Tag Archives: Vikings

Sailing a Viking Longship

longship, Vikings, Scandinavian, Norse

The Munin is a half-size replica of the boat Leif Erickson sailed to North America. copyright 2015

Last summer a friend and I were walking along the beach, off to see an art barge behind the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The barge had wooden staircases and rooms built on it and a little shuttle ferry took you out to it. It was interesting if not fascinating and we noticed that the dock we left from was called the Heritage Harbour. There were about a dozen wooden boats, all with signs indicating their history and construction. Some were sailboats, some fishing trawlers, all relatively small (but what do I know about boats).

It was a beautiful summer day so we read the information on each boat, figuring this was where owners of vintage boats could show off and attract additional attention for the Maritime Museum,which houses the Saint Roch, the first boat to sail the NW Passage, complete the sailing in one season and circumnavigate North America. We noticed two women stowing gear for a dark brown Viking longboat. The sails were down but it’s distinctive carved animal heads gave it away. I mentioned that I’d seen it out in the bay a few times.

Scandinavian Center, sailing, Viking longboat

The boat is out for repairs, and the heads are stowed for now but you can see some of the details.

It turns out that the ship is named the Munin (after one of Odin’s ravens) and for a donation you can reserve space on the boat for an approximate two-hour sail. That sounded fun, so we signed up. There is an upper and lower limit for sailing the boat as you need enough people to row the boat out of the harbor and not to many that there are no seats. Imagine a giant wooden rowboat and then imagine Leif Erickson sailing one to North America. The Gokstadt was the name of that historical boat and the Munin is a half-size replica at 40 feet long and 20 feet wide.

After I went out the first time, I had another group of friends who wanted to go so we went a second time. By the end of that trip, I was hooked and signed up to volunteer. I know nothing about sailing, or rowing for that matter, but I liked that sailing is outdoors, social and true exercise. Munin will sail in winter if weather permits and except for the bilge pump it’s all the way it was centuries ago. There are 10-foot wooden oars (approximately) and you must row in and out of harbor, then you can put up the sail.

hull, keel, longship, longboat

Some of the maintenance is check the boards for cracks and scraping the hull.

I’m learning the ropes, literally, and very green. I managed to go sailing twice more in the fall, with the last day being quite a challenge. The winds picked up and where the Munin usually goes no faster than 20 knots, I was told we hit 35. We had to row with the sail up just to try to get back to the harbor. As many hands as possible had to row that day. I’m still very new to rowing so my grasp of the oar isn’t very strong. Even my pinkies hurt the next day. The current and wind can grab the oar and slam you out of your seat. I wasn’t the only that got knocked over and we almost lost an oar once or twice. But it was exhilarating.

Now, we’ve had to pull the boat for the winter because the moorage is changing but more importantly the boat needs some repairs as it was taking on water. Part of volunteering is committing to the nitty gritty of boat maintenance. We are housing the longship at the Scandinavian Centre, (in Burnaby) where Norway House (one of the five Scandinavian houses) was the original sponsor for the construction of Munin 14 years ago.

Munin, Leif Erickson, Scandinavian, Norway

Even the captains scrape and clean.

Everyone who works on the boat or who is crew is a volunteer, giving time for free. Moorage is covered somewhat by people reserving for a ride and donations. But there are many costs. I worked at scraping the old paint off of the boat. The next stage is replacing the cracked or damaged boards, repairing other pieces, making sure the bilge pump is working, repainting the hull and then re-launching the ship. I learned a valuable lesson; when you’re scraping the hull of a boat, even if it’s been out of water for two months, the wood is still wet and there is wood, paint, dirt and who knows what else flying off. I didn’t have goggles (didn’t even know I should use them) and got debris in my eye. Now I’m dealing with a blocked duct.

I’ll be having more adventures once the boat is back in the water. I never knew that I would connect with my Danish & Norwegian heritage this way. In fact, I only knew the family name and the area in Norway where my ancestors came from.

Scandinavian Centre dinner, Munin ship. Viking longboat

Come out and support the Munin and meet the community on March 20.

To help support the continuance of this bit of history, the Scandinavian Centre will be hosting the Munin Ship Annual Pork Dinner. It takes place on March 20 and cost $30 for adults (cheaper for kids–clinic on the line above). You can support the Viking Longship, take a look at it, view the center, have a nice meal, and hear some seagoing songs by the band Corryvreken. I’ll be the MC and in traditional Norse dress to boot. Tickets should be bought by March 13, and it always sells out, so book early. Details:

Cash Bar 6 pm       Dinner 7 pm
Traditional Pork dinner with all the trimmings  
(gluten-free; dairy free choices)
Tickets from: Anne Haug     annehaug@eastlink.ca     604 943 0340

On another note, I saw this ad. You could go to Norway and get a summer job as captain of a Viking sailing ship. Too bad none of our crew is able. Imagine sailing the fjords as the Vikings once did. Here’s to more sailing and who knows what might be next, raiding and pillaging? Fair winds!

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Happy Birthday, Newfoundland & Labrador

Sixty years ago, on April 1, 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador joined confederation. They were the last and tenth province to join Canada. Newfoundland has a rich and the oldest history of visiting peoples than anywhere else in the Americas.

Leif Ericson and his Vikings first came to the coastal shores in 1000 AD. How long they stayed and if they mixed in with the Beothuks and Mi’kmaq is unclear. But artifacts were found there nonetheless. John Cabot then rediscovered it in 1497 and it was claimed by Sir Humphrey Gilbert for England’s Queen Elizabeth I in 1583, making it the first overseas colony.

Governors were appointed through the 16 and 1700s. Whether it was a feather in their cap or a punishment is hard to tell. In 1855 Newfoundland was granted the right to government with its first prime minister Phillip Francis Little, a native of Prince Edward Island. They rejected confederation with Canada in 1869. For much of those years until 1890 Newfoundland was split along religious lines of Catholics and Anglicans with Irish and British colonialists. They were used as an example of why not to let Ireland self govern.

The politics finally changed to eliminate the religious aspects with Prime Minister Hugh Hoyles who worked hard to bring in both sides. In 1907 Newfoundland became a dominion. After the depression and a massive debt they joined confederation in 1949. Most Newfoundlanders will always mention Labrador as a distinct entity. It was in dispute for years as to who owned it, the French or the British. You will put yourself in good stead if you remember that Labrador is distinct too.

Some other aspects of Newfoundland are that it has the remains of a Basque whaling station in Red Bay dating from 1550. I have a friend in Washington who has a somewhat Spanish mix in him. He’s diminutive. When he and his wife went to Newfoundland they took a picture of him standing beside the Basque mannequin. They were of a height and very similar in skin tone and facial characteristics. There are three galleons and four chalupas under the waters around Newfoundland making it an underwater archeological site.

With a strong mix of Irish as well as Scottish and British in Newfoundland’s past, and being steeped in fishing culture, Newfoundland accents can be very strong. An old slang term for Newfoundlander is Newfie, or Newf. At one time it seems that it was derogatory and was used to indicate someone slow and of limited intelligence. Newfoundland was largely a religious and fishing community and an economically poor province for years. The term probably originate through those stigma. However, I remember my mother relating a tale. It was the end of the second world war and she was out with other friends, all in the military. One of the guys was from Newfoundland (at this time Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada). My mother naively called the guy a Newfie and the next thing she knew, he was trying to strangle her and several guys had to pull him off.

These days there is still a mixed feeling by Newfoundlanders as to whether it is perjorative or not. Make sure you know the person before using this diminutive. Newfoundland is also famous for its Newfie Screech, a locally made rum, reputed to be rough and high in alcohol. It’s probably smoothed out some these days. I have a tiny bottle that friends gave me and I’ll give it a try at some point soon. If you’re in Newfoundland, you can be screeched in, where you’ll drink a shot of screech, kiss a cogdfish (cod is somewhat rare these days to these may be dried?) on the mouth, and be asked, “Is ye an honourary Newfoundlander?” You answer, “‘Deed I is me old trout, and long may your big jib draw.”

Newfoundland is part of the rugged east coast. The geography is known to be beautiful though I cannot attest to this. Years ago I was working with a woman on a book of Newfoundland proverbs that she had gathered as well as true ghost stories. She was one of eleven children, a common size for families in the past. She told me some terrible tales of being in the small fishing village where her father ran the dogsled. The only phone was owned by the Catholic priest and her family was Anglican (or possibly Protestant) and how the priest would pull cruel revenges on the children. She suffered debilitating chronic fatigue, which the doctors believed was cause by the mercury in her system from all the polluted fish. These days the fishing industry, like so many other countries, is severely jeopardized and diminished. Newfoundland has lately reinvented itself and is prospering.

So bravo, Newfoundland and Labrador, for being unique, having a strong identity, reinventing yourselves and for joining Canada. We would definitely be a lesser place without you.

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Travel: Monasterboice, Land of High Crosses

Ireland 2007–Monasterboice

Just click on the pictures to go to the album and each picture has more information in the caption.

Monasterboice is now just a cemetery but it has a long history. Founded first in the 4th century by St Buite who died in 521, it has seen many incarnations. It laso had significance to Mellifont Abbey. The tower and the High Crosses date from the tenth century though the tower might be even older. The original abbey is long gone but there are remains of two 14th century abbeys. Over a thousand years of use here, and there is still significant detail left. I can only imagine how majestic these crosses were in their virgin state. I did not know before that the reason there is the round circle on the crosses is that the versions made of gold and jewels would start to bend under the weight of the design and the circle was a support structure to hold up the arms of the cross.

The day was wettish, trying to rain and leaden. The skies in the pictures appear missing for this reason. The moisture did bring out the text of the stone and add rich colors. There might have been on or to other people in the cemetery but really we had it to ourselves, which was nice for exploring. The crosses hold great detail, in stories and early Celtic/Irish design.

The tower, it is believed, was used for protection when the Vikings came by. It is still over 100 feet high and no longer complete. As well, over time, dirt has built up around the base and the once elevated doorway is now about 6-8 feet above ground. Of course this would have been used for storage and for a lookout as well.

Monasterboice was our last stop around the Newgrange area. It wasn’t far from the towns of Drogheda, (Pronounced Droda but you’d hear different pronunciations depending on whether the person was saying the Gaelic or the English version.) Tara or Slaine.

We never did get any pictures of Slaine (two weddings booked in the castle and there after dark for dinner the second night), and though we drove through Kells the night before it was too late for the tourist center. As it was now Sunday we would have had to hang around till 2 pm to get in and as it turns out, there are two Kells in Ireland. The other is in the southwest and neither house the Book of Kells, which I regret not seeing.

By this time we were getting a better sense of driving about and learning to just stop and ask directions, especially when we’d be at a corner that had signs pointing east and south at the same time. Signs for touristy things (landmarks, historic sites, beaches) were in brown and helped a lot in finding places. Towns were in white (w/black lettering) or green (w/white lettering). It seems the secondary routes were the white signs. The roundabouts, on the other hand, never really did get easy.

Next, Belfast to Ballycastle.

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