Raising a ship is no small feat. Rasing an almost hundred year old wooden ship after 85 years in the Northwest passage, and bringing the ship home, is spectacular.
VG travelled to Cambridge Bay in the middle of the Northwest passage, to meet the five Norwegians which have worked on the salvage of the polar ship “Maud” owned and built on the orders from the famouse polar explorer Roald Amundsen. VG stayed in the passage for 14 days, and witnessed “Maud” lifting from the bottom for the first time in 85 years.
We also backtracked Amunsen expedition when he tried to reach the North Pole by following the pack ice and spent seven years in the ice with a crew of nine men. His expedtition failed, Amundsen went bankrupt, and the ship wrecked a few years later in Cambridge Bay.
For several years, the project “Maud Returns Home” has had the goal of raising and bringing home to Norway the polar ship “Maud”. The project’s leader Jan Wanggaard made it clear that the ship probably would lift from the ocean floor within 2016.
With the help of VG’s saturday magazine “VG Helg” a plan was made: To send one newsroom developer to the Northwest passage, to create what’s needed for an innovative digital feature, but at the same time, write a magazine feature for the print edition of VG Helg. It was also pretty clear that Amundsen’s seven year long expedition with the ship had to be documented and as the ship now lays as a wreck, we had to find a way to show the vessel in it’s former glory.
In order to tell the story of the Maud and the expedition, we went to the main expertise on Norwegian polar history: the management of the Fram museum, where Norway’s two other polar ships is on exhibition. The director of the Fram Museum, Geir Kløver, gave pointers to literature and provided images from the expedition.
The Fram Museum also provided access to Fram, which is the “”older brother”” of “”Maud””, and the ships are pretty similar in size and construction method. In addition VG got access to a scale model of “”Maud””, which was made of one of the original crew members from the expedition. In order to explain how “”Maud”” looked in her prime days, we created a 3d-model of the ship, based on the scale model and construction drawings acquired from the Norwegian maritime museum. The rest was traditional field journalism. 14 days were spent with the Norwegian crew in Cambridge Bay on top and below the surface.
One developer which also went to Cambridge Bay for 14 days. This person worked with the project in total of six weeks. In addition two front-end designers spent a week on creating the feature, and a 3d-designer used three weeks to create the 3d-model.
Instead of just being a document of Amundsen and his last big expedition, the story turned into a news event.
VG left Cambridge Bay after 14 days, when the ship had lifted off the ocean floor. 14 days later, the ship had been fully raised. As we had built a good relationship with the Norwegians working on the project, we were granted exclusive rights to publish the news that the ship had been raised, with exclusive images. The news reached the frontpage of the print edition.
Digitally we created an experiment were part of the story was for our digital subscribers only. The traffic came out a bit on the low side, but experimenting with how to create good subscription models is important for VG. The project was important for such an experiment. Last but not least: Sending newsroom developers out to do field work is both encouraging and a good test for modern feaure journalism. This project proved that creating good print and digital features does not necessarily collide.
Time and distance. The Northwest passage is unforgiving and desolate. We had quite a few techincal challenges when access to the internet is limited.
The time difference also made communication a challenge. When we got the message that the ship was to be fully raised, we had to scramble and rewrite parts of our story, in order to accomodate the “big news”. There were also some techincal difficulties in field that could be solved if Cambridge Bay had not been in the middle of the Northwest passage, but that’s the charm of working in the field 🙂