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Nansen in the Arctic and Shackleton in the Antarctic crossed the polar regions in ships seized in pack ice, with the drift of the ice carrying them across the latitudes toward the poles. Yet winds and currents vary by year. Were the explorers lucky or unlucky in the winds, currents and starting points that characterized their multiyear polar voyages? A new historical database of polar conditions permits statistical analysis of alternate fates for both expeditions based on different but within-normal parameters, offering a new perspective on the role of daring and fortune in the heroic age of polar exploration.