Robert E. (Robert Edwin) Peary.

Nearest the pole : a narrative of the polar expedition of the Peary Arctic Club in the S.S. Roosevelt, 1905-1906 online

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points in EUesmere Land and Grinnell Land : Alexan-
dra Haven, EUesmere Land; Rawlings Bay, Grinnell
Land, and in the Fort Conger region, Grinnell Land;
and an antler was picked up by a member of my party
in the summer of 1901 at Erik Harbour, some twelve
miles south of Cape Sabine. The published reports
of Sverdrup's expedition state that he found reindeer
in abundance on the west side of EUesmere Land.

"I have seen many winter coats of the Greenland
Caribou and they are pronouncedly darker than the
EUesmere specimens."




IN JULY, 1904, in one of the charming villas over-
looking the city of Bar Harbor a meeting took
place, small as to numbers but weighty with impor-
tance in the affairs of the Peary Arctic Club, for at that
meeting was taken the formal step which meant the
building of the Roosevelt.

Four men were present at the meeting: Morris K.
Jesup, Lewis L. Delafield his counsel, Captain Charles
B. Dix, and myself.

Mr. Jesup had stated some time previous, that if
subscriptions to the Peary Arctic Club could be secured
to the amount of $50,000, including his own generous
check for not less than half that sum, he would assume
responsibility for the construction of the ship and
guarantee the contract, thus insuring the construction
of the ship in time to go North in 1905, and giving
nearly a year additional time in which to secure the
additional funds necessary.

Up to this time the interest had not been particularly
widespread. The amount of subscriptions was still
short of $50,000, but time was pressing and the material
must be ordered at once in order to give even a
reasonable chance of completing the ship in time.

Personally I felt no doubt but wha,t the total amount
of money could be raised, and yet it must be admitted



that the prospects were none too favourable and dis-
cussion did not seem to appreciably clear the situa-

Mr. Jesup was as deeply interested as I, and was not
only willing but anxious to do everything in his power
to put the matter through, but he hesitated at assum-
ing too much responsibility because, as he frankly told
me, he did not feel, much as he wished to, that he could
properly assume the entire burden of the expedition.

Finally Captain Dix said that he would order the
timber for the building of the Roosevelt on his own
responsibility^ that he believed the money would be
raised, and that if it were not, he would assume what-
ever loss might result from his action. His
statement was like a ray of sunlight both to Mr. Jesup
and myself, for it brought out clearly the fact that
there was something in the project which appealed
irresistibly to business men of big ideas.

The next scene which I recall most distinctly was in
another beautiful villa in Vermont, commanding miles
and miles of beautiful country and with a regal moun-
tain and forest domain back of it. It was just before
the ist of August, the date on which the $50,000 must
be subscribed to insure the signing of the contract for
the construction of the ship. The total still fell several
thousands short of that amount. Mr. Colgate had
already promised a generous check with an intimation
that he might increase it if it were necessary.

At this meeting there were but three: Mr. Colgate,
Judge Darling, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and
myself. The situation was presented to Mr. Colgate,
and with characteristic promptitude and generosity





his check was increased by an amount that rounded
out the $50,000 and so the building of the Roosevelt
became a certainty.

In approaching the general question of a ship for
Arctic or Antarctic ice navigation, one thing is imme-
diately apparent to anyone at all conversant with the
matter, i. e., that she should be as small as is con-
sistent with carrying the party, supplies, equipment,
and coal for the work planned.

The reasons for this are evident. The smaller a ship
is, the stronger she is, and the more easily handled.

In looking for facts to show the results of past ex-
perience in this field, it is at once discovered that
practically all ice boats past and present have been
built by the three countries, Scotland, the United
States, and Norway, for the prosecution of the whale
and seal fisheries.

In this work the Norwegians have operated in the
seas about Spitzbergen, Jan Mayen, East Greenland,
and Nova Zembla; the United States in Hudson Ba}'-
and Bering Sea; and the Scotch principally in the
chain of waters comprising Davis Strait, Baffin Bay,
Lancaster Sound and their tributaries, with a few
voyages to East Greenland and Hudson Bay.

The ice conditions encountered by the Norwegians
and Americans may be very broadly stated as floes and
broken ice drifting in an open sea, through which the
ships have to thread their way.

The ice conditions encountered by the Scotch
whalers, are a nearly solid expanse of one season's ice
in Melville Bay, and when that is passed, heavy ice
in narrow land-locked channels, notorious for their


strong currents, the direction of which is opposed to
the course of the whalers.

It has been said by one writer that the American
whalers use their steam to keep out of the ice, while
the Scotch use theirs to get into and through it.

Comparing existing ships of the Scotch, Norwegian,
and United States whaling fleets, it is found that the
following average proportions of beam to length exist:

Scotch, 1:5-75

Norwegian, • • 1:47

American, i:4-5

It is seen at once that the Norwegians and Americans
have not departed from the old-fashioned sailing ship
model. (The average ratio in our modem Bath-built
schooners is 1:4.78.)

The Scotchmen have a finer model, and since this
model is a practical evolution by shrewd seamen and
builders from an experience of over one hundred and
twenty -five years, in a business where large financial
returns were the lot of the best ship; and the seas where
that experience was secured and for which that evo-
lution was designed, are the seas to be navigated by
the proposed ship, it seemed clear that the Scotch
model was the one on which to base our studies.

The problem of size did not present itself in the
present instance in quite the form that it did to Nansen,
and the English and German Antarctic Expeditions.
In these instances the size of the party and the length
of time it was to be absent being determined upon, and
the coal consumption of the engines fixed, it was easy
to calculate the cargo to be carried which, plus the


dead weight of the ship and machinery, gave at once
the displacement needed.

In the present case it was regarded as practicable
to determine in advance upon a size and proportion
of ship which should most nearly balance and meet
the various requirements, and let the difference between
her displacement, and her own dead weight, go for
cargo capacity, of which the greater portion would
be coal.

The size fixed upon was 184 feet over all by 35 feet
beam by 16 feet draft, loaded. (Load water-line 166
feet.) This gives a ship of nearly the same length,
but a little greater beam than the English Antarctic
ship. Discovery. Her length ratio would be 1:5.26,
not quite as fine as the Scotch average, but much finer
than the Norwegian or American models.

Such a ship is in the same class as the Terra Nova,
Bear, Thetis, and Neptune of existing whalers, the
Proteus (lost) , and the exploring ship Discovery.

Length and beam having been determined, the form
of hull was next to be considered. In the navigation
of the particular regions contemplated by the Ex-
pedition, a light draft is preferable to a heavier one,
as enabling the ship to go closer to the shore, and thus
get round a barrier, or retreat close in shore from ad-
vancing heavy ice, and let it ground outside of the

The element of light draft also enters mto the con-
sideration of the lifting of the ship under heavy pressure
from ice floes. The deeper a ship is in the water, the
more difficult will it be for her to rise and save herself.

It has been well said that while a form of hull that


would allow a ship to rise easily and readily under ice
pressure is desirable, and this desirability has been
recognised, no ship previous to the Fram had been built
to meet that requirement.

In the Fram almost everything else was sacrificed to
this requirement. Seaworthiness was sacrificed, and
as the Fram's experience in her two voyages shows,
ability to make her way through ice was sacrificed.

For the purpose for which she was designed, i. e., to
enter the ice and then drift with it, evading destruction
from ice pressure, she was well adapted, but as the
designers of the German Antarctic ship Gauss said in
discussing the Fram model, she would have been even
better adapted for this had she been bowl-shaped.

Contrary to popular ideas, the work which an Arctic
ship has to do is not principally that of breaking up
one season's ice, as is done by harbour and river ice-
breakers, in Canadian and Russian waters for instance.
Such conditions of level, unbroken ice of uniform thick-
ness are found only in Melville Bay on the upward
voyage, where the one-season ice is encountered, and
late in the season when the new ice is beginning to
form. The main work of the Arctic ship is that of
threading and pushing and wedging and prying her
way among and between and around fragments and
cakes and large fioes of ice, the latter of such thickness
(twenty to fifty or seventy feet) that nothing could
break a passage through them. Of course, nothing
can be done but squeeze a way around these. It is for
this reason that the powerful Russian Ermack is not
available for a Polar voyage, and why she is not treated
of in this discussion. Fifty Ermacks merged in one could


not break through these floes, and in squeezing around
them the Ermack could not carry enough coal to take
her half-way to the Pole.

To return to the hull model. In the Fram every-
thing was sacrificed to secure certainty of lifting under
pressure. In the Gauss, which is a modified Fram,
while the broad beam of the Fram (thirty-six feet)
was retained, greater length was given the ship to
render her a better sea boat for the long voyage from
Germany to the Antarctic Circle. Her ratio is i to 4.25
as compared with the Fram's 1 to 3.25. The Gauss's
draft, however, is excessive (nineteen feet).

As already noted, great draft is a disadvantage in
the region under consideration, and every increase
in beam makes impassable leads which otherwise
would be available, and greatly increases the power
required and the difficulties of pushing a way through
loose ice.

The Englisn Discovery was ouilt, as was to be ex-
pected, on the lines of the Scotch whalers, with a little
broader beam. Her ratio is i to 5.27. Her draft is
a little less than that of the whalers. She was not
specially modelled to rise under pressure, but was
specially constructed (as the Fram, and Gauss were
not) for ramming a way through opposing ice.

The model selected for the Roosevelt was intended
to meet the requirements of lifting under pressure,
of being short enough to handle easily, and of being
able to ram a passage through heavy ice effectively and

Detailed features of these requirements are as follows :

For lifting under pressure, steel-sheathed sides,


sloping bilges, flat floor to prevent heeling when lifted,
flush stem and keel, raking stem, raking stern (this a
new feature). For forcing a way through loose ice:
sharp wedge bow, and full counter to keep ice from
propeller. For ramming ice: a sharply raking stem,

From this general description, it will be understood
that while the hull model contained the best features
of preceding ships, it was not a departure from
ordinary models, like the Fram and Gauss, but rather
a modification of them to meet special requirements.

When the question of power was approached, there
was a radical departure, in fact a complete reversal of
previous practice in Arctic ships, and the adoption of
ordinary commercial practice.

Hitherto Arctic ships have had full sail power (full-
rigged bark being the favourite rig) and auxiliary
engines, often of surprisingly puny power. The object
of this has been economy of coal, and the consequent
ability of the ship to cover long distances at slow speed,
and remain away from home for a period of years.

The Roosevelt is a powerful steamer, with all the
engine force she could contain, and with only moderate
sail area. There is no question in my mind but that
this is the correct principle upon which to build a
modem Arctic ship for effective results.

The Smith Sound or "American" route is especially
advantageous for this method, presenting a coasting
voyage, facilities for placing coal depots, the key of
the route condensed in a few hundred miles of heavy
ice navigation, and the possibility of even obtaining
coal in situ along the route.


The Roosevelt had engines capable of developing
one thousand horse-power. They were of the inverted,
compound type, driving a single eleven-foot propeller,
and steam was supplied by two water-tube boilers and
one Scotch boiler. Her sail plan is a light, American,
three-masted schooner rig, possessing the advantage
of light weight (it is to be remembered that every pound
of weight saved in rigging or fitting means a pound of
coal in the hold) , and small surface to be forced through
a head wind; yet sufficient to materially help the
engines in a favouring wind, and to enable the ship
to make her way home should her coal be exhausted.

As to construction: The strength of the hull must
be such that it will resist the terrific pressure of the
ice-floes, and keep its shape intact until the lifting of
the ship bodily releases the pressure; such that if sup-
ported at each end only, or in the middle only, or
thrown up on the ice and resting upon her bilge, dur-
ing the paroxysms of the floes, she will not be strained
or injured; and such that she can ram the ice by the
hour when necessary, without injury to seams or

It is a popular fallacy that steel is a suitable material
for the construction of an Arctic ship. A steel ship,
though structurally strong, is peculiarly vulnerable
locally to the ragged, rock-like tongues and comers of
heavy Arctic ice.

The elasticity, toughness and resiliency of thick
wooden sides are essential in an Arctic ship; but the
wood planking may be steel-sheathed on the outside
to enable the ship more easily to slip from the grip
of the ice, and the methods of composite ship building


may be utilised in the interior of the vessel, to reduce
weight, while at the same time increasing its structural
strength, and not lessening the strength and rigidity
of the interior bracing.

In the interests of strength, the frames of the Roose-
velt were made treble, keel, keelson, stem and stern-
post exceptionally strong; the planking is double;
the deck beams, and especially the 'tween-deck beams,
which are to be just below the water-line, are extra
heavy, and spaced more closely than usual. Ad-
ditional struts from the bilges, and strong posts rom
the keelson, longitudinal tie plates at the water-ways
and on the upper deck beams, and transverse bulk-
heads, add still further to her great strength.

In the interest of lightness there is no 'tween-deck
planking, no interior fittings; and the spars and rig-
ging are made as light as possible.

The keel, false keel and keelsons are of oak, and
form a rigid backbone to the ship six feet in height.
The stem and rudder and propeller posts also are of
massive oak timbers, the former having a depth on the
ship's axis of seven to ten feet, to take the blows when
ramming ice. The frames also are of oak, placed
almost close together, and each composed of three
thicknesses of timber bolted together to give great
strength. The planking is double, yellow pine inside
and oak outside.

The sides of the ship are from twenty-four to thirty
inches thick.

To keep even these heavy sides from being crushed
in, they were reinforced by heavy deck beams placed
unusually close together, and a lower tier of heavy

Typical face of Eskimo womun

Four-year-old Eskimo girl dressed in blue fox kapetah and sealskin kamiks


beams just below the water-line fonning with steel
rods and inclined posts and stmts to the ship's sides
and bilges, a strong truss at an interval of every four
feet in the length of the ship.

The housing of the personnel of the expedition in
light structures on deck, which personal experience
has shown to be much the simpler and better plan
than below decks, permits a stronger and more effec-
tive arrangement of these trusses than has been at-
tained in previous ships. The interior of the bow,
which is to the ship what the ccstiis was to the ancient
gladiator, is filled in solid with timbers and iron.

The stem also, as well as the stem, is iron-plated,
and the rudder post, which is the Achilles's heel of an
Arctic ship, is of unusually strong construction. The
rudder is so arranged that it can be hoisted on deck
out of the way of the ice if necessary. The propeller
is so arranged that it can be used either as a two-
bladed or a four-bladed propeller, and is made of
unusual strength. Powerful deck appliances in the
shape of windlass, steam capstans and winch, enable
the ship to warp herself out of a dangerous place, or
pull herself off the bottom should she get aground.

The whole plan and theory of the ship was, first,
that her strength, her power, her weight, her carrying
capacity, should all be below the main deck, and that
everything above deck — houses, bulwarks, spars, sails,
rigging, boats and equipment — should be as light as
possible, to permit more coal in the hold; and second,
that not a dollar was to be wasted on fittings or frills,
everything to be for strength, power, and effectiveness.

The keel of the Roosevelt was laid October 15, 1904,


in the McKay & Dix shipyard at Bucksport, Maine,
and the ship was launched the 23d of March, 1905,
Mrs. Peary shattering a block of ice containing a bottle
of champagne against the steel-clad stem as the hull
glided down the ways and christening the ship Roosevelt.

The installation of the machinery began two days
later at Portland, Maine, and was practically com-
pleted in less than two months.

The official measurements of the ship are as follows:
length, 184 feet; breadth, 35.5 feet; depth, 16,2
feet; gross registered tonnage, 614 tons; maximum
load displacement, about 1,500 tons. The backbone
of the ship, viz. ; keel, main keelson, stem and stern
posts, as also her frames, plank sheer, the waterways,
and garboard strake, are white oak. Beams, sister
keelsons, deck clamps, 'tween-deck waterways, bilge
strakes, ceiling, and inner course of planking, yellow
pine. Outer planking, white oak, and decks, Oregon
pine. Both the ceiling and outer course of white oak
planking are edge-bolted from stem to stem and from
plank sheer to garboard strake. The fastenings
are galvanised iron bolts, going through both courses
of planking and the frames, and riveting up over
washers on the inside of the ceiling.

Special features of the ship are as follows:

First, in model, a pronounced raking stem and
wedge-shaped bow; very sharp dead rise of floor,
affording a form of side which cannot be grasped by
the ice ; a full run to keep the ice away from the pro-
peller; a pronounced overhang at the stem to still
further protect the propeller, and a raking stempost.

Second, peculiarities of construction; the unusual


fastening, as noted above; the unusual and massive
arrangement of the beams, and bracing of the sides
to resist pressure; the introduction of screw tie rods
to bind the ship together; the development of the
'tween-deck beams and waterways on a water line,
instead of on a sheer, like the upper-deck beams; the
placing of the ceiling continuous from sister keelson
to upper-deck clamps, and the placing of the 'tween-
deck waterways, deck clamps, and the bilge strakes
on top of the ceiling; the filling in of the bow almost
solid where it meets the impact of the ice; the massive
and unusual reinforcement of the rudder post to pre-
vent twisting; the adoption of a lifting rudder, which
may be raised out of danger from contact with the ice ;
the armouring of the stem and bows with heavy plates
of steel; the protection of the outer planking with
a 2 -inch course of greenheart ice sheathing.

Peculiarities of rig are: pole masts throughout ; very
short bowsprit, which can be run inboard when navigat-
ing in ice of considerable elevation; three-masted
schooner rig with large balloon staysails. The Roose-
velt carries fourteen sails, including storm staysails,
and has a sail area somewhat less than that of a three-
masted coasting schooner of the same size.

Peculiarities of the machinery installation are : a com-
pound engine of massive construction; an unusually
heavy shaft of forged steel 12 inches in diameter; a mas-
sive propeller 11 feet in diameter, but with blades
of large area, which are detachable in case of injury;
a triple boiler battery; arrangements for admitting
live steam to the low-pressure cylinder, in order to
largely increase the power for a limited time; an


elliptical cruiser-type smoke-stack to reduce wind

The best quality of material and labour were put
into the ship, and it was believed and has since been
proven that she is the ablest ship ever built for Arctic




PLUMP and rounded figures, emphatically expres-
sive countenances, bronze-skinned, keen-eyed,
black-maned inhabitants of an icy desert; simple and
honest, occasionally sulky; wandering, homeless people:
these are my children, the Eskimos.

Their origin, no one can tell to a certainty ; but their
appearance indicates the strong probability of the
correctness of the theory advanced by Sir Clements
Markham, distinguished President of the Royal Geo-
graphical Society of London, that these people are
remnants of an ancient Siberian tribe, the Onkilon.
Many of them are of strikingly Mongolian type of

What first impresses one is their inquisitiveness. Dr.
Hayes records the case of an Eskimo woman who had
subjected herself to a temperature of thirty-five de-
grees below zero, with the liability to be caught in a
gale; she had travelled forty miles over a track, the
roughness of which frequently compelled her to dis-
mount from the sledge and walk; she had carried her
child all the way; her sole motive being her curiosity
to see the white men, their igloo (hut), and their strange
treasur es.

*For portions of this chapter taken from Peary's "Northward," the
courtesy ol the Frederick A. Stokes Compan' is hereby gratefully



Imagine, then, the arrival of a box — which most
probably in a civilised community, would be looked
upon as a cartload of rubbish. Placed within the
vision of the unspoiled Eskimo, it becomes transformed
into Dantes's grotto filled with " such stuff as dreams
are made of." With fox-like inquisitiveness, the ob-
ject is approached. Each article is touched, felt and
examined; and later, as the "village gossips" get to-
gether, we listen to the cheery verboseness of "Sairy
Gamp" and Megipsu, discussing the riches of the
Kohlunah (white man).

In a country where men, women and children exist
in complete isolation, where vegetation, mineral mat-
ter and even so common a thing as salt are unknown
— the people's capacity for imitation would ordinarily
be wholly a matter of conjecture ; but when brought in
contact with my expedition the Eskimos have shown
wonderful characteristics of Oriental imitation and
adaptation. If given a gun, a hatchet, or a knife as
a model they will reproduce these in miniature, in
walrus ivory, with a faithfulness and accuracy that
seems almost startling in view of their tools and pre-
vious lack of training. The men also pick up with

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Online LibraryRobert E. (Robert Edwin) PearyNearest the pole : a narrative of the polar expedition of the Peary Arctic Club in the S.S. Roosevelt, 1905-1906 → online text (page 18 of 20)