by Alastair Hamilton -
Towards the end of April, the world’s largest Viking longship made an unscheduled stop in Lerwick en route to Iceland, Greenland and North America.
The ship, named Draken Harald Hårfagre, had set sail from its home port, Haugesund in Norway, on 26 April. The seas were rough, with winds of force 6 to gale force 8 in the northern North Sea at the time, and one of the shrouds (stay-ropes) on the mast broke. It was decided to put into Lerwick for repairs and the ship attracted a great deal of interest as she lay alongside in the centre of the town. The stopover also meant a welcome break for the crew from the cold conditions. Hardy Norsemen they might be, but they were reportedly finding the experience on the chilly side, living aboard in what is effectively a tent and enduring the snow and hail showers that were then affecting not just Shetland but much of Britain.
The voyage aims to re-create a classic ocean voyage, the first transatlantic crossing to the New World, and to celebrate the achievement of Leif Eriksson, the Viking explorer who reached America more than 1,000 years ago, over 500 years before Columbus.
The organisers say on their website that “the project will, like Leif Eriksson, create intercultural meetings and inspire people to go beyond the horizon in a modern Viking saga.” The route will include calls at Viking settlements, including some that have been explored by archaeologists. During the summer, the expedition will sail up the St Lawrence into the Great Lakes, calling at Quebec and Chicago among other ports, and will then make for New York, reaching there in mid-September.
The longship was built of oak in Haugesund, with construction beginning in March 2010. She was launched in summer 2012 and, in 2014, sailed as far as Merseyside, though that voyage was also marked by a visit to Lerwick when her mast snapped in strong winds. The vessel is 35 metres long, with a beam of 8 metres, and her sail measures 260 square metres.
Draken Harald Hårfagre isn’t the only large longship to make it to Shetland. The Skidbladner, a replica of the Gokstad ship that was found in a burial mound in Norway in 1880, attempted a north Atlantic voyage almost twenty years ago, but they made it only as far as Lerwick. The ship – slightly smaller than the Draken Harald Hårfagre – was subsequently acquired by the Shetland Amenity Trust and is on display at Haroldswick as part of the Viking Unst project.
We hope that Draken Harald Hårfagre and all her crew will have a safe passage.
Posted in: Heritage