The Vikings landed unexpectedly and took Lewes by storm.
The historic Norwegian longboat Draken Harald Hårfagre was headed to Ocean City, Md., from Long Island, N.Y., on a 14-harbor-stop East Coast tour, but the ship made such good time with a brisk northeast wind, it was almost two days ahead of schedule.
Swedish Capt. Bjorn Ahlander said the ship anchored near the Delaware Breakwater for most of the day Aug. 20 and then decided to cruise into Lewes. The captain said it was a wise decision as the town opened its arms to the ship and crew.
Ahlander said he was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people of Lewes and their interest in the ship. A nonstop parade of people appeared on the public docks all day Aug. 21. The crew and captain answered endless questions from curious onlookers.
The crew was treated to happy hour at Dogfish Head Inn and later dipped into Kings Ice Cream. Enjoying King's chocolate ice cream, the captain said, “I think we should try to come back here.”
When Ahlander went to pay the dockage fee for two nights, he was told it was already paid. He said some young people from Lewes approached him about volunteering as crew.
“We have been touched. We are so glad we docked here,” he said.
Draken departed Lewes early Aug. 22 under motorized power until the crew hoisted the large 3,200-square-foot sail as the ship entered the Atlantic Ocean.
It will dock in Ocean City from Aug. 22-29 and be open for tours. Crew members will set up a replica Viking village, sell merchandise and relive Viking history.
Most crew members are volunteers, with a few sailing professionals. “Some have no experience, but they learn very quickly, and we all have to work together,” Ahlander said.
The ship has tent-like sleeping quarters that can accommodate 20 crew members at a time. Crew takes turns sleeping and on deck 24 hours a day when sailing.
Retracing Erikson's voyage
According to its website, the ship is the world's largest Viking ship built based on archaeological study of discovered ships, using old boatbuilding traditions and the legends of Viking ships from the Norse sagas. It's named after Harald Hårfagre, the first Viking King of Norway, who reigned from 872 to 930.
After two year's of construction, from 2010 to 2012, in Norway, and some shakedown excursions, in April 2016, the ship headed out on the two-month Expedition America, retracing the route of Leif Erikson, who led the first European expedition in 1001 to the New World.
After stops in Iceland and Greenland, Draken, like Erikson, landed in Newfoundland, Canada. From there, it went on an extensive four-month tour of East Coast ports in Canada and New England and even ports in the Great Lakes. It returned to the East Coast and Mystic Seaport via the Erie Canal.
Ahlander, 70, said after 14 days of retirement he was talked into taking on the role of Draken captain. “I fell in love with the ship. It's so fast and the crew was so good,” he said.
For the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, 4,000 sailors applied to be crew members. The final crew consisted of 16 men and 16 women, half professional sailors and half volunteers.
Among the experienced captain's accomplishments is sailing an historic Swedish ship from Sweden to China and back.
Draken is on an East Coast tour, leaving July 9 from its homeport in Mystic Seaport, Conn., with area stops in Ocean City, Philadelphia, Aug. 31-Sept. 6, Washington D.C., Oct. 5-15, – and perhaps another stop in Lewes.
For more information on the Ocean City stop, go to: https://www.drakenhh.com/ocean-city
Length: 115 feet
Beam: 26 feet
Mast: 76 feet
Sail: 3,200 square feet
Draft: 8 feet
Oars: 25 pairs
Launched: June 5, 2012, Haugesund, Norway