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An Illustrated Viking Voyage: Retracing Leif Erikssons Journey In An Authentic Viking Knarr

An Illustrated Viking Voyage: Retracing Leif Erikssons Journey In An Authentic Viking Knarr

by W. Hodding Carter, Russell Kaye (Photographer)
Featuring the breathtaking images of award-winning photographer Russell Kaye, An Illustrated Viking Voyage tells the tale of an awe-inspiring modern expedition.

In 1997, journalist and history buff W. Hodding Carter, along with a ragtag band of amateur sailors, set out to retrace Leif Eriksson's journey to North America. They sailed a handmade ship modeled


Featuring the breathtaking images of award-winning photographer Russell Kaye, An Illustrated Viking Voyage tells the tale of an awe-inspiring modern expedition.

In 1997, journalist and history buff W. Hodding Carter, along with a ragtag band of amateur sailors, set out to retrace Leif Eriksson's journey to North America. They sailed a handmade ship modeled after a traditional Viking "knarr." It was the first voyage by Westerners to precisely follow the Vikings' route in nearly a thousand years.

Beginning in a small boathouse in Maine, Carter's fifty-four-foot open-decked Viking boat, the Snorri, took shape from wooden planks and individually pounded iron rivets. Over the next year, the Snorri sailed from the ports and fjords of Greenland through the Arctic circle to a victorious landing at l'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.

Through the extraordinary images of photographer Russell Kaye, and a colorful running text from Carter, the chronicle of this remarkable voyage is captured in rich detail. Experience the feat of building an authentic Viking vessel; the power of sublime Arctic landscapes; the beauty and treachery of icebergs; and the fishermen of local villages who offered advice and companionship despite language barriers.

An unforgettable adventure as seen through a celebrated photographer's lens, An Illustrated Viking Voyage chronicles a once-in-a-millennium occurrence, one which fans of Viking lore and seafaring journeys will come back to time and again.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Library Journal
In A Viking Voyage (LJ 4/15/00), Carter recounted the expedition he launched to re-create the Viking visit to North America 1000 years ago, sailing a reconstructed version of a Viking longboat. Here's a photographic record of the voyage. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

Product Details

Atria Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.73(w) x 10.33(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Launch day. It's a still, sunny April morning in 1997. Snorri, our Viking cargo ship, is resting about one hundred feet outside of Rob Stevens's boatyard, gathering her strength after a very difficult birth. The builders, dozens of volunteers, and a few future crew members labored all the previous day to free her from the boathouse. A couple of them even had to perform an emergency dismantling of the cedar-shingled building so Snorri could squeeze through; she was simply too beamy for the existing opening.

Now, she's about to be dragged another one hundred feet or so, down to the low-tide mark. My daughter Anabel is pouring dirt in my notebook, and her twin sister, Eliza, is screaming in her mother's arms on the other side of the boat. Both girls are wearing plastic, horned Viking helmets, and one of their first multiple-word constructions will soon be "Viking boat."

This is us; we are the Viking Family.

A crowd has been slowly gathering all morning, although we didn't advertise the launching. It's as if some little boy has run through the neighboring towns calling out, "The Viking ship is launching! The Viking ship is launching!" The people keep coming and comingwhole families with picnic baskets, the dog, and even Grandma.

This comes as no surprise. Ever since May 1996, a year ago, when I asked Rob to build this boat, people have been driving the mile-long winding dirt road that leads to the end of Hermit Island, Maine, to witness the building of this ancient vessel. The Vikings were easily the most advanced shipbuilders of their day, and when Danish archeologists recovered the sunken wreck of a knarr, or cargo ship, in the 1960s from Roskilde Fjord a half hour northwest of Copenhagen, a door was opened not only to the past but also to a greater appreciation of the skill of the Viking shipwrights.

Who wouldn't be curious to see how a real Viking boat might look? For months and months, they have stood watching -- wistfully, patiently, and asking endless questions. "Why are you building such a boat here?" the casual viewer would ask. "Why are you using temporary forms instead of building by eye like the Vikings?" a more intense person would ask. In the first few months when Rob was merely lofting the plans and gathering material (and his nerve), there were only a handful of visitors each day. Rob, or one of the guys helping him, would spend half an hour discussing the merits of pine versus oak planks or the best way to set an iron rivet. They would talk until somebody nodded off, even. Each week, however, as the boat grew its curvy skin of lapped pine planking, more and more visitors stopped by to ask questions. Near the end, a scrawled sign posted outside the boathouse read in large letters, "Sorry, but we do not have time to talk."

It's been a long, anxious year, and although Snorri is finally about to be launched, I feel more uncomfortable than I've ever been. Reporters are drifting in and out of my life, and the publicist hired by the company I convinced to back my project shoves me in front of cameras, microphones, notebooks, crayons, at every available moment. Besides researching the Vikings, raising money, and gathering a crew, though, I have done nothing. I did not build the boat, and even worse, I have no idea how to sail it. I am not a sailor. I have even spent a good deal of my adult life avoiding sailors. They have always seemed a bit too bossy.

I want to turn to my wife for support, duck out of sight with her perhaps, but someone is interviewing her. I see Rob, the builder. We've become friends this past year, and I figure he can joke me out of my discomfort. He's got only one thing on his mind, however: Get the boat into the water. Then I see Terry Moore, the tall, confident redhead who is my captain. He's standing around with his hands jammed into his work pants, seeming nearly as uncomfortable as I.

Catching my eye and also my mood, he suggests, "Let's whip some lines." Terry has been sailing his entire life. I found him through Maine's Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, where he has been an instructor for nearly ten years. He's as comfortable around boats as I am around daydreams.

"Sure," I answer hesitantly, thinking we're going to look mighty odd standing on the dock flaying our rigging against granite blocks while the builders are doing real stuff, like pounding in last-minute hand-forged iron rivets, but at least we'll look nautical. I do not have a clue as to what whipping entails, but I grab a rope and prepare to swing.

Terry pulls out two needles, a coil of twine, and two leather sewing palms and sits crossleaeed in the dirt. "Oh," I mutter, and quickly plop down next to him. "I've never whipped a rope before."

He carefully shows me how to wrap the twine around the line and then sew it through the wrap to make an end that will not fray. I begin whipping, engrossed and thankful for something to do.

Before I get even one whipping complete, the publicist grabs me for an interview. Terry is explaining to somebody what we are doing, and I glance back at him as I walk away. "So this is how it is," his face says, and then I'm hauled behind a huddle of reporters.

A few hours pass this way. I'm pulled in every direction. Terry stands around waiting, concerned that no other crew members have bothered to show up for the launching. Rob rushes around, throwing steel rollers in front of Snorri's keel for her to continue her stately descent to the water, occasionally pitting his entire body against the twelve-ton boat to slow it down. I have asked Rob to be a crew member, thinking that if he's willing to sail her into the Arctic, then the boat has got to be safe. Watching him now, I'm feeling less than reassured, especially knowing that he refers to the knarr as the Kevorkian.

Snorri eventually reaches the low-tide mark. Now we just have to wait a few hours for the tide to return.

My wife, Lisa, and I head into Rob's boathouse for lunch and a break from this moment. Lisa has always been my coconspirator, but lately she's been relegated to the role of supporter, sideliner, and mother. She is the one who initially challenged me to build a Viking boat. I was just going to travel up to Greenland and bum my way through Leif Eriksson's route. All people want to know from her now is how it feels to have a husband like me. 'Are you worried?" they ask, smiling. She dutifully answers the questions and says she is extremely worried, which she is. At night, she even cries about what might happen to me. It is not a light matter, this matter of her husband intentionally risking his life and the lives of others for adventure. Her feelings are no cliché. But I also know she is feeling jealous and even left out. Of the two of us, she is the one who burns more brightly with the desire simply to do, no matter what the cost. Yet, here she is, playing the poor, housebound wife, worried to death about her husband's safety. I can't do anything about it, either. We have two toddling girls and are expecting our third baby in four months.

We eat hurriedly, restlessly,

When we emerge from lunch, the crowd has grown larger. A few strangers approach me, pat me on the back, congratulating me. One guy even gives me a cigar. To the very last minute, this has been a community project -- not just the area surrounding Hermit Island, but the greater community of the state. People have sent cards. Written letters. Brought school buses. Donated wood and even ballast stones. Given of themselves, as well as plenty of unsolicited advice. There seems to be an ownership by the community of the project. Even the governor, Angus King, stopped by to watch Snorri grow, bringing along a box of doughnuts to encourage the builders. In that regard, it makes sense that nearly seven hundred people are happily standing around, waiting to see a fifty-four-foot wooden boat float.

To these people, this project is not about the Vikings and especially not about the book I want to write. It is about carrying on a nearly four-hundred-year-old tradition of Maine boatbuilding. The first seagoing boat ever built by English colonists, the Virginia, was launched about three miles from this spot in 1607, and the people of Maine have been turning them out ever since. The art of building traditional wooden boats -- all these people seem to be saying -- as opposed to fiberglass or plywood ones, may be dying out, but it is not dead. And it certainly is not forgotten. I realize unexpectedly that this is not a crowd of sightseers. It is, pure and simple, a gathering of believers.

We walk toward the harbor, and Terry is standing in the bow all by himself His hands are crossed, but he no longer looks ill at ease. Water is lapping Snorri's sides for the very first time. What a nice steady sound. Life aboard Snorri is going to feel and sound good. A dream runs through my body. I slough off all my worries and climb aboard, remembering at some point to help Lisa and the girls over the sheer plankthe top plank of a ship.

It smells divine. For the past five months, Snorri's woodwork has been slathered in a mixture of pine tar, turpentine, and linseed oil to protect and cure the wood. Pine tar is made by heating pine until a natural tar oozes out of the wood's structure, and hence, it smells of fire, smoke, and long days spent outdoors. It is an intoxicating aroma, and we breathe it in as the water rises higher and higher.

Any minute now, Snorri will be floating. As the tide rises up the hull, a few leaks sprout up between strakes, but nothing that cannot be slowed with a wedge of canvas. Snorri will never completely stop leaking, even sucking in hundreds of gallons in rough seas, but within a few days the intake will slow to a trickle as the wood swells with water.

Terry begins telling some of the builders what he wants them to do once we cast off and explains his rowing commands: give way means row forward; come to oars means cease rowing and lift your oar out of the water; hold water means keep your oar in the water but don't row, among others. I listen carefully, not wanting to mess up. We have decided to row out a few hundred yards into the harbor and then row back -- more for the crowd than anything else. The mast won't be stepped, or mounted, for a few days, so unfurling her billowy sail is not an option.

More and more people crowd on board -- friends, builders, and total unknowns. Someone asks me if it's okay for them to be there, but what do I know? We've only got life vests for twenty, and at least sixty people are bouncing on the floorboards. Gerry Galuza, the blacksmith who has forged more than three thousand of the boat's iron rivets, climbs aboard, looking proud and outlandish in his faux Viking helmet. Dave Foster, the seventy-something builder who taught Rob how to build boats, chases about twenty people off a crossbeam that looks ready to snap. Then, a wet-suited diver pops up near the bow and says Snorri is free of the bottom. A small cheer goes up.

Somebody hands Lisa a champagne bottle wrapped in a cloth napkin. A bouquet of wildflowers is tied to the stem. Everyone and everything grows quiet, except for the soft, persistent lapping against Snorri's sides. Lisa takes a powerful swing and the glass shatters across Snorri's bow.

We are off.

Copyright © 2000 by W. Hodding Carter

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