Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Journey Southward
By Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930)
From ‘Farthest North’

ON Friday, June 12th, we started again at 4 A.M. with sails on our sledges. There had been frost, so the snow was in much better condition again. It had been very windy in the night, too, so we hoped for a good day. On the preceding day it had cleared up so that we could at last see distinctly the lands around. We now discovered that we must steer in a more westerly direction than we had done during the preceding days, in order to reach the south point of the land to the west. The lands to the east disappeared eastward, so we had said good-by to them the day before. We now saw, too, that there was a broad sound in the land to the west, and that it was one entire land, as we had taken it to be. The land north of this sound was now so far away that I could only just see it. In the meantime the wind had dropped a good deal; the ice, too, became more and more uneven,—it was evident that we had come to the drift ice, and it was much harder work than we had expected. We could see by the air that there must be open water to the south; and as we went on we heard, to our joy, the sound of breakers.  1
  At 6 A.M. we stopped to rest a little; and on going up on to a hummock to take a longitude observation, I saw the water not far off. From a higher piece of glacier ice we could see it better. It extended towards the promontory to the southwest. Even though the wind had become a little westerly now, we still hoped to be able to sail along the edge of the ice, and determined to go to the water by the shortest way. We were quickly at the edge of the ice, and once more saw the blue water spread out before us. We soon had our kayaks lashed together and the sail up, and put to sea. Nor were our hopes disappointed: we sailed well all day long. At times the wind was so strong that we cut through the water, and the waves washed unpleasantly over our kayaks; but we got on, and we had to put up with being a little wet. We soon passed the point we had been making for; and here we saw that the land ran westward, that the edge of the unbroken shore ice extended in the same direction, and that we had water in front of us. In good spirits, we sailed westward along the margin of the ice. So we were at last at the south of the land in which we had been wandering for so long, and where we had spent a long winter. It struck me more than ever that in spite of everything, this south coast would agree well with Leigh Smith’s map of Franz Josef Land and the country surrounding their winter quarters; but then I remembered Payer’s map and dismissed the thought.  2
  In the evening we put in to the edge of the ice, so as to stretch our legs a little; they were stiff with sitting in the kayak all day, and we wanted to get a little view over the water to the west by ascending a hummock. As we went ashore the question arose as to how we should moor our precious vessel. “Take one of the braces,” said Johansen: he was standing on the ice. “But is it strong enough?” “Yes,” he answered: “I have used it as a halyard on my sledge sail all the time.” “Oh, well, it doesn’t require much to hold these light kayaks,” said I, a little ashamed of having been so timid; and I moored them with the halyard, which was a strap cut from a raw walrus-hide. We had been on the ice a little while, moving up and down close to the kayaks. The wind had dropped considerably, and seemed to be more westerly, making it doubtful whether we could make use of it any longer; and we went up on to a hummock close by to ascertain this better. As we stood there, Johansen suddenly cried, “I say! the kayaks are adrift!” We ran down as hard as we could. They were already a little way out, and were drifting quickly off; the painter had given way. “Here, take my watch!” I said to Johansen, giving it to him; and as quickly as possible I threw off some clothing, so as to be able to swim more easily. I did not dare to take everything off, as I might so easily get cramp. I sprang into the water; but the wind was off the ice, and the light kayaks, with their high rigging, gave it a good hold. They were already well out, and were drifting rapidly. The water was icy cold; it was hard work swimming with clothes on; and the kayaks drifted farther and farther, often quicker than I could swim. It seemed more than doubtful whether I could manage it. But all our hope was drifting there; all we possessed was on board—we had not even a knife with us: and whether I got cramp and sank here, or turned back without the kayaks, it would come to pretty much the same thing; so I exerted myself to the utmost.  3
  When I got tired I turned over and swam on my back, and then I could see Johansen walking restlessly up and down on the ice. Poor lad! He could not stand still, and thought it dreadful not to be able to do anything. He had not much hope that I could do it, but it would not improve matters in the least if he threw himself into the water too. He said afterwards that these were the worst moments he had ever lived through. But when I turned over again and saw that I was nearer the kayaks, my courage rose, and I redoubled my exertions. I felt, however, that my limbs were gradually stiffening and losing all feeling, and I knew that in a short time I should not be able to move them. But there was not far to go now; if I could only hold out a little longer we should be saved—and I went on. The strokes became more and more feeble, but the distance became shorter and shorter, and I began to think I should reach the kayaks. At last I was able to stretch out my hand to the snow-shoe which lay across the sterns. I grasped it, pulled myself in to the edge of the kayak—and we were saved!  4
  I tried to pull myself up, but the whole of my body was so stiff with cold that this was an impossibility. For a moment I thought that after all, it was too late: I was to get so far, but not be able to get in. After a little, however, I managed to swing one leg up on to the edge of the sledge which lay on the deck, and in this way managed to tumble up. There I sat, but so stiff with cold that I had difficulty in paddling. Nor was it easy to paddle in the double vessel, where I first had to take one or two strokes on one side, and then step into the other kayak to take a few strokes on the other side. If I had been able to separate them, and row in one while I towed the other, it would have been easy enough; but I could not undertake that piece of work, for I should have been stiff before it was done: the thing to be done was to keep warm by rowing as hard as I could. The cold had robbed my whole body of feeling; but when the gusts of wind came, they seemed to go right through me as I stood there in my thin wet woolen shirt. I shivered, my teeth chattered, and I was numb almost all over; but I could still use the paddle, and I should get warm when I got back on to the ice again.  5
  Two auks were lying close to the bow, and the thought of having auk for supper was too tempting: we were in want of food now. I got hold of my gun and shot them with one discharge. Johansen said afterwards that he started at the report, thinking some accident had happened, and could not understand what I was about out there; but when he saw me paddle and pick up two birds, he thought I had gone out of my mind. At last I managed to reach the edge of the ice; but the current had driven me a long way from our landing-place. Johansen came along the edge of the ice, jumped into the kayak beside me, and we soon got back to our place. I was undeniably a good deal exhausted, and could barely manage to crawl on land. I could scarcely stand; and while I shook and trembled all over, Johansen had to pull off the wet things I had on, put on the few dry ones I still had in reserve, and spread the sleeping-bag out upon the ice. I packed myself well into it, and he covered me with the sail and everything he could find to keep out the cold air. There I lay shivering for a long time, but gradually the warmth began to return to my body. For some time longer, however, my feet had no more feeling in them than icicles, for they had been partly naked in the water. While Johansen put up the tent and prepared supper, consisting of my two auks, I fell asleep. He let me sleep quietly; and when I awoke, supper had been ready for some time, and stood simmering over the fire. Auk and hot soup soon effaced the last traces of my swim. During the night my clothes were hung out to dry, and the next day were all nearly dry again.  6

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