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 The second polar exploration of Commandant CHARCOT (1908-1910).
We are going to celebrate on September 16th, 2006 the 70th anniversary of the wreck of the Pourquoi Pas ? off Iceland.

To my grandfather olivier PRADIER, a former sailor on the Pourquoi Pas ?

A short account of the second polar exploration of Commandant CHARCOT (1908-1910).

       Captain CHARCOT had already done a polar expedition on a ship called Le Francais. This first expedition had made possible the writing of nearly 1000 km of new polar laying out. The first scientific results were very important in matters concerning meteorology, optic or polar ecosystem... On the 18 th century France was almost inexistant in the polar territories.

       This is when Captain Charcot prepared his second expedition towards the antartic, this unknown continent. First he had to find the money which he missed to realize his project. The budget will come from the State and from some establishments. The State will raise funds up to 600 000 F, the Oceanographic institute, the Society of Science and some individual subscritions will help to reach the final amout of 780 000 F. Prince albert from Monaco will lend the scientific material.

       A new ship called Le Pourquoi Pas ?, started to be built in 1907 in Saint-Malo. It was a three-masted ship of 40 metres high, 4.2 metres wide with a belly of 5.10 metres, a power of 450 CV ant a 825-tonner. All the material used should resist the polar harshness. For example the front of the ship was reinforced by iron and zinc sheets. Two characteristics: a very high chimney and three laboratories.

       On may 18, 1908 the Pourquoi Pas ? was finished. Mrs CHARCOT and Paul Doumer stood as namers of the ship. The ship left Le Havre for the south American Coast. It arrived at Rio de janeiro where the population welcomed it. During the crossing the finished touches were put. The crew from Le Francais was almost entirely in the Pourquoi Pas ? with somme scientists.

       One must put this adventure back in the technological environment of that time. there were no meteorological attendance, no GPS and no radar. They needed a lot strength and nerve to leave towards an hostile continent almost unknown and without any technical attendance from the shore.

       On december 1, 1908 the Pourquoi Pas ? reached the Strait of magellan. It crossed the cap Horn without any problem and met the first iceberges.

       On january 14, 1909 the Pourquoi Pas ? reached the limits of the known territories. On February 1908, it was self-willingly caught by the ice. It was from the ship that scientific research and explorations would be made. On April 1909 the temperature went down to -70 celcius. Some crewmen, including Captain CHARCOT, suffered from scurby.

       During this winter harbour many things were done. The crew made a ski piste. There were grammar, spelling and arithmetic lessons every evening. They also played cards and chess. The most difficult task was providing for water.

       On July 14, there was a firework for the french National day. From July till october scientific research was carried on as well as explorations of news territories.

       On November 1909, the Pourquoi Pas ? came back to France. It went up to the Seine and Rouen where the population acclaimed the explorators from the 20th century.

Results of the second polar exploration:

  • 2000 km of new coasts and countries discovered
  • numerous maps were made,
  • a 225-day study on tides
  • studies of th earth magnetism and solar radiations
  • numerous samples of water and temperature
  • zoological study of polar fauna.

           On septembre 16, 1936 the Pourquoi Pas ? was wrecked some 30 miles from Reyjkavik (Island). 40 dead men including Captain Charcot and just one survivor.

    December 1997, update june 2005

  • Copy is forbidden without the permission of the author Olivier THOMAS