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Nov 09 2005
Expedition Vittfarne - Leg 3 Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 November 2005
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Read expedition member Johan Håkanssons account of Expedition Vittfarne, leg nr 3

Expedition Vittfarne, Summer 2004

Expedition Vittfarne is a project which among other things tries to prove how it was possible for the Viking chieftain ‘Ingvar den Vittfarne’ and his men to reach what the Vikings called Särkland, or the lands around the Caspian sea, some thousand years ago. Mats G Larsson, scientifically responsible for the project, thinks that he has found evidence in written sources from Georgia, showing that Ingvar travelled through Caucasus, and now, we would prove this in practice! The expedition started in Gammalsvenskby, Ukraine, where another Swedish exhibition ended in 1996, all in order to complete the journey from Birka. The full expedition was calculated to run for around 14 weeks.

When I first heard of the expedition in the autumn of 2003, I had recently returned home from a summer vacation in Russia, Georgia and Azerbajdzan. It seemed to me that I had gained useful contacts in the very countries that the expedition would pass, and hence applied to join in, since I very much would like to go back to Georgia by way of a Viking ship.

I was accepted for a 2-week leg, which had Georgia as a goal. When the time came to go off to the Black Sea, where I would join the expedition, we were very late. I had to extend my passport with a Ukrainian Visa as fast as possible.


A small ship

After some two days of journey by air from Kalmar via Stockholm, Moscow, Krasnodar and further on by coach and car to the Crimean paeninsula in Ukraine, I arrived at the expedition camp the evening of 30 May. The Viking ship Himinggläva had been beached ashore, and was very small indeed. It takes nine crew members, but not very much else. The reason, of course, is that it must travel up the Georgian rivers to more than a thousand meters above sea level. I swiftly fell asleep inside the tent I shared with the Russian Olga, one of two local followers on this leg.

The following day we had cross winds. We had to row in rather high seas, which soon proved too much for us. We beached the ship at shore, and awaited calmer weather. Soon enough, we could continue, this time with the sail set. The ship is rather easy to sail. Now and then, it has to be drained by bilge-pump, since a hand-built Viking ship does leak somewhat.

The expedition continued along the beautiful coastline of the Crimean paeninsula day after day, and for the most part, we were under sail. The first days of travel did wear out the crew to some degree, but soon enough, there was sun. Not seldom, we enjoyed the company of dolphins, which jumped and cavorted very close to the ship. The days onboard were spent taking turns to navigate and steer, prepare for lunch, or for the most part simply enjoying the sun, the wild nature and maybe the reading of Frans G Bengtssons great novel "Röde Orm".
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During rowing, however, progress was tougher. Six men were at the oars, one person steered while two pumped water, or prepared food. Rowing were on long shifts, at least an hour each, and every half hour, three men changed their position. "Resting" thus amounted to 30 minutes. Luckily enough, only one day on my leg consisted of just rowing.

When we arrived at a new night camp, we had to get the ship ashore quickly, in order not to take the seas in from the aft. After this there was all sorts of work, such as gathering firewood, setting a small fire, fixing dinner and pitching individual tents. But a visit to the "toilet" behind the first available bush, with an oftentimes soggy roll of toilet paper clenched in the fist, was maybe the highest priority for everyone. At dinner, which consisted of sausage or pasta stew, a ship meeting was held, and any problems were vented before the list of people on watch for the night was read. Everyone could look forward to a two hours shift on guard every second night, as it was important to make sure that nobody tried to steal our equipment, or that the waves would reach our ship. The person posted for the morning watch had to make sure that there was porridge ready for everyone at around 8.

Military presence.
On every spot we had settled down to, it didn't take long before some military were on location to register us. I particularly recall once when we had to take lunch on beach, due to high seas. The shore was very steep and rocky, and below the rocks, there was a small stretch of sand for us to stay on. There weren’t many minutes before an Ukrainian military official came climbing down the rock face, which we hadn't even thought of climbing ourselves. Every time the military came by, papers had to be stamped, passports had to be controlled, et cetera. I have been in the Ukraine before, but never before encountered such massive bureaucracy, which seemed to circling round the fact that we came by sail. The men were often friendly enough, and the man who came climbing down the mountain did so, mostly in order to alert us to the fact that a more suitable beach was to be found some kilometer ahead. Towards the afternoon, we did row to this designated spot. This was a nice beach, and from here, you could look across the Kertj straight, which separates the Ukraine from Russia. One full week remained of my time with the expedition, but sadly, it soon showed that there wasn't to be very much else rowing or time under sail.

The passing to Russia wasn't settled in a jiffy, although the military first claimed that they would arrange for the customs officials to get to our camp, so that we would be stamped and cleared to leave the country. They changed their minds and a few days went by. The Russians then reported that we couldn't sail anywhere, but would be forced to take a several days long detour.

Our Expedition Leader Håkan sat for the most part for several days on end in negotiations with different officials in the nearby town of Kertj. Suddenly, Russia required of us to stop sailing in their waters altogether, since our application, sent some six months in advance, lacked some vital stamp or other, which would take another three weeks to get. Luckily enough, the rest of us enjoyed a few sunny days at a sandy beach close to the Black Sea! Drinking beer, chopping firewood, playing cards and swimming were relaxing, even though we felt frustrated in making no headway.

After five days on this beach, we lost all hopes on the crossing to Russia under sail, and were hence forced to take a car ferry across the Kertj straight. Now, just a few days of my time with the expedition remained, and we were very far from the imagined final destination of Poti in Georgia.

To Georgia on my own
Previously, I had arranged for some Swedish friends to meet me in Georgia, together with some Georgian friends I've known since my vacation in 2003. Because of this, I had to leave the expedition a few days ahead of time, in order to get to Poti on my own. There awaited a week long sojourn in Georgia and Armenia, but that is a different story.


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- By Johan Håkansson


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