By Doug Draper
Posted July 5th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – For anyone who still wonders if the Vikings had the means to set foot on North American soil centuries before any other Europeans did, wonder no more.
The Draken Harald Harfagre – the name bestowed on what those who sail her say “the world’s largest Viking ship built in modern times –not only crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Norway to Canada this spring, it is now plying the Great Lakes.
And as of this posting, it is navigating its way through the Welland Canada enroute to ports along Lake Erie and the upper Great Lakes where it will spend most of the summer before journeying back down where it will enter the old Erie Canal system at Oswego, New York to sail down the Hudson to New York City this September.
Hundreds of cars lined the shores of the Welland Canada between Port Weller in St. Catharines and Thorold this July 4th evening waiting for a chance to see the Draken Harald Harfagre sail by. But the crew of more than 30 was tied up in Port Weller while waiting – as per the rules for all larger vessels – for a licensed St. Lawrence Seaway system pilot to help guide them through the canal and its eight locks and seven lift bridge crossings.
“We heard there were lots of people waiting and we are sorry about that,” said Thomas Olsen, a member of the crew is serving on the ship as part of his training for a career as a mariner.
The crew would not miss a huge greeting though, as numerous people began lining the shores of the canal again this July 5th for a site of a ship unlike any other that has every journeyed through these waters.
“We have been humbled by the Canadian hospitality and the genuine interest in this project we have experienced so far,” added Olsen during a brief interview with Niagara At Large.
The aim of the project, according to a website for the Draken Harald Harfagre and its trans-Atlantic journey “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 a thousand years ago.”
“History tells us about the Viking explorer, Leif Eriksson, who discovered America over 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The expedition is all about exploring the world, just like the Vikings did. … The project will, like Leif Eriksson, create intercultural meetings and inspire people to go beyond the horizon in a modern Viking saga.”
This reporter can’t speak for the current books used in Ontario to teach grade school history. But one of main book about early explorers that my generation of baby boomers was required to read back in the 1950s and 60s was called ‘Westward To The Americas’ and the copy I still happen to have in my library said a great deal about Christopher Columbus, Samuel D. Champlain, Jacques Cartier, Ponce de Leone, Henry Hudson, John Cabot, Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh and the Pilgrims of Thanksgiving fame.
There is hardly a word in it about the Vikings and about the only reference I could find in a copy of that textbook I still have says this; “Around the year 1000, adventurous Vikings roved from Norway and Sweden and Denmark to Iceland, and later to a part of North America they called Vinland.”
That was about 500 years before Columbus who (just to add more weight to the French writer Voltaire’s line that “history is the commonly agreed to lie”) has received almost universal credit as the one who discovered America.
Yet there has always been a fascination with the Vikings, bolstered in the late 1950s and 60s by Kirk Douglas’s epic movie ‘The Vikings’ and a television series by the same name. In more recent years, a number of books and articles in National Geographic and other magazines have more generously highlighted the significant role they played as mariners and explorers.
A recent book by American journalist Eugene Lindon on, of all things, “climate, weather, and the destruction of civilizations” goes so far as to call the Vikings “Europe’s first Maritime power.”
“In little more than a century,” Lindon added, “they established a presence over a great swath of the northern hemisphere, with outposts from Canada to Constantinople. They took over parts of France and the United Kingdom and threatened Rome.”
The author goes on to explain that “the Vikings sailed to power abetted by technological advances. By the middle of the eighth century, they had figured out how to use overlapping boards and waterproof pitch to build a ship that could articulate with the waves, and how to secure and distribute the weight of the huge masts needed to hold the sails that powered the 75-foot ocean-going vessels. This gave the Norsemen a huge advantage over other mariners.”
The ship taking Olsen and the rest of the crew on their journey now took two years to build and is not an exact replica of the ships of old as there were no original blue prints to work with. It is, instead, a “reconstruction” of a 1,000 Viking vessel based on remains of ships uncovered in archeological digs.
The trip across the Atlantic the ship’s home port in Haugesund, Norway began this past April 24th and took … weeks before the crew reached the eastern shores of Canada.
You can find out more about the Draken Harald Harfagre and its North American journey by visiting the ship’s website at – http://www.drakenexpeditionamerica.com/http:/www.drakenexpeditionamerica.com/ .
You can also follow the journey on Facebook by keying in Draken Harald Harfagre , and also by keying in Draken Harald Harfagre Fellowship .
I, for one, will look forward to posting images on Niagara At Large of this ship this coming September with the Statue of Liberty and skyline of New York City in the background.
Those images will be for you, Henry Hudson.
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