After searching the whole Norwegian coast, from Bergen to Helgeland, for a place to have a boat built at a price I could afford, I found the out-of-the-way settlement of Korgen. Korgen men have a good reputation as boat-builders, and Johan Petersen is one of the last boat-builders still using the old methods called clinker built, with the edges of hull planks over-lapping. Everyone else said they only used carvel construction, with the plank seams butted flush together.
The village of Korgen is so remote, that I had to go by horse; no cars, or boats could reach it. I arrived at the farm of Johan Petersen to find him hewing timber and he welcomed me warmly. I was hesitant to jump right in to asking him for help on my plans, but eventually I asked if he could build a clinker-type boat that was around 40 feet long. Yes, said he, but wanted to know what it would be used for. Wanting to keep my project under wraps, I asked him if we could talk more privately indoors, and showed him the design drawings. When I explained my plans to Petersen, he was incredulous and at first seemed to think I was crazy. But his personal interest in history drew him in, and Petersen agreed to undertake the construction of the “Leif Erickson”. Parting, I asked him to reveal my plans to no one.
Johan Petersen began work on the boat at once. A large shed was quickly built to hide the construction as long as possible, and he gathered the materials needed. All his small children were engaged in the making of wooden pegs, which had to be dry when the planks were put on the boat.
Petersen has five men working with him on the boat construction, and the pressure is intense. They are putting in long days of work, but there is still much to be done.
While Petersen cuts the ribs, shapes the keel and dries the planks, the people in the settlement begin to suspect something is going on. People stand around the shed trying to peek in at the door and see what they are doing. It is the talk of the town.
It is no longer a secret what is happening on Johan Petersen’s farm. The planking is almost finished and the ribs ready to be installed. Everyone is allowed inside the shed to see.
March 20, 1926
The hull is complete, and I have pondered the problem of how to transport the boat to open water day and night. The fjord is frozen and the road covered with three feet of snow.
But old Johan Petersen did not waste any thought on this question. He knew the conditions and was accustomed to the different obstructions to transport.
March 21, 1926
Petersen sent out word to gather horses and men to transport the boat overland to the sea. The ship was set upon timber supports, and people came flocking to see the strange sight as a large procession moved down the road. In the forest where the road was too narrow, trees were cut to allow passage of the boat, fences were moved, and telephone lines were lifted up. When horses sank to deep into the snow, strong arms helped them up again. It all went with humor and a precision we had to admire.
We arrived at open water in the Elsfjord at 5:00 p.m., where the boat was hauled down to the beach and set upon the water with loud hurrahs from the people. It sat very nicely in the sea, and the boatbuilder looked at it there with tear-filled eyes. I understood his feelings. Everyone sat down in the snow for a well-deserved rest and a bite to eat.
The boat was towed to Hemnesberget where Stenersen & Sons will install boom lifts, water tanks, and provision tanks. The old sailmaker, Jens Henriksen, has nearly finished sewing the sails. The rigging and mast are ready, and just need to be set up.
April 20 1926
The “Leif Erikson” was launched before a large group of people gathered to watch the ceremony. Speeches were given and a toast was drunk in the old fashion. Then the “Leif Erikson” slid into the water with hurrahs and shouts of joy from the spectators.
Meanwhile, my crew have arrived in Hemnesberget and were busy preparing the boat to sail. The crew consisted of; Johan Johnsen from Molde, Kristian Andersen from Sandnessjoen, Thomas Stavenes from Bergen, and myself.
May 1 1926
As we left Hemnesberget through the Ranfjord we didn’t have much wind, but as we got farther out onto the fjord, the wind picked up to a fresh breeze and we went quite fast. As we approached Nesna, the wind become quite strong from the south, now we would see how “Leif” would handle. We had to pull down two reefs in the sail and yet it was almost more than the sails could bear. The wind picked up even more, and by Ulvangen the wind picked up to a strong gale. We soon found out the boat was quite a sailor.
May 2 1926
We arrived in Sandnessjoen at 5:00 in the morning, and tied up for a nap before the town awoke. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sleep for very long before the boat was full of people wanting to greet us and see the boat. At noon we left Sandnessjoen after a memorable ceremony.
Six o’clock in the evening we passed Alstahaug, and people gathered to catch a glimpse of the boat that was going to America. Across Folda we encountered some poor weather, but the boat handled excellently. It was a good seaboat when one learned how to handle it.
May 3-Mid May 1926
We arrived in Aasenleia at 4:00 in the morning. There was a group of boats out fishing, and at first they were all so busy that no one noticed us. When they caught sight of us they were so surprised at the strange sight, they rowed for their lives toward shore. Some of the older fishermen couldn’t get their lines in fast enough and were left behind full of fright.
We had to tack through the Trondheimsfjord and stopped at Kristiansund for a few days and were guests at a yacht club which held a big party for us. Across Hustadvika we encountered poor weather, but we made it to Molde. From Molde we continued to Aalesund, where we stopped a couple of days and had an enjoyable stay. From Aalesund we encountered gales when we crossed the Stadhav, and had to sail with three reefs down, but made remarkable time. We stopped on Maaloey for only a couple of hours.
Last stop at Bergen
We received a lavish reception in Bergen, and tied up by Sukkerhusbryggen where the boat was viewed each day by the thousands. This was our last stop before setting out across the North Atlantic, and we made the final preparations for the trip–all provisions, freshwater, medicines were loaded.
There were constantly people from the city and surrounding area on board, along with press and photographers from all over the country. Despite the busy days we met everyone with a smile. We did not want to show these people we had more than enough to think about, though they asked us questions about everything between heaven and earth. The merchants were very understanding, and gave us provisions and necessary equipment. This is a great relief on our budget for this self-financed journey.
Beginning the Ocean Crossing
May 22 1926
We were alone as we sailed toward the Marstein lighthouse, all the boats that had been following us had turned back. It was late evening, so we dropped anchor in a small bay to rest before we set out over the North Sea.
We hadn’t been at anchor long before many boats surrounded us, and we were bombarded with questions. We worked late into the night securing things, coiling up excess rope, and preparing our sea anchor in case we should need it in a hurry.
Over the North Sea
Arrival in the Faroe Islands
May 23 1926
We got up at 7:00 in the morning, but now a thick fog lay over the fjord, so thick we could hardly see a boat length. We remained waiting for clear weather, with quite a few boats gathered around us. We had a lively discussion about our chances of making it across with our lives in our little open boat, and one old fisherman predicted our demise before the Shetland Islands. We only wanted one thing now, to get away from all the people and be by ourselves.
The fog lifted in the afternoon, and so we hauled in the anchor and raised the sail. After passing Marstein lighthouse the wind diminished, and by 6:00 p.m. we were about 10 nautical miles out and it became completely still.
May 24 1926
We drifted until 6:00 in the morning, then the wind picked up from the southwest. We set course for an old Viking stop in the Shetlands. The westerly wind picked up and we close-hauled the sails to maintain our course.
May 25 1926
It went well for a day, but then came the fog again, as thick as a wall, and a strong headwind. Everyone has to be on watch, or man the bilge pumps, to keep us from filling with water. We had to tack ahead against the strong winds and choppy waves, but the men carried out their duties with good spirits.
May 26 1926
The weather has kept up for two days without changing. It is our fourth day out and we should have seen the Shetlands, but the wind has switched to a strong wind from the northeast with high seas.
May 28 1926
Sighted land at 6:00 this morning and sailed the Shetland Islands with four reefs down. We dropped anchor in a sheltered bay and made coffee immediately because we were wet and cold, and hadn’t had a warm drink for awhile.
Soon we were surrounded by a group of boats and just like outside of Bergen, we were bombarded with questions. Everyone was very friendly and wanted to be helpful, but we were all very tired and wanted to be left alone. As soon as we drank a large mug of coffee, and ate, we went to bed. We were so tired that we didn’t care much that things weren’t as dry as they had been before we left Norway. Johnsen stayed up to stand watch.
May 29 1926
After breakfast this morning, we went ashore to send a telegram to Norway, informing that we had made it to the Shetlands, and another to custom authorities in Lerwick informing them of our rest stop.
By 10:00 a.m. we lifted anchor, raised the sail, and sailed out of Blumuoldsund on a fresh southeast breeze with heavy swells. We took a bearing of the land at 3:00 p.m., and set a course for Thorshavn in the Faroe Islands. The weather was fine to the Faroes with calm seas, light winds, and some fog. En route we met a whaling vessel out of Leith, Scotland with a Norwegian crew. They shouted hurrahs and followed all day, but steamed westward in the afternoon.
May 30 1926
Caught sight of land early in the morning, though this leg of the trip was longer than anticipated because of the light winds and unfavorable current. A boat carrying a delegation from Thorshavn welcomed us to the Faroes, and we let them tow us into town. It was 4:00 in the morning, but the town was alive and we received a grand welcome with speeches, singing, and tales of our ancestors the Vikings. We had to ask for quiet since we were tired and worn out, and we had to prepare the boat to take on guests.
The day we left Thorshavn, the Danish destroyer “Niels Juel” arrived in port with the Danish king and queen on board, and we were requested to join in the reception for them. We pulled up alongside the ship and King Christian and Queen Alexandrine came to the side and talked to us for quite a while and wished us a good journey. We sailed out the fjord and set a course for the Eidefjord.
The wind was calm and the current against us. We had a difficult time working to keep the boat away from the rocks. We finally arrived in the Eidefjord and moored the boat by the whaling station, where station personnel stood by ready to help. Some whale meat was taken on board for reserve provisions and final preparations were made for the Atlantic crossing.
June 10 1926
All the people from the whaling station were on board to say a last, sad farewell. Two other boats had been there en route to Vinland and disappeared without a trace, and they were better equipped, with jib-headed sails that were easier to handle in storms and around icebergs. By comparison, our boat was flimsy, completely open and with only one square sail. They didn’t believe we could possibly make it to Iceland without being destroyed in the rough sea.
Captain Ellings, manager of the whaling station, offered to tow us out of the sound. This was a great relief not having to row against the strong currents in the sound. A small motorboat towed us out of the sound and then released the towlines. They waved goodbye and wished us a good journey.
A Violent Storm
June 10 1926
We set sail against a strong headwind for Ingolfshoegdi, Iceland. The sea was very rough near land and the boat rolled frightfully. We had to crawl back and forth attached to lifelines to avoid being thrown overboard. In the afternoon the weather seemed to be improving, so one man was able to crawl into bed, but with clothes on in case we should need him in a hurry.
At 9:00 p.m. the wind turned to a fresh gale from the east with choppy seas, with waves breaking over the side. A dark fog bank loomed menacingly ahead across the horizon. Kristian had quite a task getting the stove going, then keeping the kettle on the stove, but the thought of a cup of coffee on this cold night made the work seem worth the effort.
June 11 1926
Morning light relieved Kristian from the lookout and he tried again to make coffee. It was difficult to get thMarch 18 1927
Sailed from Brooklyn at 8:00 a.m. with a fresh wind from the east. There was again constant tooting from the boats we met wishing us a good trip. As we passed Battery Park, thousands of people gathered and waved and shouted to us. The wind was favorable and we made good time. We passed under the world’s largest bridge, an impressive structure spanning from New York to New Jersey. We set a course for Yonkers, we tied up at the city dock.
March 19 1927
We got up earle stove going with everything wet and the rolling boat. But Kristian swore that there would be coffee, even if the boat went down. At 9:30 a.m. he reported that the coffee was ready. Most of the coffee was lying on the deck, but there was a small cup for each of us. The few drops were quite refreshing, and gave us new strength and courage.
June 19 1926
We struggled through the cold, wet weather for five more days with no mishap. The seventh day, according to our dead reckoning, we should catch sight of Ingolfshoegdi (southeast Iceland). The fog was still very thick, but by 2:30 p.m. it began to lift, and we could see for several miles, and clumps of floating seaweed told us we were not far from land. Thomas climbed up on the dragonhead to get a better view, and he cried out, “Land ahead!” It was good news we were very happy to hear.
It wasn’t long before we all could see land, and when the wind died and the fog cleared, we saw Ingolfshoegdi straight ahead. Although there was no wind, the sea was so rough that the boat rolled frightfully for about two hours. We became a little irritable.
The wind picked up a bit from shore. We had to sail close-hauled in order to make the Vestman Islands. The wind then turned to gale force from the north and the sea became choppy, and we were unable to steer close-hauled. The boat wouldn’t carry the sail, so we took it down.
June 20 1926
Sunday morning, 9:30 a.m.. The winds are diminishing and we are able to raise the sail and set course for Rekjaneset, Iceland. The sea is calming, sky clearing and sun to dry our clothes.
We made coffee and sandwiches and soon felt better. Two men were allowed to go to bed. The wind picked up a bit and we caught sight of land in the afternoon. We experienced the truth in the expression: “For every dark night there is a brighter day.”
We Arrive at Iceland
June 21 1926
At 11:00 p.m. we took a bearing off the Rekjaneset lighthouse, and soon the land disappeared over the horizon. Our course was now for Angmagsalik, across the Denmark Strait in eastern Greenland. We drifted as the wind died down and the air cooled, rowing to keep warm and visiting the coffee pot in the aft cabin often.
In the Drift Ice
June 22 1926
We noticed a dark fogbank in the north that looked like a black mountain. Everyone shuddered at the thought of more fog, a sailor’s worst enemy. By 4:00 a.m. we were surrounded in a fog as thick as smoke, and the wind picked up from the northeast, forcing us to reduce the sail to two reefs. Its quite dreary out on the sea in such a small boat, cold and raw, one feels quite alone.
The wind picked up even more, so we pulled down two more reefs in the sail. The sea began to get rough, and was continually crashing over us. Once in awhile a bird would follow us, or a whale would pop up, and divert our thoughts in the solitary surroundings.
June 25 1926
The fog continued for four days. The cold spray burns our eyes, and we can’t see much more than the bow of the boat. It is worst at night, cold and unpleasant.
June 26 1926
The fog has lifted some, the sun peeking through the clouds once in awhile. If only it would clear up for an hour during the day, then we could make an observation and figure out our position.
June 28 1926
The air was bitter cold like a winter day. Johnsen, on lookout, shouted, “We’re in the drift ice! We’re surrounded by ice!” . We quickly lowered the sail, and set out fenders to protect us from the ice. It was a dangerous position to be in the middle of an ice belt, we could be smashed to pieces in these high seas. Struggling for our lives each time the sea threw us into the ice, we thought the end was near. The boat was only a nutshell, with no motor, and only a square sail for us to put our trust in. Amazingly the boat took the stress.
June 30 1926
The fog has lifted and we were able to make an observation, finding that we are about 40 nautical miles south Angmagsalik, Greenland. The polar current had put us farther south than we had reckoned. We remain surrounded by ice, but have found an open channel and raised sail, sailing south with ice on both sides.
At 11:00 a.m. we caught sight of land. It was a beautiful sight, those tall, snow-capped mountains, and we hoped to make it through the ice to land and find a bay to rest in. Unfortunately, the wind picked up again and the seas grew rough, shrinking the channel we were sailing in. Kristian, on lookout, shouted, “Iceberg ahead!” We were surrounded by ice and saw no way out. Everyone kept a lookout for an escape route. I was certain the boat would be crushed if we didn’t soon find a way out. Everyone put on lifejackets and a box of provisions was lying ready on the aft deck should we have to go onto the ice. I’m sure many prayers were said at that moment.
As we stood looking anxiously at the icebergs around us, Thomas shouted, “There’s a small opening ahead!” We set a course toward the opening and sailed for our lives through an opening not much wider than the boat. We made it through just in time. Just after we passed through, a huge piece of ice came up from the sea, did a somersault, and blocked the opening.
Relieved to be in the open sea, we agreed to set a course toward land and sail along the shore. Should something happen to the boat, we could crawl ashore, though Greenland is a very barren land.
We spotted a huge iceberg, towering high above the sea like an island. We set out for it hoping to get in the lee of it, throw out the sea anchor and lie and rest for a while. It was several kilometers long and over 200 feet high, and there is usually not much current behind icebergs. We found a small opening and sailed in, dropping anchor to eat and rest. We are all very thankful to be safe for the time being, after struggling for our lives through the fog, ice, and storm.
July 1 1926
We set sail again through the drift ice and icebergs along the coast. According to our calculations we were near Cape Farewell on Greenland’s southern tip. We could tell we were getting near the Cape by the changing seas and wind and strong current. We caught sight of the Cape about six miles from it, a rare and beautiful sighting since it is usually covered in fog.
The wind picked up as we neared the point, and the sea became rougher, causing the glaciers to be constantly calving, releasing icebergs into the sea. Around the point there was an impenetrable belt of drift ice, so we made a long detour. As we sailed out the wind picked up to gale force and the sea grew threateningly high. We had to reduce the sail, and set out the wave dampening oil. We struggled for two hours before making it around the drift ice.
Sea Ice for Drinking Water
July 4 1926
Four days of struggling through ice and cold, and we figure are near Julianehaab, but the fog set in and we could only see about half of a mile. Not a sound from land was to be heard. The only sound is from the breakers hitting against the icebergs and the seagulls flying around us. We begin to hate the seagulls and wanted them as far from us as the sun is from the earth.
Sailing for the northern tip of Labrador; a distance of about 1000 miles. If the winds are favorable, it would take about eight days. The wind was fresh from the northeast. We had to steer a northerly heading because of the great magnetic variation (about 45 degrees west) and a strong current. Kristian didn’t understand this and began to protest strongly. He felt we had suffered enough in the cold and did not want to sail to the North Pole.
July 5 1926
We are making good time. The thick fog is lifting, and we are under full sail.
Sunbathing in the Arctic
July 6 1926
Three days out of Greenland and the skies cleared, we are all very happy. Able to take an observation, our dead reckoning was not too far off, only two nautical miles off. We had a feast, and despite the unripe potatoes and rotten vegetables, no one complained. The sun was our guest here in the Davis Strait, and everyone rejoiced in the sunshine. We took off our clothes and sunbathed, and though our saltwater-soaked faces soon began to burn in the strong sun, it was quite a strengthening for our systems. There had been no water for bathing since leaving the Faroes, so we felt rather uncomfortable. We set the ice we had brought on board on the aft deck so it would run into a bucket as it melted.
July 8 1926
Drifting in the sun for about 30 hours, it felt good to eat and rest. We had sailed for 8 days and calculated our position to be about 140 miles from Labrador. The air became colder and it began to rain, the wind shifted to a fresh gale from the northeast, and we had to again struggle for our lives down this dangerous coast with reefs far from shore. We felt as though we were sailing toward death and defeat. In these waters there are no lighthouses or foghorns to warn of the dangers lying ahead.
July 9 1926
We didn’t feel very well; our bodies were still stinging and burning from the sunbath we had in the Davis Strait. But a new day arrived and lifted our spirits. At 6:00 a.m. Kristian shouted that coffee was ready. By 7:00 a.m. we caught a glimpse of the sun, and it lifted our spirits even more.
Birds were flocking around us. Thomas heard talk of fish and brought out his fishing line. We were all looking forward to fresh fish, regardless of what kind it was. Even if it was a porbeagle shark, we would eat it. Thomas hit bottom at 37 fathoms and as he brought the line back up he shouted, “I’ve got a big one!” We stood excitedly waiting to see what he would haul in. It was a large cod, about 13 kilograms.
At noon we made an observation that we were about 32 nautical miles north of the Belle Island Strait, which we set a course for. We didn’t have any detailed charts over this area, so we had to navigate very carefully. The night was again very cold and we consoled ourselves by eating the fish.
Through the drift ice by Labrador
July 10 1926
Ice makes it impossible to sail through the Belle Island Strait. We would have to sail the long way around Newfoundland, a few hundred extra miles, so we set a course for Cape St. Francis, Newfoundland.
After sailing several days through rough seas and fog we calculated our position to be near St. Johns. It is difficult to describe our happiness. We were all looking forward to seeing people again and having a rest, wash and a change of clothes. We heard the foghorn at St. Johns at 4:00 a.m. We thought we were far enough south to be out of the area of dangerous ice, but we soon learned otherwise. Kristian, who was on lookout, thundered, “Iceberg ahead!” We got the boat turned just in time. We sailed through the ice and finally arrived in St. Johns in the afternoon. Several came out to meet us, but they kept their distance when they got a closer look. We looked terrible.
Arrival in St. Johns, Newfoundland
July 20 1926
We sailed in toward town and arrived in calm water. There was a tugboat inside the sound, though it observed us at a distance. We raised our Norwegian flag, and the tugboat came up alongside and greeted us with the whistle. A voice shouted out to us in Norwegian and welcomed us to St. Johns. We continued toward the harbor where we were told to tie up by the dock in front of the Marine Agency.
Though the boat was steady and no longer rolling, we could hardly walk a step. Our legs hadn’t adjusted yet to the sudden change. We all looked terrible. No one had washed or bathed since leaving the Faroe Islands. Our clothes were worn, Kristian’s oilskin coat no longer had arms, and Thomas’s coat was in two pieces. There were soon hundreds of people gathered near where we docked. We were embarrassed and shy and just wanted to be alone for a while. There were people everywhere. It was difficult to comprehend. Not long ago we were in a desolate ice field. Now we were surrounded by thousands of people. It was like a dream. It was like we had been asleep and woke up in a new place.
July 21 1926
We stayed in St. John’s for three days. The people were very good to us and helped us any way they could. We were busy taking on provisions and fresh water. Our economic position was not so good and we had to live by our means. We were able to get some salted fish cheaply, and we salted some fresh fish ourselves. We hadn’t used much of the medicines so we didn’t need to restock them.
July 14 1926
Ready to sail, and still 1000 miles to go to reach Boston. We departed St. John’s at 9:00 this morning after a ceremony. The dock was full of people wishing us a good journey.
July 20 1926
Two days of hot scorching sun and calm winds, set course for Cape Breton to bring us closer to shore. Not making much distance, but we enjoyed some quiet, peaceful time away from people. After a while we began to feel lonely again, and longed to be back in civilization with people. We weren’t ready for the sudden hot temperatures and have somewhat of a desire to be back in the ice again.
July 21 1926
The wind picked up from the northwest, and the current from the St. Lawrence was strong. We raised full sail and steered closed-hauled. Things went well, but a fogbank stood menacingly on the northern horizon, and we were disappointed to be surrounded with fog by night. We blew our foghorn all night, and had to navigate the busy waters carefully.
July 22 1926
Winds picked up to gale force by 10:00 a.m., though the fog lifted some. According to our dead reckoning, we were near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, or in Old Norse, Straumfjord. Here there are good fishing banks.
July 23 1926
About 5:00 in the morning we caught sight of a lighthouse near Cape Breton. Later, a group of motorboats came up alongside and asked where we were from and where we were going. They followed us for a while, wondering how we could have sailed this boat from Norway. I asked if they would report that we had passed Louisburg, which they promised to do. The wind picked up and we made good speed. That night was mild and comfortable.
July 24 1926
At dawn the wind began to diminish and turned more westerly. Later in the morning the wind died and the sky cleared. We laid still and began to roll. Kristian swore that today the fish would be cooked. He came out of the galley several times and cursed at how hot it was. It was a difficult task to keep the fish and potatoes on the stove with the boat rolling so, but it was a sumptuous meal.
July 26 1926
We have drifted for three days in the sun without making much distance. They are long days. Someone always had to be on watch to be ready with the sail should the wind pick up and watch for ships. So we rotate the watch and keep the lantern lit at night.
Near Halifax, Nova Scotia
July 29 1926
Three more days of drifting, this time in thick fog, until the wind picked up from the west. We again had to tack our way ahead, a practice requiring a lot of patience in light winds with a square sail. It looks like it is going to be a long journey to the USA.
We were alone again, but in a good mood. We set a course toward Shelburne, on the southern tip of Nova Scotia where we will make a stop to rest and get freshwater. Tradition has it that Leif Erikson landed here in the year 1000, on the southern tip of Markland, and had his first battle with Skraelings (Indians) and two of his men were killed. Two stones, said to mark Viking graves, are now kept in a the Shelburne museum.
August 5 1926
We have been underway from St. John’s for three weeks. In this time, only a couple of days had been clear and we had to tack most of the time. Our supply of drinking water was beginning to diminish and we had to begin rationing. Kristian and Thomas had washed clothes and hadn’t been careful about conserving water. We still had plenty of food though, especially salted fish, some salted meat, and sprouting potatoes.
August 9 1926
Skies cleared and we were able to make an observation. Our spirits rose as the wind picked up and we began to make better time. Kristian hung up his mildewy clothes which had been soaking for nine days. We were about 42 nautical miles from the southern point of Nova Scotia. It wouldn’t be long before we would see land, unless of course we got fog.
10:00 p.m., and surrounded by a thick fog. We continue to sail with a full sail despite hearing boats in our area, testing our luck to try and reach land.
August 10 1926
We heard a whistling buoy ahead and set a course toward it. After a while the wind died, and we began to row. At 2:30 a.m. we reached the buoy and tied up alongside it. It is not legal, but we were so exhausted, and the constant sounding of the buoy meant we no longer had to blow our foghorn. Two men got to sleep and two kept watch. Sometimes we could hear the waves breaking on the shore, telling us we weren’t too far out. Stavenes, who was always thinking about fishing, threw out a line and the boat was soon full of fine fish.
August 11 1926
After a noon meal we rowed for shore, four hours of rowing with a strong, southerly current got us out of the fogbank. The lighthouse by Shelburne had seen us and they sent notice to town that a strange boat was on its way in. A patrol boat with an English flag came out to meet us, with four armed officers to inspect the “Leif Erikson”. They asked us where we were from, where we were going, and looked at our papers. At first they had thought we might be smugglers, and didn’t believe that we had sailed from Norway. After a thorough inspection that revealed only moldy provisions, they left and wished us well.
At dock we encountered more doubt, one man said, “I don’t think this little craft has ever seen Norway.” We asked for freshwater and everyone was very helpful.
We had coffee and lunch. Afterwards, we just sat and enjoyed the sight of land with its magnificent flowers and trees. It was a beautiful landscape, similar to Norway.
August 12 1926
Setting sail in the morning, we set course for Cape Cod, south of Boston. The wind was fresh out of the east. Then the wind died and fog formed. We were in the Bay of Fundy, an area with much traffic, so everyone had to maintain watch.
It was now three days since we left Shelburne and according to our dead reckoning we were about 70 nautical miles from Boston. In the evening a U.S. Navy patrol boat came up alongside and ordered us to stop. Several officers boarded the ship and searched it, looking our papers over carefully. They thought we were smugglers and decided to tow us into Boston. We weren’t going to complain, we were exhausted.
August 13 1926
Thousands of people came down to the dock to see us. Eleven o’clock the next day a group of four Norwegians visited us. The group included a representative of Sons of Norway and the vice consul’s secretary. They invited us to lunch at a hotel. Afterwards we were to meet with the mayor and governor. We didn’t have proper clothes for these visits and the clothes we did have were all mildewy, but we went anyway. After all the visits we returned to the boat. We were exhausted.
Our dock was not located in a good position for spectators, so we were given permission to move up the Charles River and tie up by the Warren Bridge. We rowed up the river with thousands of people cheering us on. Here by the bridge we had a fine place for the rest of our stay.
From the Norwegians in Boston we received a gift of three hundred dollars. We were very thankful for the gift. Now we could buy clothes and food.
August 19 1926
We left Boston to be towed to Newport, Rhode Island to be a guest of the city. In the evening we were to be guests at the Viking Hotel, a new first class hotel. We each got our own suite. That evening a party was held for us at the hotel.
August 21 1926
We left Newport for our next destination; Philadelphia. There we were to be guests at the International Exposition for three months. The wind picked up in the afternoon and the sea became rough and high. Two men had to be at the pumps. It’s a long way from Newport, Rhode Island to Philadelphia. It will take about 5 days if we were lucky. The wind kept up and we made good time.
We passed Sandy Hook at 8:00 a.m., and the wind picked up to gale force with very rough seas. We had to reduce the sails and made it about 11 miles per watch. It was like a good spirit was trying to hurry us along to Philadelphia.
The wind picked up to a strong gale right on our stern. We were able to keep up with a tugboat which came out from New York and held the same course as us. These boats can do about 11 or 12 knots when not towing. Sometimes we even overtook them. That night was very cold for this time of year. Everyone had to man the pumps and be ready with the sail.
August 22 1926
Passed Few Fathoms lightship by Delaware at 6:00 a.m., but the sea was so high we could only see it when we were on the top of the waves. We continued with full sail past the Delaware Breakwater. Sailing up river we didn’t see the pilot boat that was to meet us, so we went on further to the Quarantine Station where we were ordered to stop and be checked by a doctor. When we finished there we continued, dropping anchor at Wilmington for the night. We are in calm water again, no more rolling. We hung up our clothes and bedding on the rigging to dry.
August 23 – Late November 1926
We made record time sailing from Newport, only two days. We had a good, peaceful night. The next morning a small tugboat from the Navy Yard in Philadelphia arrived with a committee of ladies and gentlemen, all of Norwegian ancestry, to welcome us and tow us to Philadelphia.
The boat was lifted by America’s largest crane and set on a trailer to be transported to the exposition. We were towed through the American military display, past modern canons, and other weapons. The Leif Erikson was set on a small lake that had been made with trees planted around it. It was a nice spot, and quite a change from Greenland and Labrador.
The Leif Erikson Loses a Crew Member
Here in Philadelphia we lost one of our crewmembers. Thomas Stavenes decided he would try his luck here in this country. He had heard one could find dollars in the streets, darned if he was going to toil and suffer on a Viking ship when things could be so much easier. We followed him to the train station and wished him well as he boarded for Chicago.
Kristian, who was Thomas’ best friend, stood on the platform with tears in his eyes. He thought of his friend picking dollars off the streets in Chicago. Kristian on the other hand would have to struggle and haul on the sail and oars if he was going to continue with the “Leif Erikson” to Chicago.
The next day we hired a replacement for Thomas. Not a sailor, but a plumber who sought a change in life and wanted to join us on board the “Leif Erikson.” His name was Osvald Gabrielsen and he was from Trondheim. (Captain’s Note: Gabrielsen later showed himself to be a good man in all respects, and became quite a sailor. Becoming a captain and sailing the Great Lakes in the summer.)
We remained at the exposition until the end of November. Ice began to form on the small lake and the nights became quite cold. The boat was not intended to be a winter house, and we burned coal and wood in both cabins to stay warm. People were leaving the exposition and activity began to die down.
November 28 1926
We are back on the water, ready to sail on after thanking the committee for their help and hospitality.
En Route to New York
November 30 1926
We have rigged the mast and sail, took on provisions and water, and began the journey down river. We started with a fresh breeze from our stern, and we were able to keep up with the steamboats. Later the wind changed direction and we had to tack through the cold, raw night. Eventually, we took to the oars to keep warm.
We were on our way to New York. We couldn’t sail too close to the coast because of the chance of fog setting in. We sailed between the sandbanks and busy shipping lanes. We tacked ahead in the light wind from the northwest.
December 1 1926
In the morning several fishing boats came alongside us and asked questions. Everyone spoke Norwegian and they offered us cod and other fish. Of course we accepted everything. We couldn’t refuse food, we might need it on our way to New York.
The wind picked up to gale force by evening, and the sea quickly grew and began to break over the side of the boat. A large fishing cutter, with many people on board, came out to tell us that storm warnings had been issued. They recommended that we seek a harbor, and showed us the approach to the Cape May harbor.
December 3 1926
The morning wind has diminished and turned southerly. We had to take advantage of the conditions and sailed out of Cape May on a course for Sandy Hook. In the afternoon the fog set in, so thick we couldn’t see anything, so we adjusted our course away from shore.
December 4 1926
Arrived in Atlantic City early and stopped over until the next day. In Atlantic City we met many Norwegians. Some were fishermen, others lived here for the winter. The city is one of America’s biggest beach resorts with many luxurious hotels, dance halls, and theaters.
December 5 1926
Winds were favorable out of Atlantic City all the way to Sandy Hook lightship, and as we sailed past, its Norwegian crew shouted hurrahs to us.
We had arrived at the great metropolis; New York, and dropped anchor by the Statue of Liberty. We had completed our journey across the sea, but we still had farther to go. Winter had arrived and ice covered the rivers and lakes, so we would have to spend the winter here. But where, that was the question.
I was familiar with winters here, it can be terribly cold and the boat was not intended for winter quarters. We couldn’t stay here on the river; there was so much traffic and the boat rolled terribly.
December 25 1926
We were now in a quiet location and looked forward to a peaceful Christmas, but that wasn’t the case. Invitations came in from everywhere; private families and churches all wanted us at their Christmas celebrations. We were guests at the following: the Norwegian Seaman’s Church, a Methodist Church, a Baptist Church, and the Salvation Army, and many others. Christmas Eve we spent with a family from Arendal and had such a nice evening with good food and a Christmas tree. It was just like being home in Norway.
In January there was a period of bitter cold weather, one night dropping down to 38 degrees below zero. We kept fires going in the stoves, but at night they weren’t enough. Next morning when Johan Johnsen awoke, his blanket was frozen to the wall. He shouted over to me and asked if I was still alive or if I had frozen to death. My blanket was also frozen to the wall and my limbs were stiff. Kristian and Gabrielsen weren’t in any better shape in the forward cabin. Everyone got up and we made coffee and sat around the fire to unthaw our limbs and bedding.
March 1 – March 16 1927
One day we had the honor of having Roald Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth on board the “Leif Erikson” for a visit. They talked with us for a long time, and Amundsen inquired about the ice conditions along the Greenland coast.
Up the Hudson River
March 17 1927
Water, provisions, and work on the boat are done, and if the weather is good, we sail in the morning. We have said goodbye to our friends and acquaintances, but many doubt we can make it up the Hudson River and through the Erie Canal without an engine. And to row the boat with so few men against the current would be impossible.
We got up early, hauled in the anchor and began to tack our way up the river. We sailed over toward the other shore and set a course for Sing Sing. Here is located one of the world’s most known prisons, and I had given a presentation to the prisoners there. Many people, Americans and other nationalities, have had their lives ended in the electric chair there.
We continued up the river where the scenery was beautiful on both sides. Everyone we met greeted us and shouted hurrahs. A Norwegian who was piloting a small tugboat came alongside us and offered to tow us free to West Point. We thankfully accepted the offer. Some canoes came up alongside after we put up the sail and wanted to race. At first they kept ahead, but as the wind picked up we took the lead.
We arrived in Albany, the capital of New York in the evening and tied up. Soon the boat was surrounded by curious people, but it was late and we couldn’t let anybody on board, so we promised to stay one day.
March 20 1927
People began to flock to the boat, and we handed out several thousand brochures about the boat and the journey to young and old. The newspapers came out with long articles about the journey of Leif the Lucky. We were visited by the political official Franklin Roosevelt.
We went on through several locks where we were lifted about 60 feet. It was almost impossible to sail here, the mast had to be set down for bridges, telephone lines, and electrical lines, and we had to row a long and tiresome way. In some places the current was so strong we had to go ashore and pull the boat up the canal. It was hard and slow work as the banks of the canal were uneven and overgrown with thorn bushes and trees. We tore our clothes and scratched arms and legs.
We had to go through about 40 locks on our way to Buffalo, passing many fine farms, nice houses, and gardens. Many people of different nationalities lived along the canal, but the majority were German and Italian. We could buy vegetables everywhere, and they were cheap. For 50 cents we got as much as we could carry.
March 25 1927
After hauling the boat for many days, we grew tired of the work. Kristian cursed America and the banks of the canal that were overgrown with thorns and thistles which tore his skin and clothes. He didn’t want to live in such a land even if the dollars flew in the air. Couldn’t the Americans make roads alongside the canal so people didn’t have to tear themselves up. No, they made fine boulevards for cars, but didn’t think about the people who struggled along using traditional methods. Kristian was furious and gave a speech on modern culture, which, according to him, only benefited the better off.
March 27 1927
We decided to stop for two days. An old man came and visited us. He told us of his childhood days, when those who traveled the canal used mules to pull their barges, one on each bank. The canal had since been widened to allow for tugboats and larger barges.
We came up to a fairly large lake and decided to rig the mast and sail. The lake was about six miles long and seemed to be clear of obstructions, so we sailed without much worry. After sailing only a few minutes we suddenly felt the boat slow down. Our mast had caught a telephone wire. It stretched a bit, then finally it snapped. We were sure the police would be waiting for us at the next lock. Kristian was especially scared.
After struggling for about 4 weeks, we finally made it to Buffalo. We were met by a committee from Sons of Norway which assisted us during our stay and found a place for the boat. Our countryman, Sverre Munthe Kielland, helped us get the necessary permission to sail on the Great Lakes. I gave several presentations here, but we had to hurry on. We still had a long way to go. We took on water and provisions and were ready to sail across Lake Erie. Lake Erie is about 100 miles long and 30 miles wide and quite shallow.
Sailing on the Great Lakes
End of May 1927
We left Buffalo at 8:00 in the morning, with a fresh wind from the northeast of our stern. We set a course for Cleveland Ohio, meeting only on steamboat on the way. It was 5:00 p.m. when we made Cleveland, and we tied up at the yacht club.
June 1 1927
We leave Cleveland with a light breeze blowing. Our course is for the Detroit Canal, and at 10:00 a.m. we caught sight of the light buoys marking the canal. We continued sailing all the way to Detroit, and anchored by Belle Island. Finished with one of the Lakes, but I suspect the worst is still to come.
June 2 1927
After a good night’s rest we were up early, accepting an invitation to one of the largest yacht clubs in the world. The president was Norman Soederlund, born in Trondheim. He left Norway when he was two years old, but still spoke Norwegian perfectly.
We were towed to Detroit, and docked next to Henry Ford’s yacht. At dinner I gave a presentation, and showed the film to several hundred, including Henry Ford’s son, Edsel Ford. Edsel was a very nice man and invited us to tour his father’s factory the next day.
June 3 1927
Today we were guests of Henry Ford, quite an amiable gentleman, who guided us through his factory himself. It is impossible to describe this factory; it is so impressive and beyond my understanding. I received an autographed book from Ford which he had written about his company.
June 5 1927
We said goodbye to our friends and sailed out through the St. Clair Canal to the St. Clair Lake. It is a pretty place, with beautiful summer houses, trees, and flowers on shore, but quite flat.
We sailed up a narrow channel with a strong current, and despite the favorable wind and full sail we didn’t make much headway. We were striking out onto Lake Huron, one of the worst of the Great Lakes to sail on. Arrived in Port Huron at 9:00 in the evening. It was dark, so we didn’t think anyone had seen us, but we were wrong. They had received a telegram from Detroit notifying them of our departure, and we were soon surrounded by people. The president of the yacht club invited us to a meal, and though tired, we had to go. We dined at midnight and had a very good time with the 200 or so participants. We were in the land of prohibition, but of course Canada was only a few hundred feet across the channel. We left the party feeling happy, strong, and rich.
June 7 1927
Left Port Huron with little wind and a strong current against us in the channel. We had to row, but still at times went backwards, struggling for a couple of hours until we finally reached Lake Huron. About five miles out we all agreed that we deserved a cup of coffee, and since the weather was nice, only some dark clouds in the south, three of us went into the cabin.
Ten minutes later the boat rolled frightfully to one side, casting things overboard, and the boat began to fill with water. A strong wind had suddenly come up. I had difficulty lowering the sail, and thought we were going to sink. The men took to the pumps and began to pump for their lives. The storm left us as quickly as it had arrived, but we had taken in quite a bit of water and lost our anchors.
June 10 1927
For three days we struggled with rough seas and the headwind, though many steamboats passed us by, something we drew comfort from as a source of assistance in case something happened. We keep near the Canadian shore, and the many islands where we could seek shelter if necessary. It is cold at night, and we froze and shivered when spray hit our faces.
June 11 1927
A storm began to develop around 5:00 and we decided to seek shelter on the lee side of an island. Kristian had made an anchor with some ballast stones, but it didn’t hold and we drifted back out. Instead, we sailed the boat right into shallow water, and Osvald waded ashore with a line and fastened it to a tree. It can be dangerous sailing here, but we are safe for now.
June 12 1927
Early this morning the wind was calm and we noticed a motorboat anchored near. Thinking it strange in this out of the way place, we imagined it might be a smuggler, but rowed over and called out. Getting no answer, we went on board and found an old man inside the cabin. He was quite startled, but invited us in for coffee. He was a Canadian fisherman for over 50 years, and had also sought shelter from the storm.
He agreed to tow us to the mainland, but first wanted help pulling in his nets. After working for five hours we had a total of 30 trout and 26 whitefish, we were rewarded with two fish. At 20 cents a pound the old man would not earn much, but he was satisfied. He towed us all the way to the channel leading to Sault Ste. Marie. We are anchored by Drummond Island, a busy spot with all the boats going to or coming from Lake Superior passing by.
June 13 1927
Arrived Sault Ste. Marie with people lining the shore to see us. We tied up at a park where thousands of cars were parked, people coming from far away to see us. Later in the day we moved to another park on the other side of the locks.
June 17 1927
Wind from the east and clear skies to begin our journey of 505 miles across Lake Superior to Duluth, Minnesota. We met many large ships loaded with ore, and at 3:00 p.m. reached Whitefish Bay. We set a course for Isle Royale; the landscape is quite desolate, only a few houses or fish houses along the shore. Most people who live here are of Scandinavian ancestry and fish on Lake Superior. Farming isn’t very good, the summers are raw and cold, and the winters are very hard.
Open sea ahead of us is very rough, with rollers just a big as those on the North Sea. Many large ships have been lost on this lake. The wind died down, but the rollers go on so we can’t make coffee. The only life we see is an occasional seagull.
June 18 1927
The wind died completely in the night and we drifted and rolled. It was as cold as in
Greenland, and the water is ice cold both summer and winter. Tradition has it that a man overboard is dead right away, going to the bottom and never coming up again. Later the wind picked up from the east, and we made observations and navigated just like we did on the ocean. There is no land to be seen, only smoke from steamships passing on the horizon
We caught sight of Isle Royale, and were met by many fishermen. Everyone spoke Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish. It was the height of the herring season, and it were given some. It was freshwater herring, dry and large, not as good as ocean herring. We also got a large trout from a man from Egersund, Norway, which we cooked at once and it was delicious. The island was beautiful, with many fishermen living there, along with summer homes for Duluthians and Canadians.
June 21 1927
We sailed on and encountered a powerful storm, followed by a thick fog. It was difficult to navigate because of all the magnetism in the hills, the compass was almost useless. We arrived in Two Harbors this Tuesday night where we were met by many Norwegians who arranged a dinner for us. We prepared the boat for our arrival in Duluth.
June 23 1927
The president of the committee, Mr. Borgen, a Norwegian, came to Two Harbors, along with some other committee members, and with some Daughters of Norway, to sail with us to Duluth. The distance from Two Harbors to Duluth is only 28 miles, and wouldn’t take more than eight hours if the wind was favorable.
We were told the boat was a proud sight as it sailed out of Two Harbors, decorated with flags from stem to stern. We kept near the shore all the way to Duluth, with a fresh wind from the east and the lake smooth. People waved American and Norwegian flags from shore, and many Norwegian fisherman came out and followed us a while. The coast here is similar to Norway, high hills and small bays where fish houses stood, the houses even looked Norwegian.
Five miles out of Duluth we were met by the warship “Paducha”, with an orchestra on board playing the Norwegian anthem. Closer in, more boats came out to meet us, and thousands of peopled line the canal piers to welcome us. We sailed into the harbor and tied up. We had made it to our destination. It was an event for us, our country, and Duluth.
People were everywhere, even on rooftops. A choir sang “When the Fjords Turn Blue”, a song dear to every Norwegian. We took our places under the Sons of Norway banner and the Norwegian anthem was played, then we went in parade to the courthouse where the American national anthem was played. Mayor Snively and Congressman William Chars gave speeches. Chars said, “Nobody will say today that the history of the Vikings is not true. There is no doubt that Vikings were in America long before Columbus was born.”
Afterward we banqueted at the Hotel Spalding, with guests Mr. Heitmann, a lawyer; Mr. Fuhr, an editor; Mr. Borgen and Professor Ole Roelvaag. It was quite a festivity with good food and many speeches.
June 24 – July 15 1927
We received many invitations everyday, and were thankful for all the kindness the city had shown us. Most especially we must thank the Norlandslag of America with contributed much to the success of the festivities.
Visitors were constant, all the way from the West Coast even. The newspapers wrote much about us, and the people wanted the boat to stay in Duluth. Mr. Enger purchased the boat, and offered to give the boat to the city in exchange for renaming the park. The boat was to be placed as a monument to Norwegian history in America at Leif Erikson Park.
July 16 1927
We still had some missions to carry out with the boat and I asked Mr. Enger if we could borrow the it during the summer, which he agreed to. We sailed to Superior where we had been invited by the mayor. A new bridge was opened between Duluth and Superior, and we were the first to pass under it on the opening day. It was a big event and an air show was held, and we stayed several days in a park and many people visited.
Late July 1927
Now the men were ready to go home. They had been on board for over one and a half years and were tired. Kristian and Johnsen took the Norwegian Line back to Norway, but Osvald remained on board with me.
Early August 1927
We were visited by the Norwegian National League, who wanted the boat to go to Chicago to help celebrate Leif Erikson Day the 10th of September. They negotiated with the city to borrow the boat and I agreed to sail it to Chicago, and we went to work at once preparing the boat. It had to be painted and oiled in little time.
August 22 1927
With two new crewmembers, brothers Johan and Fritjof Roering, provisions and supplies, we are ready to sail. By noon we were back on Lake Superior. We have 1,300 miles to sail before we reach Chicago, and we have to hurry to make it before the September 10th Celebration. The journey started with cold, thick fog, and headwinds.
August 27 1927
We encountered a storm and wait off the Michigan shore. The new men turned out to be good sailors and didn’t complain.
August 30 1927
Arrived Sault Ste. Marie where we were told that we had been reported lost in the storm. No one thought we could survive the storm we encountered on Lake Superior. We will stay one day and rest and dry our clothes.
August 31 1927
Sailed down the river and on to Mackinac Island before continuing to Lake Michigan.
September 9 1927
Late in the evening we arrived exhausted in Evanston, near Chicago. When I called to Chicago to notify them of our arrival, they were very happy we had made it in time. We were told to be outside the harbor tomorrow at noon where we would be met by the committee.
September 10 1927
Out on Lake Michigan again, the weather was fine, and we arrived outside Chicago at 11:00 a.m. Hundreds of motorboats and yachts came out, and three warships fired off cannon salutes. Six boats equipped like Viking ships, with twelve men each, dressed as Vikings came out and greeted us with sword and shield.
After docking, we marched to the stadium where fifty thousand people gathered for demonstrations of Norwegian folk dancing and Viking marches. Later we went to a banquet at the Hotel Stevens.
The end of summer was drawing near and we had to think of the return voyage, despite many invitations to churches and organizations. Fritjof Roering took sick and had to leave us, so we will only be three men on the return to Duluth.
September 21 1927
Ready to sail, and we said goodbye to all our friends. There was a cold wind from the east, and it was stormy on Lake Michigan. We had to tack our way ahead, and stopped at Milwaukee to rest.
Encountered a powerful storm in which we used up all our oil and our sail was damaged. We spent one day in Racine, Wisconsin to make repairs.
We sailed close to shore into Green Bay, then kept going night and day against the headwind. Another storm forced us to seek shelter in the lee of Washington Island, where we waited for two days. Setting sail again, we reached Sault Ste. Marie after six days. There the weather was stormy and we waited it out for four days.
The first day on Lake Superior went well and we made it to Whitefish Point. Twenty-three miles from the Point, a snowstorm hit, and we had to take down the sail. After struggling for thirteen days in the strong winds and rough seas, we arrived in the Apostle Islands and rested for two days.
October 9 1927
In the afternoon we arrived back in Duluth, and surprised the city which had given up hope of seeing us again. The harbor has begun to freeze and traffic is finished for the year. Time to prepare the boat for storage. The city has rented a shed to store the boat in for the winter, and next summer is to be placed in Leif Erikson Park as a monument to future generations of the past struggles, toil, courage and determination of us and our ancestors. I paid the men and they moved on, saying goodbye after a little party. Soon I will be on my way back to New York to catch the Norwegian America Line’s ship back to Norway.