The Dragon has Newfoundlanded!

For the first time in a thousand years, a Viking longship has crossed the North Atlantic. The Draken Harald Hårfagre reached port of St. Anthony in Newfoundland on June 1st. It was not an easy voyage. There’s only a short window in late spring and early summer when crossing the frigid waters of the North Atlantic is possible, and even then conditions are challenging, to put it mildly.

After setting sail from Haugesund, Norway, on April 23rd, the Draken made its first unplanned stop just three days later on Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. One of the ship’s shrouds (rigging connected to the mast) had parted a day after departure so the crew stopped at Lerwick to make the repairs. They had to take down the mast to do it, which is a harder job now than it would have been for the Vikings because they didn’t have electronic equipment on their masts.

On April 27th the Draken set sail again, making for Tórshavn on the Faroe Islands. They arrived May 2nd and had to stay until May 6th waiting for propitious winds. The crew took advantage of the longer stop to examine the 3,200-square-foot silk sail for damage. You can see highlights of the trip from the Shetlands to the Faroes in this video. It’s damn hard going.


The next leg of the voyage took them to Reykjavik, Iceland. The landed in Reykjavik Harbour on May 9th and were again compelled to wait out the wind, this time for a full week. This amazing video features the Captain of the Draken Björn Ahlander in Iceland, talking about how the difficulties of the voyage only strengthened his crew’s bond and pointing out the commonalities between their experience navigating the longship and the Viking’s. There is footage of them sailing in a storm with waves battering the clinker-built ship. In the beginning he’s holding up a piece of Iceland feldspar, the stone his seafaring Viking ancestors used to find the sun even through thick cloud cover. He’s being filmed in Tingvallir, by the way, the place where Iceland’s Althing, or parliament, first met in 930. Tingvallir remained the site of the Icelandic Parliament until 1798. It is now a national park.


The northeasterly wind they were waiting for finally graced them with its presence on the 16th and off the Draken went to Greenland. On May 21st, the reached the harbour of Qaqortoq, southwest Greenland, navigating the same waters Leif Eriksson navigated when he founded the first European settlement on Greenland in around 1000 A.D. The crew made good use of their time there, too. Captain officiated at the wedding of two crew members in the ruins of the early 12th century church in Hvalsey. The last record we have of the Norse settlement in Greenland was a wedding held in that same church between Thorstein Olafsson and Sigrid Björnsdottir on September 14th, 1408.


On May 27th, the Draken set a course for North America. The final leg from Greenland to Newfoundland proved the most difficult. Icebergs, dense fog, harsh and unpredictable winds put the Draken‘s crew of 32 volunteers to the test. Modern water-repellant clothing could not keep them dry, and layers of thick knit sweaters could not keep them warm, but the elements could not break them either. On Wednesday they reached Newfoundland, landing near L’Anse aux Meadows where the remains of a Viking settlement were discovered in 1960.

Soon the valiant Draken and its riders will head inland for Quebec City and its summer tour of the Great Lakes and canals. No more icebergs for the forseeable future.

10 thoughts on “The Dragon has Newfoundlanded!

  1. Thank you so much for keeping us updated on this epic journey. I admire the modern sailors so much. The ship is beyond beautiful. I have a new appreciation for the Vikings.

  2. You gave a great synopsis of the journey, Lucius. It is so thrilling for us latter-day American-born Vikings to follow the Draken Harald on its journey, even if all we can do is watch it on its website and on Facebook. I even have my friends excited about it. Wonderful to see that beautiful vessel on the seas again, with the crew of skilled and courageous young people. I celebrate each landing.. And soon I will be traveling up to the St. Lawrence River to see the Harald pass by on its way to the Lakes. I may even continue on that journey. Never mind the yardwork: some things are more significant. I even dream that it might find its way into Lake Champlain, and that I might find my way on board.

  3. I don’t like to be a party pooper, but I doubt the Vikings had silk sails or windlesses. And that ship looks mighty wide for a Viking vessel.

  4. Facinating! I am in awe as the ship went up and down with the waves and swayed from side to side that no one seemed to be sick. These sailors are much much heartier than me!

  5. Joe, just wondering what you base your doubts on. The Vikings traded not only along the European coast, but into the Mediterranean, where they also set up colonies (and perhaps picked up the concepts behind the square rigger and the windlass). They went into the arctic sea and down the northern rivers deep into what became Russia, and followed rivers deep into the southern lakes, establishing settlements and trading centers along the way. Of course they had silk; this is known from garments. Oh, and by the way, they introduced the concept of a parliament to Europe. Just sayin’.

    I don’t know if they made sails of silk, but why wouldn’t they? It is the perfect material:stronger when wet, stable, lightweight, and (especially when dies red) beautiful. It seems a natural on the best of their ships.

  6. This is indeed an admirable journey but I must take issue with your statement that it was the first such voyage in 1,000 years. In 1982 a longship replica the Hjemkomst began the crossing from Duluth MN to its successful landing in Bergen Norway. The ship is on permanent display in Moorhead, MN.

  7. “There’s only a short window in late spring and early summer”: indeed. Friends of ours have spent it cruising that old Viking stamping ground, the Western Isles. They were struck by the beautiful weather; they were in the rain shadow of the Highlands.

    Unfortunately most tourists visit the West Highlands, and the Isles, in July and August when the sou’westerlies blow and the rain lashes down.

  8. I think for most people there is almost an disbelief that these sorts of voyages were actually possible. If proof was needed that we are all related in some format, this has to be it. Love this sort of thing.

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