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Viking voyage ends after rudder failure

Jan 1, 2003

The attempt to retrace Leif Ericson's historic voyage from Greenland to Newfoundland in a Viking knarr failed in August after a rudder mishap forced the group of 11 adventurers back to the Greenland shore. Beset by problems from the beginning of the voyagea late start caused by a delivery delay, adverse weather, rudder difficultiesthe expedition was called off by leader W. Hodding Carter when the group was halfway across the Labrador Sea on its way to Baffin Island.

Crewmembers on watch had noticed water pouring through holes in the stern where stress on the rudder had opened a seam. They were able to patch the holes with tops from aluminum tins and wooden pegs. Shortly thereafter, however, the rudder halyard, a line securing the bottom of the rudder to the vessel, tore loose, according to a message sent by Carter. The knarr then received a tow from a Canadian Coast Guard cutter that was in the area.

With the northern winter closing init was already the third week of AugustCarter decided to postpone the trip until next summer. All 11 crew are hoping to be aboard for the second attempt.

"We all want to do it again," said Rob Stevens, the Maine-based boatbuilder who constructed the 55-foot wooden boat and who was aboard during the voyage. "The boat is pulled out in Nuuk, covered up, and ready for winter."

Despite the summer season, the would-be Vikings faced bitter cold and dangerous ice conditions, particularly near the Greenland shore. "We were in a whole slew of icebergs, especially in the beginning," said Carter. "At one point we had about four-tenth's coverage [of the sea], which is quite a lot. The boat is certainly not built to hit ice."

Once clear of ice, however, and with a fresh breeze, the boat handled well, according to Carter. "I think everybody was pretty amazed with it. It sailed downwind beautifully and tracked really well. We were even able to sail about 70° into the wind. It was a delight," Carter said.

The crew's navigator, Andy Marshall, was able to employ a sun compass on the vessel's attempted crossing to Baffin Island. "I'm surprised people don't use it today," Marshall said. "It's really easy to use and very accurate." The compass consisted of a sundial-like card affixed to the top of a pole. The card is hung between the fingers, which serve as gimbals, with the pole hanging down plumb so that the card remains level. Every hour a shadow is marked on the card, producing a gnomon curve, which can then be used in comparison with sights on the following day to establish a course relative to the sun's height in the sky.

Regarding next year's voyage, Carter is hopeful that the trip will be successful. "The crew knows the boat well now," he said.