Story and Photo by Stefanie Jackson
Last weekend, Cape Charles Harbor was unexpectedly taken over by a Viking ship.
It was not originally scheduled to stop at Cape Charles, but Hurricane Florence caused the ship to alter its course, resulting in a rare nautical treat for the Eastern Shore.
The 115-foot-long ship, called the Draken Harald Harfagre, is the world’s largest modern-day Viking ship
It’s about 25 feet wide and 80 feet high, with an oak hull and spruce spars.
The name translates to “Dragon Harald Fairhair.” The ship features a dragon as its figurehead (see below). According to Norwegian tradition, Harald Fairhair was the name of Norway’s first king.
Creating a modern-day version of a Viking ship was the brainchild of Norwegian businessman Sigurd Aase.
His goal was to build a Viking ship that could cross the ocean like Leif Eriksson did about 900 years ago when he led an expedition across the Atlantic to what would later become known as the New World.
The ship was built by hand over the course of two years, completed in 2012. It underwent many test trials before making its monumental journey in 2016 from its birthplace in Haugesund, Norway, to Manhattan, captained by Bjorn Ahlander.
Traditionally, Vikings rowed their ships, but it would take 100 people to row the Draken. Instead, the crew of 35 sails the ship from harbor to harbor. In accordance with modern regulations, the ship also has an engine and engineer onboard.
Some crew members stay onboard for two weeks, while others stay for months at a time. They work in fourhour, rotating shifts and sleep on the floor under a tent.
Islana Andersen, a doctor originally from Ukraine who now calls Sweden home, said she joined the crew of the Draken because she loves expedition medicine.
“There’s no money in it, it’s just fun. … I have my own company, so I can do what I want with my time,” Andersen said.
In the off-season, the Draken makes its home in Mystic, Conn.