The Draken wows Chicago crowds

Not since 1893 has Chicago seen the like

Photo: Nancy Andersen The Draken sailed most of the way in, then furled the sails and rowed the rest of the way, just as the Viking did almost 125 years ago.

Photo: Nancy Andersen
The Draken sailed most of the way in, then furled the sails and rowed the rest of the way, just as the Viking did almost 125 years ago.

Nancy Andersen
Chicago

The expectant crowd at Navy Pier for Tall Ships Chicago on July 27, 2016, was not disappointed when the Parade of Sail featured the best saved for last, and the great, billowing, red silk sail of the Draken Harald Hårfagre glided into view. The unique and beautiful form of the ship with her dragon prow, sleek lines, and gracefully coiled stern ornament were like history come to life.

As soon as she passed Navy Pier, the crew astonished the crowd by dropping and furling the sail and coming about to row in to the ship’s berth. As was announced to the crowd, Chicago had not seen a sight like that since the Viking, a near-exact replica of the Gokstad ship, was sailed over from Norway in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition and was rowed in. Both ships demonstrated that the Vikings were indeed capable of sailing to America centuries before Columbus.

Photo: Arthur Andersen The ships were greeted by a Navy band and large crowds of onlookers.

Photo: Arthur Andersen
The ships were greeted by a Navy band and large crowds of onlookers.

The Draken is a longship, the largest Viking ship built in modern times, with her design coming from the Norwegian boatbuilding tradition going back to the Vikings. She measures 35 m (115 ft) in length and 8 m (26 ft) in the beam, with a draught of only 2.5 m (8.2 ft). She has 25 pairs of oars, the same as many Viking warships requiring 100 men to be rowed, but since she usually goes under sail, she sailed with a crew of 33.

Draken was funded by Norwegian Sigurd Aase and built in Haugesund, Norway, using traditional Viking methods by a team headed by master shipbuilder Gunnar Eld­jarn. Eldjarn has been a consultant for the conservation of the Viking, and his son Erik was present to see the Draken sail into Chicago. Draken sailed under captain Björn Ahlander.

Draken ran into large, unforeseen expenses for required Great Lakes pilots, and the Sons of Norway are to be thanked for their fundraising campaign that made it possible for the Viking ship to continue its voyage as far as Chicago, and on to Green Bay, which will, sadly, be the end of the line for this magnificent voyage.

It is hoped that the dramatic visit of the Draken will also help Chicago’s “Friends of the Viking Ship” to secure a suitable permanent exhibit site for its own treasure, the Viking.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 12, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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