Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen's former ship raised to surface, awaits trip home to Norway

After six years of work a team of Norwegians has succeeded in recovering the Maud — a ship that once belonged to famed Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen and sank more than 80 years ago — from its icy grave in Nunavut waters near Cambridge Bay.

After 6 years of work, the Norwegian team has lifted the ship and is preparing it for winter

'It’s a beautiful ship and she’s very strong,' says Jan Wanggaard, the project manager for the Norwegian recovery team. (Submitted by Jan Wanggaard)

After six years of work, a team of Norwegians has succeeded in pulling the Maud — a ship that once belonged to famed Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen  — from its icy grave in Nunavut waters near Cambridge Bay.

"It's a beautiful ship and she's very strong," says Jan Wanggaard, the project manager for the recovery team.

"We're very happy now that we can see the Maud is in an extremely good state."

The Maud’s egg-like shape helped preserve its structure under heavy ice pressure, says Wanggaard. (Submitted by Jan Wanggaard)

The Maud was launched on June 7, 1917, and captained by Amundsen during his 1918-20 expedition into the Northeast Passage above Russia. It was sold in 1925, and sank in 1930 after getting trapped in the ice near Cambridge Bay. 

Luckily, the Maud's egg-like shape helped maintain its structure even under heavy ice pressure, says Wanggaard.

The Maud was first launched on June 7, 1917, in Norway. (Submitted by Jan Wanggaard)

And despite being submerged in Arctic waters for more than 80 years, the ship has maintained much of its integrity.

Wanggaard and his team have been coming to the area to work on the wreck every summer for six years.

In June, the team began inflating air bags and balloons around the ship. Their experience with an unsuccessful lift last year helped them come better prepared with additional flotation devices. 

Finally in July, the Maud floated for the first time since it sank.

After a month of cleaning the Maud starts to reveal its beautiful details. (Submitted by Jan Wanggaard)

Throughout July and August, the team worked on placing the ship on top of a barge. And for most of September their work consisted of cleaning out the inside of the ship.

"She was quite covered with mud and other debris," says Wanggaard.

Preparing for a long winter

The Maud now rests on a barge near the coast. Over the winter it will freeze in place.

"That is actually good for the Maud, because she needs to dry," says Wanggaard.

Stig Pettersen carries a heavy load of mud from the Maud while Terje Morved digs out the old engine. (Submitted by Jan Wanggaard)

The drying process will reduce the weight and decrease the pressure on the Maud's structure from its own waterlogged girth. But drying a massive wooden ship with a thick hull soaked for 85 years can't be rushed.

The cold weather will help, says Wanggaard, because the low temperatures will put less strain on the wood.

Working on an icon

Since the Maud has emerged above water, locals have been dropping by to take a look at the historic ship and snap a few photos.

Bjorn Myrann dresses Jan Wanggaard for a Maud dive this summer. (Submitted by Jan Wanggaard)

"Everybody is surprised that it's so big and it's in such good condition," says Wanggaard.

He says that even after all these years of working on the ship, his team still spends some time every day talking about what actually happened on the Maud and her journey of scientific discovery.

"It's fascinating," says Wanggaard.

He adds that the team is constantly finding small clues about what life might have been like on board the ship.

Bringing it all back home

Wanggaard says most people in Cambridge Bay have reconciled with the fact that the ship is travelling back to Norway.

"I think they feel a little bit like us now," says Wanggaard.

'We have a long trip home,' says Wanggaard. (Submitted by Jan Wanggaard)

"It's worth taking her back to protect her for the future, because sooner or later she would have been completely destroyed by nature."

The Maud's excellent shape gives Wanggaard and his team renewed hope that it can begin the journey back to Norway next summer when the team returns to Cambridge Bay.

Their task next year will be to stabilize the ship on the barge and make it seaworthy.

"We have a long trip home," says Wanggaard.


Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.