24 February 2006

3. Viking Voyage by W. Hodding Carter

Just because you go on an adventure that doesn't mean you have to (or are able) to write about it. And no, this is not a book about the notorious Minnesota Viking boat trip.

Hodding Carter is an adventure writer for Outside magazine, and has written about all kinds of different and neat stuff he has done. I picked this book up because I had read about the Viking boat he had built in WoodenBoat Magazine and thought reading about the journey would be pretty cool. The boat is called a"knarr" and is pronounced kahh-narr.

What I liked about Carter is that he had very little experience sailing or boatbuilding before this project. He just got a wild hair to go on a Viking expedition and made it happen through sheer determination. It probably also helped that he wasn't married and didn't have kids when he started the project, though by the end he had both.

We go from idea to boat build to boat trip. They build the boat in Maine, have it brought by cargo ship to Greenland where they sail it back to Newfoundland, copying Eric the Red and Lief (Eric's son)'s voyages. It sounds like it was my kind of trip – wet, cold, and uncomfortable.

Another cool thing about the trip was that Carter had Viking clothes made up as close as possible to the real thing. He had some expert make them up based on bodies and sailing gear found in archeology digs. He opted not to have the inside of his cape smeared with seal fat, but everything else was pretty much period. And he said he stayed warm despite the constant wetness – most of his gear was wool, and though it was heavy, it seemed to do the job.

This book reminded me a lot of "North to Night" by Alvah Simon. Lots of the author's feelings about the people on the trip with him, diary-like doubts about whether they were going to be safe, whether the whole thing was daring or dumb, and how the crew was going to get along without killing each other all the way to L'Anse aux Meadows.

But what I especially liked was the fact that they did this adventure at all – I mean, nobody ever seems to think something can be done if it hasn't been done already. For example, you can't hike to X, you have never hiked that far. You can't ride your bike in the winter…and so on. At least freakin try something difficult, damn people!

But ultimately, I could have gotten the same result from the WoodenBoat article that I got from reading the whole damn book. And so, this book is not recommended even if you love them Vikings.

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