June 16, 2000

Modern-day Vikings re-enact Ericson's discovery of North America

By SONYA PROCENKO -- The Canadian Press

 REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- Captain Gunnar Marel Eggertsson, a descendant of Viking explorer Leif Ericson, will set out to prove history can repeat itself today when he begins the re-enactment of his famous forefather's voyage and discovery of North America.
image The replica Viking ship Icelander will begin a voyage from Iceland to North America on Saturday June 17, 2000, marking 1000 years since Icelander Leif Eriksson became the first European to set foot on the continent. The Icelander will stop at Newfoundland before sailing to Halifax and Boston before reaching New York in October.
(AP Photo/Thorkell Thorkelsson, Morganbladid)

 Eggertsson and an eight-member crew aboard his ship Islendingur -- or Icelander -- will chart a course from Reykjavik harbour to a gala arrival at L'Anse aux Meadows, Nfld., on July 28 to mark the Viking Millennium.

 L'Anse aux Meadows, a designated UNESCO world heritage site, is the only authenticated Viking settlement in North America. Ericson is believed to have discovered it 1,000 years ago.

 "I'm always thinking about Ericson and how they sailed over the Atlantic," said a tunic-clad Eggertsson, 45, standing beside his ship docked in Reykjavik harbour.

 "This ship is just as it was 1,000 years ago, except we have a small engine and modern equipment, such as a satellite telephone."

 A delegation of Canadians including Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin is in Iceland for the sendoff ceremony.

 "The departure of this ship from Iceland on its journey to L'Anse aux Meadows is the beginning of the exciting and entertaining program of events planned to commemorate this important part of our history which we share with Iceland," Tobin said in a news release earlier this week.

 Making stops in west Iceland and Greenland before L'Anse aux Meadows, the ship's other ports of call will be St. John's, Halifax, Portsmouth, Boston, Providence, Mystic Seaport, New Haven and finally New York in early October.

 More than 230 events are planned this year at some 70 venues in the United States and Canada to mark the Viking Millennium, but the Islendingur voyage is among those with the highest profile.

 In 1995, Eggertsson fulfilled a childhood dream by designing and building the wooden ship himself, basing it on the 9th century Gaukstad Viking ship.
image The replica Viking ship Icelander sets sail on June 17 2000.
(AP Photo/Thorkell Thorkelsson, Morganbladid)

 The $600,000 Islendingur is 22.5 metres long and weighs 18,000 tonnes. The vessel is of oak and pine construction, secured with 5,000 nails. While Eggertsson raised funds for the $1million expedition, the Icelandic government has covered 70 per cent of the cost.

 Born into a family of shipbuilders on the Westman Islands off Iceland's southern coast, Eggertsson first travelled to the New World in 1991 as second-in-command on the Viking ship Gaia, which sailed from Norway to Rio de Janeiro.

 "I was learning all the way to Rio about the ship and how to handle it," he said. "The Viking ships were built to work with the elements, so you have to work with them not against them."

 His scariest memory was wind blowing at 120 kilometres an hour and waves towering 16 metres high, between Greenland and Labrador. This time, the crew's main concerns are again the weather and icebergs off the coast of Greenland.

 "I'm not afraid," said Eggertsson, a father of three.

 "I will take it as it comes, when it comes -- whatever. If there's ice, stormy weather ... I feel very calm and I'm very much looking forward to go out to sea and sail."

 Most of the crew, like Palmi Asgeir Magnusson, hail from Westman Islands. A second-in-command on the renowned fishing vessel Gullberg, the 37-year-old Icelander said he has time off now because the season's quota of herring has already been caught.

 "So why not do it? .... Gunnar is a soft-spoken but easy man, easy to work with, friendly. I think he can be firm, a good leader," said Magnusson.

 "The worst part of the trip will be being separated from my three children ... But they're connected to the Internet where they can follow our trip and read about us in the daily newspaper."

 Former journalist Ellen Ingvadottir, the only female crew member, will report daily for Iceland's Morgunbladid newspaper and several times a week for television and radio.

 She is being compared to the famous Viking woman Gudridur (The Traveller) Thorbjarnardottir, who lived in the New World in the beginning of the 11th century. Her son Snorri is believed to be the first European born in North America.

 "As we come closer to the departure date, her name keeps (coming to mind) ... I hope I'm able to experience the same feeling she did," said Ingvadottir, 47, wearing a Viking-style burgundy and black wool cape and a dress designed by the country's National Theatre.

 Although experts are unsure whether a woman was on board for the original Ericson voyage, Viking women are thought to have travelled with the men on voyages.

 "It's the greatest challenge I've ever faced," she said.

 "As an Icelander, I hope this will bring attention to the fortune we have in our sagas ... A thousand years ago, people embarked on unbelievable voyages in very, very difficult conditions."