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 Fridtjof Nansen

Colin Archer was born in Larvik as the 12th of 13 children to parents who immigrated to Norway from Scotland in 1825. Colin Archer (22 July 1832 – 8 February 1921) was a Norwegian naval architect and shipbuilder known for his seaworthy pilot and rescue boats and the larger sailing and polar ships. His most famous ship is the Fram, used on both in Fridtjof Nansen´s and Roald Amundsen´s polar expeditions.

Polar ships

The most notable single ship built by Colin Archer was the Fram, used by Fridtjof Nansen in his expedition attempt to the North Pole 1893-96 and by Roald Amundsen´s 1911 historic expedition as the first to the South Pole. Fram is now preserved in the Fram Museum on Bygdøy.

In 1886 the 3-masted bark Pollux seal and whaling ship was built to Colin Archer´s design in Arendal. In 1897 she was bought by Carsten Borchgrevink and taken to Archer´s yard and fitted out for polar expeditions. Renamed Southern Cross she sailed to Antarctica 1898-1900, did important discoveries and Borchrevivk was the first man to step on land on Antarctica. Information from this expedition was later used by Roald Amundsen for his expedition to the south pole.

In 1898 the Italian prince and explorer Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi wanted to do polar expeditions. He travelled to Norway and consulted the famous polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen. In 1899 Amedo bought Jason, renamed her Stella Polare and took her to Colin Archer´s shipyard. The interior was stripped out and new beams, diagonals and knees heavily strengthened the ship. Amedo set off in June 1899 and Stella Polare had hard time but survived thanks to Archer work.

In 1899, Archer also fitted Zarya for the Russian polar expedition of 1900–02. Zarya was strengthened with internal frames and beams, and deckhouses were added. The rig was changed to barkentine (square sail on foremast only). In October 1899 the ship was certified by Norwegian authorities for a three-year expedition in the Arctic.

After an off shore gale in 1892 when several of Archer´s pilot boats rescued fishermen, it was thought that pilots should do the rescue operations. Three cutter-rigged Archer pilot boats were built; 38-, 41- and 42-foot length, fitted out as rescue boats and put into service in 1893 manned by pilots.

RS 1 COLIN ARCHER built 1893 – shown in Horten 2014
To try a bigger boat more specialised rescue boat, a design competition was held in 1892 and Archer got the order. He based his design on his newest pilot-boat and scaled the lines to 46 feet and reduced the beam ratio to 33.5%. Freeboard height was increased with about 20 cm. The keel was widened so the ballast keel became considerably heavier at 6.5 tons. The inside ballast remained the same, 6-7 tons. Ceiling, 45 mm planking fitted inside the frames, were made watertight and thus the boat would float and be maneuverable in case of a leak or damage. The boat was rigged as ketch and launched July 1893 as the RS 1 COLIN ARCHER.

RS 6, identical to RS1 COLIN ARCHER
In service, it was soon realised, that the rescue boats had to sail out with fishing fleets every day. As there were no weather forecasts and no distress signals, the rescue boats had to be at the scene if a storm arrived. As the wind increased, the smallest boats were towed to safety and returned to tow larger boats. The pilots could not be with the fishermen all day so the design chosen for new boats was the large ketch.

33 ketch-rigged rescue boats were built from 1893 to 1924. 28 of the ketches were Archer´s design and 13 were built by Archer. From 1909 – 1924 the last 13 ketches were built in the Risør area (35 n.m. SW of Larvik). Only one rescue boat was lost at sea with no traces.

Archer made two new plans for rescue boats. The Mk II was built in 1897 has more overhang in the bow profile and thus more flare in the bow sections and a slightly fuller waterline in the bow. Length over deck became 47 feet and the boat had more stability for towing. Mk. III was built in 1908 with 20 cm more beam (34.4%) and a considerably fuller bow, but a finer stern. All versions have the midship section approx. 53% from bow. Mk. III´s lines are more symmetrically shaped than Archer normally used. The Mk. III rescue boat was considered the best boat in strong winds and most towing abilities.

Framing is kept relatively light with frame spacing 60–66 cm c-c with a thin stem bent oak rib in between. Planking was 38 mm oak and the inside of the frames was also planked (ceiling) with 50 mm pine. This was caulked watertight to the watertight cabin sole (floor) and thus, and floated when the planking got a leak.

To minimize pitching, the ballast was concentrated amidships, and anchor windlass and chain placed aft of the mast. The rig was ketch (two mast) with a relatively short mast and very small mizzen. In a strong wind, they normally sailed with main and staysail only, often reefed. With boats in tow, the mizzen was used to point higher to the wind and help to tack. The rig was basically the same for all boats, but the spars became heavier for each upgrade.

The last sailing rescue boat was built in 1924. Next generation boats, the Bjarne Aas design with an engine but also full rig was built in 1932. A dozen of Archer´s design served without an engine until 1940. With engine installed, they served until 1960.

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