The Draken returns

Modern-day Viking ship visits East Coast ports


Photo: Peder Jacobsson / Draken
Draken and crew prepare to arrive at New York City in 2016.

Michael Kleiner
The Norwegian American

Visitors to the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo have long been fascinated by the excavated rebuilt long Oseberg and Gokstad ships, dating to the 800s CE, the artifacts found—since in the Viking period important people were buried in their boats with their possessions—and the cultural history of the Vikings.

For most Americans, this history is foreign, though they may have heard that Leif Ericsson preceded Christopher Columbus to North American shores, and know the Viking ships as dragon boats.

Curator and entrepreneur Sigurd Aase is changing that. It was his idea to build a Viking ship, recreate the North Atlantic crossing, and educate people about Viking culture along the way. He convinced the best shipbuilders and historians in Scandinavia to build a replica that could handle a trans-Atlantic crossing. Construction was begun in 2010 in Haugesund, Norway, and the result was the longest Viking ship built in modern times, which included some of the patterns based on the Gokstad ship. It’s 115 feet from stem to stern and 26 feet wide, with 260 square meters of silk sail, and a 79-foot-tall mast made from Douglas fir. It was christened Draken Harald Hårfarge after the king who unified Norway.

Draken - Captain

Photo: Peder Jacobsson / Draken
Captain Björn Ahlander of Draken Harald Hårfarge onboard during 2016’s passage from Norway to North America.

On April 26, 2016, with a crew of 32 to 35 men and women of different ages, representing 10 nationalities and backgrounds, captained by Swede Björn Ahlander, the Draken set sail, like the Vikings before them, into the unknown. At different ports, they hosted Viking villages and allowed the public to board the boat.

“The aim of the Draken Harald Hårfarge project is to explore the world and embrace the Viking spirit, to look beyond the horizon, seek adventure and to inspire people to take on challenges,” said Aase on the Draken website in 2016. “Shipbuilding was the rocket science of the Viking Era.”

Due to the success of the 2016 visits to ports mostly in the Great Lakes, Scandinavian Emanuel Persson, CEO and Expedition Director, and Luke Snyder, Expedition Manager and Delaware resident, thought the educational opportunities should be repeated along the East Coast. The 2018 expedition is presented by Highland Park Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

The ship had remained in Mystic, Conn., since 2016. On July 9, it left Mystic with stops at Boothbay Harbor, Maine; Plymouth, Mass.; Rockland, Maine; Portland, Maine; Salem, Mass.; Newport, R.I.; and Ocean City, Md. (through Aug. 29).

Draken Harald Hårfarge will dock at Philadelphia’s Paddle Penn Landing on Aug. 31. There, the ship will be moored outside the Independence Seaport Museum, which is presenting the stopover, until Sept. 6. The Philadelphia stopover is sponsored in partnership with Philly Shipyard (formerly Aker and Kvæner), Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing, and the Franklin Institute’s “Vikings: Beyond the Legend” exhibit, with support from the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. and the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia.

On the afternoon of the 31st, Draken will enter the port and Ahlander will lead the crew off the ship, introducing both ship and crew to the public. This event is free and open to the public.


Photo: Dag Sjovold
A young girl blows Viking horn at a 2016 stopover.

“The Vikings were accomplished navigators, artisans, traders, and storytellers, but their greatest triumph was the ships they built,” says Ahlander. “Fine craftsmanship built Draken Harald Hårfarge, with materials used throughout history: oak, tar, hemp, iron, and silk. Each Draken stopover offers guests a tangible tie to history. We hope our visitors are inspired by the vigor of the Viking spirit and our modern-day adventures.”

Ahlander was named captain of the Draken in 2012. He, the crew, and the ship underwent test runs in Norwegian waters and the North Sea in preparation for the voyage. Ahlander, who began his maritime career in 1969, has always been fascinated by the construction and sailing techniques of tall ships. Since 1974, he has captained several vessels, and was Master Rigger on the Swedish East Indiaman Götheborg, following ships through construction and then at sea.

“We are incredibly excited to work with the Draken Harald Hårfarge to bring this unforgettable experience to Philadelphia’s waterfront,” said John Brady, President and CEO of Independence Seaport Museum. “The Independence Seaport Museum connects the community and visitors to our rivers and watershed through unique and immersive experiences. The Draken embodies the pioneering spirit that is central to Philadelphia’s history, especially on the water, and we look forward to showcasing her rare maritime history alongside our museum assets.”


Photo: Peder Jacobsson / Draken
The ship’s ornamental dragon head may bring to mind those on display in Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum.

“The Draken visit is an opportunity for everyone, and not just those of Scandinavian ancestry, to experience history brought alive,” said Susan Satkowski, Honorary Consul for Norway for Pennsylvania. “During their 2016 trans-Atlantic crossing, the crew experienced crashing waves, storms, and icebergs. Draken will offer a fun, exciting, and motivating way to learn about the challenges of exploration the Vikings likely faced through the real-life experiences of Draken’s crew.”

“It gives me great pleasure, on behalf of the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia, to welcome the magnificent Draken Viking ship and its crew to the city,” said Frode Kjersem, President of NACC. “As the city’s statue of the Viking hero Thorfinn Karlsefni reminds us, the Vikings made the hazardous journey into the unknown 1,000 years ago and landed on the North-American shores. We are thrilled to have the people of Philadelphia get the chance to share in the experience of what it took to undertake an Atlantic crossing that required so much skills and courage.”

Attendees will have an opportunity to take 30-minute tours of the ship, gaining insight into the daily life of the crew and craftsmanship that went into building Harald Hårfarge. Admission is free for children under 4 years old; $7 for children 5 to 15; $14 for adults 16 and over; and $35 for a family pack (two adults, up to three children). Tickets for specific times can be purchased at the website or on site.

Events in the Draken Village are free. These include photos and video illustrating Viking history, modern explorers, experiences of Draken, landside views of the ship, Highland Park hospitality tent, concessions, and official merchandise. A Draken documentary, Expedition America: A Modern Viking Adventure, will be shown on Sept. 1 and 2 at 2:30 p.m. at the Independence Seaport Museum, with a lecture by Ahlander on Sept. 1 at 4 p.m. The lecture series is priced at $25, and documentary screening is priced at $15. Joint tickets for the lecture and screening are available for $35 per person. Weekend and Labor Day hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and weekday hours 2 p.m.-5 p.m. On the final day, September 6, tours will be available from 10 a. m. to 6 p.m.

From Philadelphia, Draken Harald Hårfarge will make stopovers at Norfolk, Va. (Sept 13-16) and Washington, D.C. (Oct. 5-15), before returning to Mystic on Oct. 20.

To learn more about the ship, team, visit schedule, and 2018 tour, or to purchase tickets, visit or @DrakenHH on Twitter. 

This article originally appeared in the August 24, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.