SHETLAND is bracing itself for the first Viking raid in 1,000 years – featuring the world’s largest longboat.
Norwegian history buffs have spent the past six years lovingly crafting the 115ft “Draken Harald Hårfagre” – the largest Viking longboat ever built in modern times.
Now her owners have decided to give their creation the ultimate test – an 1,800 mile transatlantic voyage tracing the route taken viking explorers to discover the New World.
Expedition organisers are currently recruiting a team of 32 “volunteer Vikings” to man the ship for the mammoth trip – which will see the sailors working round the clock on the open sea.
And the first stop on their journey is set to be the Shetland Islands – first invaded by the Vikings in the eighth and ninth centuries – before making for Iceland, Greenland and the East coast of Canada.
The ship is currently being pieced together by a crew in Haugesund, Norway, in preparation for the trip which is to begin in May.
The 115ft ship has been painstakingly built using plans and methods taken from archeological sites, old Norse literature and the rare records of sailing expeditions.
The main inspiration for the ship has come from the archeological remains of the Gokstad ship – a 9th century Viking ship found in a burial mound in Vestfold, Norway.
But the experts – funded by Norwegian businessman Sigurd Aase – have also used clues left in centuries old Norse sagas and drawings of the iconic ships.
Mimicking the shipbuilding prowess of their viking forbears – the keen sailors have built the craft entirely from oak with a twenty seven foot beam and 3,200 square foot sail.
It is estimated that it will displace 80 tonnes of water.
The 32 crew of the ship are currently being selected from a huge pool of 4,000 applicants – eager to experience the trip, which is being offered free of charge.
But the journey is not set to be a leisure cruise – as the crew will spend their days on board working and resting in four-hours-on, four-hours-off shifts.
And as Viking longboats have no “below deck” they will sleep, cook, and use the toilet in tents set up on the deck of the ship.
As it makes its journey across the North Atlantic the ship will have a “follow boat” to provide security and storage space for belongings – but the crew will have to remain on their ship the whole time.
The trip is to be launched as a rough recreation of the 1,800 mile journey made by famed Viking explorer Leif Eriksson – often credited as the first European explorer to discover the New World.
Now they have announced that the Shetland Islands are to be their first port of call in a recreation of the feared Viking raids that plagued the islands some thousand years ago.
The ship’s owners have been testing the boat around the coast of Norway – even making the leap across to Scotland once last year – but this expedition is set to be their true test.
Sarah Blank – the spokeswoman for the project – said: “The route for the expedition is not yet finally set but the plan is to leave Haugesund in May, sail by Shetland, Faroes, Iceland, Greenland and land the American Continent in Canada.
“We will from there enter the Great Lakes and finally go down the Hudson river to New York.
“We have received almost 4000 applications and we are in the process of going through them right now. I think the pile hides a couple of Scottish lads.
“We have all sorts of people who have applied. Nationalities, gender, interests and skills varies a lot!
“The one thing they seem to have in common is to seek adventure and have an interest in Draken Harald Hårfagre.”