Maybe in centuries past, the sight of a monstrous Viking ship entering Peel bay wouldn’t have been so readily welcomed.
However, the arrival of the huge Draken Harald Hårfagre last Tuesday was greeted by an enthusiastic cheering and applauding crowd that lined the breakwater and all the way around to the harbour gates.
The Draken, which is the Norse word for dragon, has spent the past two and a half weeks sailing from Haugesund, western Norway, on its maiden expedition across the North Sea and down the west coast of Scotland on its way to Merseyside.
At 34 metres long, eight metres wide and able to carry a crew of one hundred, the ship is the largest of its kind afloat.
It was built in Haugesund as part of a Norwegian experimental archaeological research programme and launched in 2012
At full strength, it can be powered by 50 giant oars, each one pulled by two people, and under its distinctive huge red silk sail it can reach speeds of up to 14 knots.
Even at rest in the bay more than two miles out, the Draken looked imposing.
And from the vantage point of a small boat, on which I was lucky enough to find myself, the size of the prow, looming more than 20-feet over our heads, was just mind boggling.
Earlier on its journey, the project suffered a massive setback when huge waves and strong winds combined to snap the boat’s mast as it was leaving the Orkney Islands, meaning that the journey had to be completed under the power of its onboard engine. However, the crew of 30 still made an impressive entrance as, with just five oars aside, under the command of oars master Tora Heide, they rowed the massive vessel serenely into the bay and past Peel Castle to its berth inside the harbour.
‘Here we are in Peel, and I am very happy to be here,’ said Björn Ahlander, the captain of the Draken.
‘I love it here, it is so beautiful. I wish we had time to go around but we have to leave for Liverpool tomorrow night because of the weather situation.’
Crew member Lars Benthien echoed these sentiments after settling in at the port, a few hours later. ‘Everywhere we have been [on our journey] locals have turned out and its been a huge attraction,’ he said. ‘But this is the biggest crowd we’ve drawn yet.
‘Even when we were out at sea there were already a lot of ships approaching us, waving and taking pictures. There were people with Norwegian flags and applauding. It was great reception.’
The crew, half of which is made up of full-time crew members and half volunteers and archaeological students, took its time to find out more about Peel’s Viking connections and to explore the castle. They also swapped stories with George Kneale and Shane Lucas, members of the crew of the Odin’s Raven, which was rowed from Norway to the Isle of Man in 1979 as part of the island’s millennium celebrations. The ship is essentially a floating archaeological project, built by Norwegian boat builders and a replica of a longship sailed by the Norse King Harald Hårfagre (meaning Fairhair). Bjorn explained: ‘He was the first King who united Norway in the 800s, so he is very famous in Norway. He was a big king and also a successful seafarer. He had a huge ship with a red sail – and that’s what we have here.’
So, after a short stay and having stirred the imagination of the hundreds who came to see it, the Draken Harald Hårfagre made its way out of Peel harbour and down the southwest coast of the island, making a dramatic spectacle as it glided into the sunset.
The boat reached Wallasey Docks by Thursday, and has now been refitted with a new mast.
Hopefully, the next time we see the Draken, she will be thundering towards the coast under 3,200 square foot of billowing red sail. What a sight that would be.