Nunavut shipwreck nearing floatation stage
“We like to do what kids do but can’t do anymore, because we’re older”
A group of Norwegians is hoping some basic laws of engineering will help them do something in the western Nunavut town of Cambridge Bay next week that, quite frankly, has never been done before.
Jan Wanggaard, leader of the Maud Returns Home project, is hoping to use long, sausage-like rubber balloons to raise the Maud, a ship currently sitting on the sea floor just off the Cambridge Bay shoreline, in the first of many steps to bring the ship home to Norway.
“We’re all focused. It’s like climbing a mountain, you’re pushing the limits, you cannot be worried. You have to be focused,” said Wanggaard, on the phone from Cambridge Bay July 22.
“We are close to knowing what we are doing. But no one has done this before. So you cannot know 100 per cent how it will go. But you have to try to foresee it.”
The Maud, known locally as the Baymaud, sank in its moorings in 1930 after Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian polar explorer, tried unsuccessfully to sail it around the North Pole.
Amundsen is still revered as a national hero in Norway and Wanggaard’s mission is to bring the Maud home, clean up what remains of the ship, and put it on display at a future Maud museum in Vollen, Norway.
Wanggaard and his colleagues have been working on this project in earnest since 2011.
Last summer, they pulled a barge by tugboat across the Atlantic Ocean, around Greenland and all the way to Cambridge Bay, leaving the vessels there over winter.
The small but tenacious team of three, who returned to the Kitikmeot hamlet this spring, has been diving underwater, calculating, diving again, and re-calculating in the hopes of eliminating any possible disasters before inflating the heavy-duty, six-metre-long reinforced balloons.
Here’s the plan in a nutshell.
They have circled the hull in some of the strongest rope known to exist and have attached 10 inflatables to that rope.
Each inflatable has 15 tonnes of lifting power and the rope strapping is strong as steel, but much lighter and more malleable — the kind used in seafaring.
Very soon, they will start pumping air into the inflatables, first to get the ship upright, since the ship is leaning to one side by about 15 degrees on the ocean floor, and then to get the entire wreck lifted and free floating in the water.
They estimate the Maud weighs between 200 and 300 tonnes.
Once afloat, they will use their tug boat to gently pull the wreck to deeper waters.
Now here’s the genius of the plan.
They will tow the barge out and leave it near the Maud. Once in place, they’ll fill with water the barge’s two 30-metre-long, four-metre-diametre containers — the structures which effectively make the barge buoyant. As those tanks fill with water, the 250-tonne barge will sink.
Then they’ll situate the Maud so it’s hovering above the barge and drain the barge’s tanks of water so that it begins to float again. When it rises, the wreck will be on top.
“If you were a kid, I’m sure you would love it. It’s the kind of thing kids want to do and we’re all kids aren’t we? We like to do what kids do but can’t do anymore because we’re older,” Wanggaard said, with a laugh.
The team has reached a critical time when years of planning have turned to action.
“We’ve been discussing this so much. The process has to be slow now. Every time we do something, we have to think about it,” he said. “We are basically trying to understand all the forces, all the possible developments.”
Wanggaard said the ship is made of oak with a reinforced hull to handle Arctic ice so they’re hopeful its structure can withstand the weight shifts and movement required to set her upon the barge.
If all goes as planned, they will leave the barge with the Maud on top in Cambridge Bay for the winter so the wreck can dry out. Wanggaard said the cold, dry conditions of Cambridge Bay are ideal for evaporating water from the saturated wood.
They hope to then tow the ship back to Norway next summer.
Canada agreed to the ship’s repatriation in 2012 and issued an export permit for the Maud Returns Home group to raise what’s left of it and tug her across 7,000 kilometres of ocean.