A Viking Voyage: In Which an Unlikely Crew of Adventurers Attempts an Epic Journey to the New World

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W. Hodding Carter admits he cannot sail a Sunfish, hates to be cold, and panics when he's lost. So why did Carter devote three years of his adult life, not to mention a small fortune, to dodging polar bears and icebergs on an open-decked wooden ship resembling an over-sized canoe?

He wanted to be a Viking. Obsessed since childhood with Leif Eriksson and his triumphant voyage a thousand years ago from Greenland to North America, Carter hatched...
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Overview


W. Hodding Carter admits he cannot sail a Sunfish, hates to be cold, and panics when he's lost. So why did Carter devote three years of his adult life, not to mention a small fortune, to dodging polar bears and icebergs on an open-decked wooden ship resembling an over-sized canoe?

He wanted to be a Viking. Obsessed since childhood with Leif Eriksson and his triumphant voyage a thousand years ago from Greenland to North America, Carter hatched the admittedly crazy idea of reenacting Erikson's voyage in a replica of the precarious square-rigged Viking cargo ship known as a knarr. Never mind that he had a wife, twin daughters, and another baby on the way. Carter was going to make it happen. This enthralling, inspiring, occasionally hair-raising, and genuinely hilarious book is the account of how he pulled it off.

With funding from Lands' End and expertise gleaned from Viking enthusiasts all over the world, Carter had the knarr constructed by an eccentric boat builder on a small Maine island. He then arranged to have the Snorri, as he dubbed the craft, shipped to the southern tip of Greenland, where he and his grab-bag crew of eleven would embark in midsummer. The departure was inauspicious, to say the least: for two solid weeks, the Snorri tacked back and forth in the windy fjord by Erik the Red's ancient farm, covering a grand total of eighty miles.

Although that first attempt ended in defeat in the middle of the Davis Strait, Carter, his prudent red-haired captain, and their crew were not about to surrender. The next summer, in even worse weather, the Snorri was back on course and these latter-day Vikings were ready to handle anything Mother Nature dishedout atop the icy, open sea.

Well, almost anything . . .

By turns thrilling and slapstick, sublime and outrageous, A Viking Voyage is an unforgettable adventure story that will take you to the heart of the most magnificent, unspoiled territory on earth, and even deeper, to the heart of a journey like no other. A celebration of the people and places Carter visits and a treasure-trove of fascinating Viking lore, this is a mesmerizing story of friendship and teamwork—and of accomplishing a goal that once seemed impossible.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Travel writing has churned up a new subset: the Ironic Adventure, in which the protagonist, unlike traditional explorers, is unskilled, untrained and traveling on a whim. In this engaging but uneven adventure, self-proclaimed "chicken" Carter repeats the successful formula of his previous book, Westward Whoa, in which he retraced the steps of Lewis and Clark. This time he goes back over the voyage Leif Eriksson made from Greenland to the New World. Accompanied by a motley crew of friends (all except two have no previous sailing experience), Carter decides to accomplish his journey on a reproduction of a Viking "knarr" or cargo ship. Initially budgeted for $3,000, Carter's adventure becomes a half-million-dollar production, funded by the Lands' End clothing company. The most interesting parts of the book come before the ship ever sets sail, as Carter desperately tries to meet his deadline for building the knarr, hampered by unfriendly Norse scholars and aided by expert craftsmen. After he sets sail, the ship breaks down, and Carter must rouse support for a second attempt, which ultimately succeeds. This second part is precisely written, with careful as well as humorous details of sailing life. But the "ironic" approach here trivializes Carter's effort; at times it's hard to give him the credit due for succeeding in such a wild trip because his initial impetus was nothing more than a lark, and because his writing is undercut by his continuing attitude of "I can't believe we are doing this!" 5-city author tour. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
After months of preparation and one failed attempt, Carter (Westward Whoa) and his eccentric crew make an epic journey to North America following the trail of Viking Leif Erikson. Carter's intention was not to write a historical account or a traditional travel narrative but a humorous adventure story about nine oddly matched men who take off on a dangerous journey through one of the most remote parts of the world. To get to North America, they have to fight everything from icy cold waters to polar bears. Carter's detailed descriptions of the boat-building process will fascinate those who enjoy sailing or have a strong interest in traditional sailboats. The rest will have to read through 14 chapters before enjoying the wonders of the northern seas. The result is an engaging story of comradeship and teamwork that will leave the reader wondering just what compels one to sail in an open boat through the coldest seas in the world. A true adventure that would intrigue even the most extreme daredevils, this is recommended for all large collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/00.]--Natasa Musa, New York Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Carter's candid story of the problems involved in re-creating Leif Eriksson's voyage from Greenland to Canada will disarm and educate readers, especially those interested in the culture and early voyages of the Vikings. Readers will also be warmed by the crew's ultimate bonding before they finally reached L'Anse aux Meadows, the Viking settlement on the northern tip of Labrador. It's a funny story of ignorance, bad planning, and awkward execution that somehow culminated in a successful, even triumphant, trip for the nine-man amateur crew of a knarr (an open Viking boat of 54 feet that utilizes both a sail and oars). If readers ignore Carter's leaving his wife home alone, with twin toddlers and a baby on the way (he misses them constantly), for months on end while he pursues his dream, they'll enjoy this entertaining tale of the vicissitudes of mounting such an ambitious expedition with no experience, no money, almost no sailors, and only a dream to keep one pushing past all these obstacles. It took two summers to complete the trip, but Carter was successful, thanks to a willing crew and an excellent-and eccentric-Maine boatbuilder. YAs will find all the setbacks and mistakes instructive (and humorous)-and they may wonder what all those other explorer/adventurers left out of their books and journals.-Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

“At times frightening, at times hilarious . . . Always enthralling.”
The Boston Herald

“[A Viking Voyage] is about a crew of strangers who become best friends, and a man whose fantasies take them on one of the most hilariously strange adventures of their lives.”
Esquire

“AN EXCITING ADVENTURE AT SEA . . . [THAT] READS LIKE A HUNTER THOMPSON NOVEL . . . A Viking Voyage is about more than boat construction and male bonding. It’s also about self-doubt, isolation, personal relationships, and growth.”
The Roanoke Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345420039
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/2/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.45 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

W. Hodding Carter, an epicure of adventure, has spent his life seeking new physical and mental challenges. A native of Greenville, Mississippi, Carter attended Kenyon College and spent two years in Kenya with the Peace Corps. His highly acclaimed pieces for Esquire, M Magazine, Outside, and other national publications have taken him to Burma, to Wales, and into the thick of the Louisiana Oyster Eating Contest (in which he placed second). He is also the author of the book Westward Whoa: In the Wake of Lewis and Clark. He currently lives in Maine with his wife and three daughters.

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Read an Excerpt

If you are really, truly into Vikings, then you should immediately abandon this book, grab your horned helmet (which no self-respecting Viking actually ever wore, by the way), and go froth at the mouth in some fog-enshrouded ancient rubbish heap like a good little berserker, convinced that you alone have found the much-ballyhooed Vinland.

If instead you enjoy tales of quixotic idiocy, passion, determination, frightening beauty, love, loss, enlightenment, failure, and redemption, then read on. This is your story, and I have lived to tell it.

These things always begin innocently enough. Sometimes with a mere thought.

Why not retrace the Viking voyages to the New World?*

I get ideas like this all the time. Some people sit in rush-hour traffic fantasizing about bashing their fellow drivers with a sizable ham hock. When I find myself delayed, I decide it's high time to ride an elephant across Hannibal's route through the Alps, al-though I know nothing about elephants or war.

*Some stern people may object, but I use the term "Viking" freely, not only to mean raiders of the sea, but all people during the 700s to the 1100s originating from what is now Scandinavia.

I just like retracing the steps that renowned or notorious people once took. I have dogged Lewis and Clark by rubber boat, foot, and horseback from St. Louis to the Pacific, paddled a canoe in Thoreau's wake in the Maine woods, and chased after John Wilkes Booth by minivan in northern Virginia.

In the case of the Vikings, I initially did just enough research to find out that Leif Eriksson sailed to a place he called Vinland--a place somewhere along the eastern edge of NorthAmerica between Labrador and Florida--in the year 1000. He raised a few sod buildings, wintered at his new quarters, and then returned to Greenland, claiming to have found a great new land for his people. His fellow Greenlanders were suffering from a paucity of wood as well as quality farmland, and a place claiming an abundance of arable land, frostless winters, grapes, and plenty of salmon drummed up more excitement than the latest gated community outside of Atlanta would today.

This was enough for me. The millennial anniversary of Leif's voyage was coming up, and my research showed that no one had yet dared (or bothered) to retrace his exact route. I would fly to Greenland, hitchhike across the country to the different abandoned Viking settlements, and then buy some functioning vessel and motor it along the prescribed route to what is generally accepted as Vinland.

That is what I told my wife (at the time my girlfriend) and friends. I was running a contract post office for the dying town of Thurmond, West Virginia. While I referred to myself as the postmaster, the Postal Service sent me letters addressed "Dear Mr. or Ms. Contract Postal Unit," and although I never tired of hearing how Billy used to spy on naked prostitutes back in the thirties, I craved adventure. So I repeated to everybody who would lis-
ten, including those whose hearing was long gone but pretended to understand every word I said, that I was bound and determined to retrace, in my own fashion, Leif Eriksson's voyage to the New World.

Imagine my surprise when I did a bit more research and learned that Greenland has no roads connecting its towns and settlements. Its deep fjords, formidable mountains, and endless ice have made highway infrastructure a very low priority. Travel in summer is solely by boat, airplane, or helicopter. In the winter, which is not when the Vikings would have been sailing, Greenlanders travel by dogsled, snowmobile, or air. If you fall in the ocean up there, even in the summer, the temperature of the water will kill you in five minutes. Sea ice (or pack ice, as I learned to call it) and icebergs
are everywhere. Southeastern Baffin Island, my destination after Greenland, has ice-free shores for only a brief period each summer and then only in select areas. Pack ice, when mixed with high winds, can crush the hull of nearly any boat. I don't even need to mention what icebergs, which are glacier fragments, can do to vessels much stronger than a Viking boat--say, a luxury liner, for example.

And, of course, I knew something about the polar bears. They live there. They like fresh meat. No account I read about traveling in a boat in northern waters was complete without a polar bear encounter--and not a single mention of their cuddly cuteness.

Worst of all, I knew nothing about sailing. I had not even read a single Patrick O'Brian novel. I did not know athwartships from "You sank my battleship!" The most memorable sailing accomplishment in my life was flipping my family's Sunfish beneath a moored barge on the Mississippi River, losing both the sail and the mast.

The nightmares did not start then--they would come later--but I did begin to worry. That very worrying, however, was the clincher. It ensured I would do everything I could to retrace Leif's route. The little voice in my head suggesting, "That's insane!" forced me to do it. At similar times I've eaten a fish as it still flopped on my plate; sneaked into Burma to interview Khun Sa, the world's largest producer of heroin; or eaten 135 oysters in fifteen minutes at the Louisiana Oyster Festival. Mostly, though, I have an unyielding need to walk in much bigger shoes than my own. I crave to see just how brave, stoic, undaunted, or even insane our historical figures were. In following Hannibal or Leif Eriksson, I put myself in their situation, get in way over my head, and then attempt to survive.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2000

    What Was He Thinking?

    After coming up with the admittedly idiotic idea of re-tracing Leif Eriksson's voyage from Greenland to the New World in a traditional Viking knarr, W. Hodding Carter found someone even more imbecilic than himself, an executive at Lands End willing to sponsor him in his adventure, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Once the authentic knarr was built, Carter and his hearty, but green, crew overcame all obstacles in their way, including jealous Greenlandic boyfriends, the daunting seas of the Davis Strait, polar bears and the stench of each other to trimphantly make it to the New World. Carter's self-deprecating humor and insightful look into the group dynamic of 9 men cooped up on a creaky boat in harrowing conditions, makes the reader feel as though he or she has been invited along as a crew member. After trying to put the book down to go to sleep, I had to get up and finish it so that I could find out how it all turned out. It's a great story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2000

    A Great Book

    Very funny and makes you realize that anyone can accomplish the most far-fetched goal with enough determination and luck. Lots of interesting Viking and natural history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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