With “Draken Harald Hårfagre” the Vikings are Back!

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“Draken Harald Hårfagre” coming up the Mystic River.

4 October 2016

Seeing a unique sight coming up the Mystic River, Connecticut, Göran R Buckhorn suddenly felt his ancestors’ Viking blood running through his veins:

‘The Vikings are coming, the Vikings are coming’ – 1,000 years ago, this cry would freeze the blood of every man, woman and child in a village, and everyone, old and young alike, would head for the hills.

However, now many decades later, when the Draken Harald Hårfagre [“the Dragon Harald, the Fair-haired”], a 115-foot (35-metre) wooden, clinker-built replica of a Viking longship, came up the Mystic River, she was met by the Mystic villagers with cheers and good wishes. There were no shields mounted on the sides of the ship, nor were there any swords, spears, broad axes or other weapons in sight. The ‘Vikings’ aboard Draken Harald Hårfagre looked more than friendly, though some of the men had long beards, which had grown during the ship’s Atlantic crossing and more than 23 weeks of voyage. Now, after nearly 7,000 nautical miles, her voyage, called Expedition America 2016, ended as she docked at the Bulazel Wharf at Mystic Seaport on Sunday, 2 October.

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“Draken Harald Hårfagre” getting ready to dock at Mystic Seaport.
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Two inboard engines make it easy to maneuver a 115-foot longship in modern times.

Draken Harald Hårfagre – named after the king who unified Norway in the 10th century – started her voyage on 26 April, 2016, from Haugesund in Norway with a 33-strong crew of women and men, led by Swedish Captain Björn Ahlander, 66. The vessel has had an international crew, coming from 15 different countries. She sailed across the North Atlantic Ocean, stopped at Shetland Island, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and on 1 June reached the American continent and St Anthony, Newfoundland, Canada. Her voyage then continued into the St Lawrence waterways and the Great Lakes.

According to Draken Harald Hårfagre’s website, the aim of the expedition is to

explore and relive one of the most mythological sea voyages – the first transatlantic crossing and the Viking discovery of the New World, more than 1,000 years ago and to explore the world with the same courage and curiosity as the Vikings did.

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A member of the crew greets Mystic with a traditional blowing in a ‘lur’.
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Captain Björn Ahlander ready to step a shore after almost 7,000 nautical miles at sea.

Despite the gloomy weather, thousands of people greeted Draken Harald Hårfagre on her way up the Mystic River, and a big crowd also welcomed her when she docked at Mystic Seaport’s north end. Along her way up the river, Mystic residents welcomed the ship to Mystic by giving her several gun salutes. The longship replied with signals from a blowing horn, a lur. At the Museum, the vessel was welcomed by Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport. Capt. Ahlander also said a couple of words, expressing his gratitude that Draken Harald Hårfagre was welcomed to Mystic Seaport, now when the Viking ship’s voyage had come to an end.

Although, the vessel carries large oars – she has 50 oar-holes – the crew never had to use them during the voyage, a young Swedish crew member told me. She was not really sure how long the oars are, but they are massive and work best with two persons at each oar.

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Interesting handles or grips on the oars aboard “Draken Harald Hårfagre”.
Closed 'oar holes'.
Closed ‘oar holes’.
The tiller for the steering oar on starboard side.
The tiller for the steering oar on starboard side.

This morning, Draken Harald Hårfagre will be inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard. She will then be open for Museum visitors from 2 to 4 p.m. every day through Monday, 10 October.

Capt. Ahlander will give a talk about their adventures at the Museum’s 2016-2017 Adventure Series on 13 October. He will give two presentations at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the River Room at Latitude 41° Restaurant & Tavern. Tickets are $15 for Museum members and $20 for the public. Students are free. For more information about Capt. Ahlander’s talk, please click here.

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As many longships had a dragon-shaped prow, the Vikings’ enemies in England called the vessels ‘dragonships’.

In November, the crew will cover Draken Harald Hårfagre, which will stay at Mystic Seaport for the winter. Plans for next year have not yet been released.

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