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Vikings once more; historic sail resumes

Jan 1, 2003

A group of would-be Vikings, who last year failed to fully recreate Leif Ericson's epic journey from Greenland to North America, are back in their Maine-built knarr replica and presently headed across the Davis Strait.

Led by author/adventurer W. Hodding Carter III, the 10-member male crew departed Nuuk, Greenland, June 28, sailing north along the coast before heading offshore toward Baffin Island. It is believed that Ericson sailed a similar route around the year 1000 and sailed as far south as Newfoundland.

The modern-day Vikings' 54-foot wooden knarr (pronounced k-narr, like knish) Snorri, which they built in 1997 at Hermit Island, Maine, features a strengthened rudder assembly. The attempt last year failed in large part because of a weak rudder attachment, which broke loose while the vessel was halfway across the Davis Strait. The knarr was towed back to Greenland by a Canadian Coast Guard patrol vessel.

Carter and his crew, eight of whom were aboard last year, feel confident that this year will bring success. "It all looks really great," Carter said a few days before the departure. "Now that the rudder is stronger and better designedthe framing is bigger and there are more trunnelswe shouldn't have the same difficulties as last year."

The expedition's professional captain, Terry Moore, is also optimistic about the voyage but is concerned that icebergs in the Davis Strait and pack ice around Baffin Island could make the crossing more hazardous and divert the voyage farther south than Ericson's presumed route. The intended landfall on Baffin Island is the Hall Peninsula, according to Moore. From there, the voyagers will sail south to L'anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

"If it is possible to get to Baffin Island then we will, but our biggest concern is ice; it's definitely a worse than average year for ice quantity," said Moore. "It may not ice out in time, or at all, so it's not necessarily worth waiting around for." Scientists believe that these northern regions experienced a period of warmer temperatures in Ericson's time, which perhaps accounts for why a similar trip in modern times is more daunting in terms of ice conditions.

The crossing to Baffin Island is roughly 325 miles, a three-day journey if conditions are favorable, but good weather is not expected and the knarr does not go to weather. Plus, Snorri uses a load of rocks in the bilge for ballast. Loose internal ballast can be tricky because it can shift. Caution will be the governing force, Moore explained. "We're in an open boat with 14 tons of rock, sailing near the Arctic Circle," he said.

Among the upgrades on the vessel are a wind generator, an Inmarsat Mini-M satellite communication system, and an enclosed tent for sleeping that should keep out most boarding waves and spray. "Last year it was difficult for the off-watch to get any sleep," Moore said. The project is still entirely funded by the catalog clothing company Lands' End of Dodgeville, Wis.

The Vikings will receive daily weather updates from the Canadian weather-radio personality Herb Hilgenberg. Follow progress of this adventure, due to finish in Newfoundland in early September, on their web site: www.beyond.landsend.com.