Draken Harald Hårfagre makes its way across the Atlantic.

Setting sail on a Viking ship

Sooke resident Jeff Lievre finds his ancient sealegs as he crosses the Atlantic Ocean in a replica Viking ship

Jeff Lievre always had an obsession with sailing out into the big, blue sea.

He got more than he bargained for when he became a crewmember of a replica Viking ship and crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Lievre, a Sooke resident, was chosen from more than 4,000 applicants as a volunteer seaman, after which he sailed on an expedition trip from Norway around to Liverpool and back. And that was just a test, for the big one.

“This was the maiden voyage and they wanted me on this one as well, so I came along,” he said, as he joined a crew of 31 sailing from Norway, up to Iceland, Greenland, then to Newfoundland.

The crew is split between paid regular sailors, while the other half are volunteers. Individuals from 10 nations comprise the crew.

“It was definitely interesting sailing at night when you didn’t know if you were going to run into an iceberg or not,” Lievre laughed, adding that the experience is certainly one to remember.

The 35-metre oak-hulled ship, called Draken Harald Hårfagre, was built loosely based on two initial designs, all drawn from archeological findings, and is not a replica of any specific historical ship.

Still, considering there has not been a Viking ship of this size and class out on those seas for more than a thousand years, it sure turns a few heads as it goes along.

“Some of the looks that we get when we’re sailing around are pretty incredible,” Lievre said, adding that thousands of people turned up to the small port town of Brockville, Ont., just to see the ship and her crew.

The journey is not yet over, either. Lievre and the Draken will be going around all the Great Lakes for most of the summer visiting all the tall ship festivals, planning to end sometime in October in New York City.

Still, sailing has been a hobby for him for the last 10 years. When he came back from travelling abroad, he bought a couple of sail boats; it’s simply a passion that won’t ever die.

“I’ve always just loved being on the ocean.”

As a professional truck driver, Lievre now spends some of that travel time transporting supplies for the ship as it travels through Canada’s home waters, though while onboard the ship, everybody just does a bit of everything.

“You have to sail, you have to cook, you have to clean, help out with planning navigation stops, you do it all,” he said.

As far as creature comforts, life onboard the Draken is as medieval as it gets, apart from some modern navigational equipment for safety’s sake.

“It’s an open ship, so we have a tent that’s built right in the centre … it’s pretty small, so when you’re in heavy weather conditions with rain and everything, you get wet,” Lievre said, adding that the crew has heavy-weather gear, including survival suits, if needed.

For propulsion, the Draken uses its traditional 80-metre sail, besides two onboard motors to help maneuver when in the harbour. There’s even some oars, but Lievre said that’s mostly for show.

“[The ship] is really big and really awkward, so it’s almost impossible to row it out into the open sea and even in the harbour it’s not that maneuverable,” he said.

This year, the expedition ends when the Draken arrives to the tall ship festival in New York City, and the plans after that are still loose at this point.

“We might still be heading around the world, we don’t know yet. I’m hoping it goes down to the Caribbean,” he laughed.

A Viking ship in the Caribbean will certainly be a sight to see indeed.

 

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