ROCKLAND, Maine — Under a thick cover of fog, the largest Viking ship built in modern times made its way into Rockland Harbor Sunday evening.
The ship, the Draken Harald Harfagre, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean two years ago and is now embarking on its second voyage: a tour of the eastern United States, which includes several stops in Maine.
While the expedition across the North Atlantic brought the 115-foot-long wooden ship through a challenging course of storms and icebergs, the ship’s crew says navigating through Maine waters has brought a new challenge.
“We’ve traveled through ice and storms […] but that’s nothing compared to all the [lobster] pots we’ve encountered here,” Draken Capt. Bjorn Alhanders told a crowd that gathered Sunday on the Rockland Public Landing for the ship’s arrival.
The Draken will be docked in Rockland through Wednesday, when it will depart for a stopover in Portland this weekend. Earlier this month, the ship made a three-day stop in Boothbay.
The Norwegian ship was launched in 2012 after two years of construction. The ship, with an oak hull and a 79-foot-tall Douglas fir mast, is modeled after a Viking longship. While the Vikings left behind no blueprints for how to build their ships, the Draken’s builders studied the remains of Viking ships that have been discovered.
Longships, or “great ships,” were primarily used by Vikings for raiding and war, according to Jim Nelson, a writer and former professional sailor from Harpswell who has authored a series of novels about Vikings.
“[The Draken is] unlike any other ship sailing today,” Nelson said. “These ships are essentially open boats with a single sail, yet [the Vikings] crossed oceans in them.”
While the ship is built to model what the Vikings sailed, the Draken has modern navigational equipment and two inboard engines. The ship is required by Norwegian law to have an engine, according to the Draken’s second mate, Karolina Malmek. However, Malmek said they use the 260-square-meter silk sail as frequently as possible.
It takes 100 people to row the ship. There is room for 25 oars on each side of the boat, and two people must row each oar. The Draken has been rowed on occasion in Norway, Malmek said, but with a crew of only about 30 people, rowing the boat is not possible during expeditions.
With a background in naval architecture, Malmek, who was aboard for the 2016 Atlantic crossing, said she — like other members of the crew — was drawn to the historical adventure the Draken embodies.
“I was very excited to sail to Greenland and Iceland. It’s the most historic thing you can do, basically, as a sailor,” Malmek said. “But I also [was drawn to] the experiment, because we are out in deepwater, and we don’t know how they sailed these ships.”
The fog, currents and tides of Maine waters have added to the base challenge of sailing the Draken, Malmek said, but the “minefield” of lobster buoys has been the most challenging.
With one steering oar as opposed to a more modern wheel, the Draken’s turn time is often not fast enough to avoid the trap markers.
“We’ve gotten stuck so many times,” Malmek said. “It’s very hard to avoid them and they are absolutely everywhere.”
Aside from the struggles lobster buoys pose, Malmek, a Sweden native, said she’s excited to be in Maine, given the state’s shipbuilding history. “As a traditional sailor, it’s a bit of a dream to be here,” she said.
Based on the number of people who packed the docks in Rockland Sunday, despite a delayed arrival and fog, it appears Mainers are excited the Draken is here, too.
During the Draken’s time in Rockland, as well as its other stops, tours of the ship and a lecture by the captain are offered.
Malmek said she’s been shocked at the numbers of people who turn out to welcome the Draken and learn more about it wherever they go. She said she’s found that a lot of people are interested in the ship because of their own ties to Scandinavia.
“They see this as a chance to step on a boat from Norway and feel that you’re actually visiting a piece of that culture,” Malmek said.
The term Vikings refers to the inhabitants of Scandinavian countries between 750 and 1100 A.D., according to the Draken’s website. Vikings are famous for their exploration of the seas, along with being farmers, craftsmen and settlers.
While Vikings have also become known for being raiders and pillagers, Nelson said it’s important to view the Vikings within the context of their time, because other societies were also doing these violent acts.
“The Vikings got a particularly bad rap because they were so efficient,” Nelson said. “But we’re starting to see more of an appreciation for what the Vikings accomplished in terms of exploration.”
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