I’m not kidding! Scandinavian Vikings are rediscovering America by sea as they did thousands of years ago. The Draken, a Viking ship named Harald Hårfagre after the first Viking King of Norway Harold Fair Hair, was in Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend. The ship was open to tours in the harbor where she docked – right next to the Independence Seaport Museum on the Delaware River.
This ship isn’t a replica of an existing vessel but a recreation of a thousand-plus-year-old longship based on the study of Viking history and Norse sagas. They used historical data while still creating a seaworthy ship.
During the Expedition America East Coast Tour in 2018, Draken crossed the Atlantic Ocean arriving first in Mystic, Connecticut, the home of a fascinating Seaport museum. The Draken is visiting fourteen cities along the East Coast. Many stops have already been completed. Upcoming ports include Norfolk, Virginia from September 27-30; Washington D.C. from October 5-15; and in late October, the ship returns to Mystic, Connecticut.
Tour guides, from a multi-nation group of enthusiastic sailors, showed us around the ship and demonstrated how the wooden top deck could be removed plank by plank. The deck has overlapping planks and rivets and uses tar and hemp fibers which are historically accurate.
They explained how a true longship would not have awnings. Vikings were hardcore and would sleep in leather tents or out in the open. The crew onboard this ship is much smaller, about forty people. The Vikings would have had up to a hundred. They needed rowers to battle the waves and move swiftly.
Planning the ship began in 2008 with the support of Sigurd Aase, a Norwegian modern-day Viking entrepreneur. The ship’s home port is in Haugesund, Norway. Her maiden voyage was across the North Sea to the British Isles – a frequent stomping ground in the past. Vikings sailed all over the world, not just to Greenland, long before Christopher Columbus. The Draken made her 2016 Expedition America crossing with a small crew of 32 sailors.
The ship has two statues of ravens on board. They are named Huginn ‘thought’ and Muninn ‘memory’ after the pets of the Norse one-eyed God named Odin. An early form of service animals, this pair of seeing-eye birds flew all over the world to bring him information.
Vikings brought ravens along for help with navigation. The Mariners would release the birds from their cages, and if they didn’t return they had successfully found land. If they returned, the Viking sailors studied the stars and crystals some more and kept rowing. The three-triangle carved sign below the ravens is a sign for Valhalla (enlarged below); an enormous hall ruled over by Odin.
I’m not sure if the Vikings named or had toilets onboard, but on this ship, they do. Those Norwegians sure have a sense of humor. The small one is named Denmark and the other Sweden! Both were made by the Swedish company IKEA.
For those who want more techie details, the ship is square sailed, 115-foot long, a 26-foot beam, and a 79-foot mast. Top speed under sail is 14 knots. She has engines but can go green instead by relying on the raw historic rowing power of one hundred oarsmen. I’d love to see that in action from a helicopter!
My novel Aquavit doesn’t include a Viking boat but is named for a liquor the Vikings drank when they weren’t busy rowing.