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Hand-built Viking ship set to sail from Norway to Duluth

A crowd gathers around the Viking ship Draken Harald Hårfagre in Haugesund, Norway. The ship will stop in several ports in the United States this summer, including Duluth. Photo by Jerry Jacobsen.

A 115-foot oaken sailing craft with an ominous dragon for a figurehead was ready to set sail from Haugesund, Norway on Sunday en route to Duluth and other North American ports timed for summer festivals.

The Draken Harald Hårfagre, which also has 25 pair of giant oars for those calm North Sea days, will be part of Duluth's Tall Ships Festival arriving about Aug. 18.

The hand-constructed ship, said to be the largest Viking ship built in modern times, is being sailed in celebration of what some say was the first transatlantic crossing by Leif Erikson and the Viking arrival in the New World more than a thousand years ago.

The ship has a crew of 32 picked from nearly 4,000 volunteers from several nations. Festivities for the journey started Saturday with a traditional dragon's head festival in Haugesund. Tradition says the dragon will help protect the crew from sea monsters and other perils.

Jerry Jacobsen of Milaca, Minn. was in Haugesund for the weekend festivities on a trip that started with his growing interest in his family's Norwegian genealogy. After his first trip to Norway two years ago, Jacobsen said he felt pulled to return for the Draken Harald Hårfagre event.

"I happened up on the story of the Viking ship Draken Harald and for some unexplained reason, I felt I had to be here," Jacobsen said in an e-mail interview with the News Tribune Sunday.

Jacobsen said the send-off event, held in a national park on Karmony Island, "was celebrated in Viking traditions. Many people wore Viking costumes and even entertained the crowd with Viking music. ... It was an inspirational event, even without the benefit of speaking Norwegian."

Jacobsen said the ship is equipped with modern navigation, communication and safety equipment but otherwise remained true to ancient Viking shipbuilding traditions.

"All the workmanship on the ship followed traditional Viking building practices,'' he noted. "Even the ropes now on the ship were handmade."

The Draken Harald Hårfagre — loosely translated, Dragon Harald Fairhair — is 26 feet wide with a 78-foot tall Douglas fir mast and 284 square yards of silk sail.

Construction of the ship and the voyage to Vinland, the Viking name for North America, are the brainchild of Norwegian entrepreneur Sigurd Aase.

Construction started in 2010 and the ship has been undergoing sea trials since 2013.

The Draken Harald Hårfagre is scheduled to arrive in Reykjavik, Iceland about May 3 and Quqortoq, Greenland by May 16. In addition to Duluth the ship has scheduled visits to St. Antonym, Newfoundland, Quebec City, Toronto, Fairport Harbor, Ohio, Bay City Mich., Chicago, Green Bay, Oswego, N.Y. and New York City.

To follow the voyage go to