Draken Harald Hårfagre leaves Wirral

The largest reconstructed Viking longship left the Wirral on Monday afternoon heading back to Norway.

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The Draken Harald Hårfagre longship arrived on Merseyside on 17 July following a dramatic voyage setting sail on 2 July from Haugesund in Norway.  The name translates as ‘Harald the Fairhair’ after Norway’s most famous Viking king.

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The ship is 35 metres long (115 feet) and 7.6 metres (25 feet) wide, with a huge 260 square metre (2,800 sq ft) sail made of pure silk.  Construction began on what is the largest Viking ship ever built in modern times in March of 2010.  When rowed it requires 100 oarsmen to work 25 pairs of oars with each oar worked by two men or women.  The ship can sail the high seas with a crew of about 20 but it needs 100 oarsmen and women to manoeuvre it in and out of harbour if being rowed.

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The Draken Harald Hårfagre sailed across the North Sea to Shetland and south past Orkney and down the east coast of Scotland, then crossing through Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal, passing by the Western Isles of Scotland to Peel on the Isle of Man before then crossing the Irish Sea to the Wirral.

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The longship and its crew had to contend with vicious storms on a treacherous journey that lasted almost three weeks. Just off Shetland it was hit by a big wave in high winds three days after setting sail which snapped the long boat’s mast and sent it overboard.  The vessel was diverted to Lerwick Harbour in the Shetland and it had been feared that she may have had to head back to Norway for repairs.  However the ship’s captain Bjørn Ahlander decided to continue the planned voyage to Merseyside using the on-board engine installed in case of any emergencies.

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Despite the boat being powered for much of the journey by the backup motor the 30 strong crew were still forced to endure difficult conditions as they sought to recreate the journey of Viking armies 1,000 years ago when Vikings sailed around Britain on the North and Irish Seas.

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The longship and its crew moored at Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club on Lewis Quay at the head of the West Float in the Birkenhead/Wallasey docks.  Whilst here the crew effected the repairs to the boat.  The West Float is the closest point that the organisers can get to where the Vikings are thought to have originally landed at Meols on the Deeside coast of Wirral.  The mooring has its own Viking link as the rowing club is located next to Penny Bridge once known as Tokisford – the crossing point of a Norseman called Toki.

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The Norwegian boatbuilders Arild Nilsen and Ola Fjelltun sailing with the ship flew to Scotland to search for timber for a new mast.  They found a tree, a Douglas Fir from Dumfriesshire from which the new mast has been constructed.  It was prepared at a sawmill in Grimsby and then the crew working with Cammell Laird and other local shipwrights finished the mast fixing and fully reinforcing the 70 foot mast in place on the longship.

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The work was completed and last Thursday and the vessel was rowed in the West and East Floats by a volunteers trained by Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club testing out its new mast.

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Interestingly the old mast was discovered in the last few days floating at sea and it was towed into the harbour in the village of Walls in Shetland. I’m not sure what they will do with it now!!

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The longship was to have left Wallasey on Sunday in full sail however the wind was a little too strong and they put off setting sail until around 3.30pm on Monday 4 August.

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The crew sang ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ and then they sailed through the dock system to emerge on the River Mersey at the Alfred Dock at around 4.30pm.

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It passed Liverpool’s famous waterfront buildings as they unfurled the main sail.  It turned at Tranmere Oil Terminal and headed out back down the river towards the Irish Sea but the crew had taken down the main sail down again.

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It disappeared down to New Brighton and the mouth of the Mersey on its way to Peel, on the Isle of Man, before it returns home to Norway.

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