The Maud floats again: Norwegians bring long-sunken ship to surface

A team of Norwegians has recovered the wreckage of a ship that once belonged to famed Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen and that sank off the coast of Nunavut more than eight decades ago.

Roald Amundsen's ship sank in 1930 near what is now Cambridge Bay

A bird's eye view of the wreck of the Maud, taken last year with the help of a kite. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen explored the far north in the vessel from 1918 to 1920. (Jan Wanggaard)

A team of Norwegians has recovered the wreckage of a ship that once belonged to famed Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen and that sank off the coast of Nunavut more than eight decades ago.

The Maud was lifted from shallow waters in Cambridge Bay at around 3 p.m. MT Saturday. The team had been attempting to recover the wreckage for six years.

"This is a milestone, of course, because we have been wanting to lift her ever since we started to think about this project," said Jan Wanggaard, project manager for the Norway-based organization Maud Returns Home. "To actually see her releasing from the seabed — it's a great experience."

Jan Wanggaard, Bjorn Myrann and Stig Pettersen are the base team in Cambridge Bay this summer for the Maud Returns Home project. (Jan Wanggaard)
Amundsen's ship plied the Arctic between 1918 and 1920 in a failed attempt to cross the North Pole. After he went bankrupt, the ship was sold to the Hudson Bay Company, which used it as a floating warehouse. It sank off what is now Cambridge Bay in 1930 and has been there ever since.

Lifting her up

The team plans to lift the ship completely out of the water and tug her back to Norway; making her float again, while the hull is still below the surface, was the first step. 

Wanggaard says for the past month, the team has been slowly inflating what he calls air bags or balloons to help her rise to the surface, unsure of when that would be exactly.

Wanggaard was in the water inflating one of the balloons when it happened. 

Giant airbags were fitted to the sides of the Maud to help lift her out of the water. Each one provides 15 tonnes of lifting power. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"I saw it was more dusty in the water than normal… and I thought, 'Ah, that's a bit strange,'" Wanggaard said. "And then I came up to the surface and I saw my friend with a big smile."

Within the next few weeks, Wanggaard and his team will work on lifting the ship completely out of the water, using a barge they tugged across the Atlantic from Norway. 

Wanggaard says they'll submerge the barge, float Maud over it and slowly bring the barge back up to the surface, carrying the ship. 

"She's much more heavy than we actually anticipated ... and that means it might be that we have to do the lifting process very slowly so she can lose some weight by being drained from water," Wanggaard said.

Years of work still ahead

It will still be years before the Norwegian team can bring the ship back to Norway, but Wanggaard has already looked at two possible routes home: either through the Northwest Passage and Greenland, or "going over Russia because that's where the Maud came from originally."

The Maud is located in shallow water on the other side of the bay, across from the community. (Google)

Wanggaard hesitates to put a date on Maud's arrival in Norway, but said it would be great if it coincided with some significant anniversaries like 2017, 100 years since she was launched, or December 2018, 100 years since she sailed from Norway.

Either way, Wanggaard says the work — and the wait — is worth it.

"This was his [Amundsen's] ship, built for him completely and it was a very sad end to that history until now, I think.

"So in a way we are all very happy to give Maud a better end ... and to honour Roald Amundsen's incredible achievements."

With files from Shannon Scott

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