CHAPTER XXIV. ANDREE AND HIS VOYAGES
Among many suggestions, alike important and original, due to Major Baden-Powell, and coming within the field of aeronautics, is one having reference to the use of balloons for geographical research generally and more particularly for the exploration of Egypt, which, in his opinion, is a country possessing many most desirable qualifications on the score of prevailing winds, of suitable base, and of ground adapted for such steering as may be effected with a trail rope. At the Bristol meeting of the British Association the Major thus propounded his method: "I should suggest several balloons, one of about 60,000 cubic feet, and, say, six smaller ones of about 7,000 cubic feet; then, if one gets torn or damaged, the others might remain intact. After a time, when gas is lost, one of the smaller ones could be emptied into the others, and the exhausted envelope discharged as ballast; the smaller balloons would be easier to transport by porters than one big one, and they could be more easily secured on the earth during contrary winds. Over the main balloon a light awning might be rigged to neutralise, as far as possible, the changes of temperature. A lightning conductor to the top of the balloon might be desirable. A large sail would be arranged, and a bifurcated guide rope attached to the end of a horizontal pole would form an efficient means of steering. The car would be boat-shaped and waterproof, so that it could be used for a return journey down a river. Water tanks would be fitted."
The reasonableness of such a scheme is beyond question, even without the working calculations with which it is accompanied; but, ere these words were spoken, one of the most daring explorers that the world has known had begun to put in practice a yet bolder and rasher scheme of his own. The idea of reaching the North Pole by means of balloons appears to have been entertained many years ago. In a curious work, published in Paris in 1863 by Delaville Dedreux, there is a suggestion for reaching the North Pole by an aerostat which should be launched from the nearest accessible point, the calculation being that the distance from such a starting place to the Pole and back again would be only some 1,200 miles, which could be covered in two days, supposing only that there could be found a moderate and favourable wind in each direction. Mr. C. G. Spencer also wrote on the subject, and subsequently Commander Cheyne proposed a method of reaching the Pole by means of triple balloons. A similar scheme was advocated in yet more serious earnest by M. Hermite in the early eighties.
Some ten years later than this M. S. A. Andree, having obtained sufficient assistance, took up the idea with the determined intention of pushing it to a practical issue. He had already won his spurs as an aeronaut, as may be briefly told. In October, 1893, when making an ascent for scientific purposes, his balloon got carried out over the Baltic. It may have been the strength of the wind that had taken him by surprise; but, there being now no remedy, it was clearly the speed and persistence of the wind that alone could save him. If a chance vessel could not, or would not, "stand by," he must make the coast of Finland or fall in the sea, and several times the fall in the sea seemed imminent as his balloon commenced dropping. This threatened danger induced him to cast away his anchor, after which the verge of the Finland shore was nearly reached, when a change of wind began to carry him along the rocky coast, just as night was setting in.
Recognising his extreme danger, Andree stood on the edge of the car, with a bag of ballast ready for emergencies. He actually passed over an island, on which was a building with a light; but failed to effect a landing, and so fell in the sea on the farther side; but, the balloon presently righting itself, Andree, now greatly exhausted, made his last effort, and as he rose over the next cliff jumped for his life. It was past 7 p.m. when he found himself once again on firm ground, but with a sprained leg and with no one within call. Seeking what shelter he could, he lived out the long night, and, being now scarce able to stand, took off his clothes and waved them for a signal. This signal was not seen, yet shortly a boat put off from an island - the same that he had passed the evening before- -and rowed towards him. The boatman overnight had seen a strange sail sweeping over land and sea, and he had come in quest of it, bringing timely succour to the castaway.
Briefly stated, Andree's grand scheme was to convey a suitable balloon, with means for inflating it, as also all necessary equipment, as far towards the Pole as a ship could proceed, and thence, waiting for a favourable wind, to sail by sky until the region of the Pole should be crossed, and some inhabited country reached beyond. The balloon was to be kept near the earth, and steered, as far as this might be practicable, by means of a trail rope. The balloon, which had a capacity of nearly 162,000 cubic feet, was made in Paris, and was provided with a rudder sail and an arrangement whereby the hang of the trail rope could be readily shifted to different positions on the ring. Further, to obviate unnecessary diffusion and loss of gas at the mouth, the balloon was fitted with a lower valve, which would only open at a moderate pressure, namely, that of four inches of water.
All preparations were completed by the summer of 1896, and on June 7th the party embarked at Gothenburg with all necessaries on board, arriving at Spitzbergen on June 21st. Andree, who was to be accompanied on his aerial voyage by two companions, M. Nils Strindberg and Dr. Ekholm, spent some time in selecting a spot that would seem suitable for their momentous start, and this was finally found on Dane's Island, where their cargo was accordingly landed.