About Nils Larsen
The life of Nils Larsen has been a long and winding journey filled with adventure and taking advantage of opportunities that appear. He has navigated uncharted waters as a sea captain. From humble beginnings in Norway, he continually pursued goals to eventually become a whaler and first mate on Norwegian expeditions.
Nils Larsen Early Life
Nils Larsen was born in Sandar, Norway in 1900. The era was one of prosperity and hope. In the North Atlantic, a huge merchant navy sprang into existence, the fourth largest merchant shipping fleet in the world by 1914.
Larsen’s father owned a prosperous steel mill in Sandar, but he chose to pursue a career on the sea rather than run the family’s business.
He began his career sailing at the age of 16, signing onto a merchant’s vessel in the port of Stavanger. For four years, he worked aboard vessels for a Norwegian shipping company, first taking care of hard labor and working his way up to boatswain and then quartermaster.
An Illustrious Sea Career
Not content to serve forever at the orders of someone else, Larsen decided it was time to captain his own ship. He applied to the University of Oslo in 1922, where he pursued a master’s degree in marine engineering. Four years later, he obtained the title of Master mariner, the highest possible certification for sea captains in Norway.
For the next three decades, he captained countless merchant vessels. He started with a single ship, the Skinnende Horizont (Shining Horizon). Eventually, he was the owner and captain of dozens of ships around the Atlantic, from fishing vessels to cargo ships. During the pre-war years, Larsen’s whaling fleet was legendary for its size and speed.
Nils Larsen was a natural leader that inspired confidence in the men serving under him. Though Norway was technically neutral during the first World War, his crews frequently smuggled goods and raw materials to Allied forces in France and England.
Thanks to his financial prowess, his merchant fleet exited World War I as one of the largest shipping companies in Europe. Still, he wanted more than financial success, so he pursued it like everything else in his life.
The Norvegia Expeditions
Financing for early expeditions to the Arctic, South Atlantic and Antarctic areas often came from private merchants. Larsen helped fund the Norvegia Expeditions to Antarctica from 1927–1931. He served as the first mate aboard the Marit, named for his young wife.
During this iconic voyage, Larsen and six other men landed on present-day Bouvet Island and claimed it for Norway. The purpose was both patriotic and also to establish a future base of operations for continued commerce in the south seas.
The crew of the Marit also braved pack ice to land on Peter I Island. He became the first person to set foot on the island, though Russian sailors had sighted it over 100 years before.
War and Love
Nils Larsen was just as adventurous in love as in business goals. He saw the woman of his dreams shortly after obtaining his Master mariner certification, but she was engaged to another man. Not one to be passive or let life pass him by, he declared his feelings despite only knowing Marit for a few short months.
He made his declaration in the presence of Marit’s fiancé, showing his customary boldness. Before receiving an answer, Larsen had to leave on a months-long cargo voyage to Nova Scotia and New York. When he finally returned to Norway, with fine clothing and a gemstone from New York, his persistence paid off. Marit became his wife just a few short weeks later.
Like any real love story, Nils Larsen’s life includes bittersweet memories. Marit, his beloved wife and mother of two children and grandmother of four, passed away in 1972. Over the years, she accompanied him on many of his sea voyages, including a return in the 1950s to Peter I Island.
Nils passed away peacefully in 1976, but his legacy lives on through his two grown boys and their families. They enjoy regailing the sagas of their father’s adventures on the high seas, and will continue to pass his stories down to future generations.