “Fram” was built with a rounded hull among other features that would allow it to be lifted, and not crushed, when caught and exposed to prolonged pressure ice exposure (built by Colin Archer). The overall length of the “Fram” was 128 ft (39m). In 1893, Nansen and his crew aboard the “Fram” were fully enclosed in the ice at already at 78°50’N, 133°E. Once completely frozen, Nansen let it drift for the next 3 years. By April 1895, the “Fram” drifted to 84°4’N 102°27’E , but still far away from the coveted North Pole. Then Nansen and one crew member disembarked the ship and made an attempt on reaching the North Pole. They turned back at 86°13.6’N, the farthest North reached by man at that time. They then retreated back to Franz Joseph Land. Before his departure from Fram, Nansen appointed Otto Sverdrup as leader of the rest of the expedition. Sverdrup had orders to continue with the drift towards the Atlantic Ocean unless circumstances warranted abandoning the ship and continuing on land. On 15 November 1895 Fram reached 85°55’N, only 19 nautical miles (35 km; 22 mi) below Nansen’s Farthest North mark.

So what is the difference between the ‘Fram” and the “Pangaea” expeditions? First, the “Pangaea” is not a ship, but rather a sailing boat. Second, her purpose in 2019 was not to get stuck in the polar ice pack for years. The mission was to make it as far North as possible to drop Mike Horn and Borge Ousland off so they could continue to ski across the North Pole.

Photo by ROAM | Stein Retzlaff

The next mission was for the “Pangaea” to get out of the ice and sail to Spitsbergen via the Northeast Passage where she hopes to pick Mike and Borge up somewhere north of around 80°N where the retreating ice ends on the other side of the Arctic Ocean. Some ice charts from the team in Norway signified the Pangaea’s ability to reach much further North, but for every mile gained above 85°N, the risk of getting stuck in the ice for polar winter grew greater and greater. Pangaea’s Arctic and Antarctic strengths as a sailboat are astonishing and extreme. It was built and geared to withstand whatever the polar extremes could throw at it. But “Fram” stands alone and is in a totally different ice class. It can’t be called the first ice breaker – unless you forget the modern understanding of the word. But Fram broke the ice in her unique manner! “Pangaea” can only lower her flag in that respect – but stands strong in what she has achieved. The “Pangaea” is the most badass sailboat I have ever stepped foot on in my life. Our ability to sail from Nome, Alaska to 85°34’N, then out of the ice and through the Northeast Passage is an extremely impressive feat that has never been done in history. Wishing Mike Horn and Borge Ousland the best of luck as the are currently skiing across the North Pole for another 60-70 days.

For more on Mike Horn and Borge Ousland’s journey check out At the Limit and Reaching the North Pole.

Check out our next Expedition: At the Limit