In the early afternoon of Saturday, April 29, the crew of the Viking ship Saga Farmann will wave goodbye to the crowd of wellwishers gathered on the quayside at Vikingodden in Tønsberg in southwest Norway and set sail for Istanbul. 

"Some think we're nuts, others just shake their heads and laugh, some cheer us on, and some join the boat guild and want to join us on a trip," says Einar Erlingsen, the ship's owner.

From Tønsberg to Constantinople

This is only the start of an epic voyage, named Saga Asia 2023, of several years in the replica craft, built with considerable expertise at the Oseberg Viking Heritage Foundation. Originally established in 2010 to create a replica of the famous Oseberg Viking ship in full view of the public, this tourist landmark stands by the very same departure point for Saturday's big send-off.

As Ole Harald Flåten of the Oseberg Viking Heritage Foundation told the Tønsberg Livet: "There are many reasons why we want to carry out such a trip, including because we want to market Tønsberg and our Viking region in Europe. In addition, we want to continue the great joy of adventure and discovery that the Vikings had".

Einar Erlingsen, who also heads the Oseberg foundation, is equally thrilled about connecting with Viking history: "We are strongly inspired by Harald Hardrada and the other Vikings who traveled to Miklagard," – the Norse term for Constantinople, where Hardrada served the Byzantine Emperor – "This journey is the result of someone having a dream they dared to tell others about, as well as our long collaboration with the Archaeological Institute in Istanbul."

Capturing the imagination of the general public, helped by an annual festival every August, the project put Tønsberg on the map as a center for Viking heritage.

Given the success of this waterfront visitor attraction, the idea for an actual European saga was first mooted in 2014. Plans then became more concrete three years ago, with a route planned out and trial runs to Haugesund.

The Saga Farmann is going on an international tour. Photo: Oseberg Viking Heritage Foundation / Facebook

The Saga Farmann will be on tour for four years, first Germany, Central Europe, and Istanbul, then a cruise of the Mediterranean in 2024, before France and the British Isles in 2025.

This first leg sees the Saga Farmann head to Gothenburg and Lübeck, before taking various canals to join the Rhine to continue onto Mainz, picking up the Danube at Regensburg. From there, the modern-day Vikings glide onto Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade, and Constanța overlooking the Black Sea. From there, they set sail for Istanbul.

Saga Farmann will have passed through eight countries and four capitals by the time the ship arrives in the Black Sea, to sail south towards the destination. The expected arrival is August 5. An invitation from the academic archaeological community in Istanbul awaits the Saga Farmann and her crew.

Medieval tools and modern technology

The Saga Farmann uses ultra-modern technology for propulsion if the fair wind doth not blow, with four electric pods below the waterline, each with its own small collapsible propeller, which can be twisted and turned in any direction so that the ship can dock dockside. 

"The Saga Farmann should be able to cope with most weather," said Ole Harald. "But we are not taking any chances. Should the weather be very bad, we will do like the Vikings – namely, wait."

The ship was otherwise built using the same methods as the other vessels constructed at Tønsberg, with axes, knives, hammers, and chisels, using as many Viking crafts as possible, even down to the textiles for the sails.

The Saga Farmann is somewhat like a copy of the Klåstad, found near Larvik in the late 1800s and reconstructed by the later director of the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Arne Emil Christensen, in 1974. 

The Klåstad was used for cargo and trading, only carrying a crew of half-a-dozen men. Unlike other vessels uncovered in modern times, it was not used for ceremonial burial but was, in fact, shipwrecked. Around 40% of it was recovered, the remains of which stands in Tønsberg, at the Slottsfjell Museum.
Saga Farmann is one of several ships in the fleet of Stiftelsen Oseberg Vikingarv (OVA), a shipping company managed by Einar Erlingsen. There are only wooden ones in the portfolio. In addition to Saga Farmann and Saga Oseberg, there are smaller boats such as Saga Seheimr and Saga Yngling. These all are reconstructions of historic vessels from the Viking Age.

The Viking Herald will keep you abreast of the ship's progress through Europe. You can also follow the Saga Farmann on its Facebook and Instagram pages. A website is being launched to coincide with the start of the voyage.

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