World’s biggest Viking longship open to the public in Stornoway harbour

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Following the Jarl Squad of the Hebrides Tattoo, Stornoway had a second Viking visit in a week as the crew of Dragon Harald, the worlds biggest Viking longship docked in Stornoway harbour today.

The ship is on its first expedition voyage from Norway to Liverpool and back, via Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles. The ship is currently on the return voyage, and it’s been 6 weeks since leaving Norway.

Lars Benthian, a Masters student of Medieval History who studies in Iceland, is one of the ship’s crew. He said: ““For the most part it’s been wet and cold, but it’s been a great trip.

“Whenever possible, on the open sea, we try to sail as much as possible, wind permitting. We hoist up the sail and then it’s just a case of keeping it trimmed well. It’s quite speedy.”

”The ship was built by a Norwegian businessman who is involved in a couple of archaeological projects. They were curious to see what a proper ocean going viking ship would look like, as the ones that have been excavated have, for the most part, just been burial ships, built for rowing, not really proper ocean going ships.

“There have been a couple of replicas built, like the Sea Stallion from Denmark, a modern replica, but it doesn’t handle very well on the open ocean, so they were attempting to take what they know from the archaeology and then fill in with the Norwegian boat building tradition, which is still very much a living tradition, and tried to envision what an ocean going viking ship might have looked like. It’s experimental archaeology if you like.”

There are 32 crew members on the ship. Half are volunteers and the remainder are mostly professional scandinavian sailors.

Bjorn Ahlander, captain of the ship, said: “It’s gone good and bad; we lost a mast outside Orkney on the way down to Liverpool.”

He explained the original mast was too weak to deal with the combination of weight it supported and the strain from bad weather. A new mast was manufactured and fitted when the boat docked in Liverpool.

“We are leaving for Orkney tonight, then to Shetland and on to Norway. Next year a trip will go to Iceland and then to Newfoundland and New York.

“The ship was built in Haugesund in Norway. It was put in the sea 2012, in the autumn, and last year was the first test sailing before the first expedition sail this year.”

Captain Ahlander said the Dragon Harald is the biggest Viking ship in the world, a replica of the Viking ships that sailed the ocean a thousand years ago. This particular ship is a replica of Harald Hairfair’s - the first king of a united Norway - who, in the sagas, sailed a huge viking ship with red sails.

Before setting sail tonight the ship will be open to the public for viewing when the port is open, between 3 and 4 o’clock.

Captain Ahlander said: “They probably took this island once with these ships, and we’re coming back.”