30 years later, Hjemkomst crew reunites
MOORHEAD - The maiden voyage of the Viking replica ship Hjemkomst on Lake Superior was far from encouraging. The crew, which soon would try to cross the Atlantic Ocean, was having trouble sailing the wooden ship out of a harbor by Duluth. "Everyt...
MOORHEAD - The maiden voyage of the Viking replica ship Hjemkomst on Lake Superior was far from encouraging.
The crew, which soon would try to cross the Atlantic Ocean, was having trouble sailing the wooden ship out of a harbor by Duluth.
"Everything was just hard," Mark Hilde, the ship's first mate, recalled Saturday. "There were no books on sailing a Viking ship."
Still, after the crew began to learn to control the ship through trial and error, the middle school teacher whose dream it was to build the ship and sail it to Norway beamed with confidence.
"Mark, we're going to make it, aren't we?" Robert Asp said to Hilde. "We're going to make it."
And they did, 30 years ago, arriving in Bergen, Norway, on July 19, 1982. Surviving crew members and members of the Asp family gathered Saturday to commemorate the voyage at the Hjemkomst Center, the ship's namesake and resting place.
Family and crew members, with hair turning gray and, in some cases, thinning, gave tribute to the man whose dream they helped realize, and the woman who supported him.
"I thought he was completely whacked out," Deb Asp Seitz said, recalling the day in 1971 when her father announced that he wanted to build a Viking ship.
Her mother, Rose, went to work outside the home to earn money to support the venture.
Crew members agreed the voyage never would have succeeded without the guidance of Erik Rudstrom, a sailor from Norway who served as the Hjemkomst's skipper.
When Rudstrom joined the project, while the ship was being tested on Lake Superior, he made a raft of suggestions for modifying the craft, including a completely new main sail, rudder, and eight additional tons of rocks for ballast.
"The boat was a whole different beast after that," said Dennis Morken, who served as boatswain's mate.
"He worked very quickly," said Myron Anderson, the crew's medical officer. "His mind is very sharp. He analyzed everything very fast."
Rudstrom, who died nearly three years ago, was represented by his wife, Gertie, a fellow sailor.
The revamped ship, hewn from 11,000 feet of lumber, faced the unknowns of an ocean crossing.
The naysayers in Las Vegas gave the ship 11 to 1 odds of failing, and some "sea salts" on Lake Superior said aloud that the crew was doomed.
Early in the voyage, when the crew encountered a fierce Atlantic storm churning the seas with crashing waves, it seemed like the doubters were right.
The hull suffered a crack - still visible - and the crew was divided about whether to turn back or press on.
Rudstrom explained that the only option was to keep sailing ahead - turning back, against the waves and the wind, would disintegrate the ship.
"I think we were lucky to make it across," said Bjorn Holtet, one of two Norwegian sailors who joined Rudstrom for the voyage.
Paul Hesse, who served as navigator, said he kept two sets of books recording the Hjemkomst's course - one according to Rudstrom's dead reckoning, the other using a celestial navigation technique that, a century old, was insufficiently tested for the stubborn Norwegian skipper.
Jeff Solum, the radio operator, chuckled as he recalled once having to call in a slightly inaccurate position because the proud Rudstrom didn't want to acknowledge publicly that the becalmed ship actually had made "negative progress."
"He made me fudge the numbers every once in a while," Solum said.
Many agreed that one of the voyage's most magical moments came when they spotted whales, including a pod that followed closely. Also enchanting, a trail of luminous plankton that glowed in the dark.
Another memorable moment, albeit more sobering: the time several crew members dove in the water to retrieve a piece of vital rigging for the main sail.
The best part of the journey?
For Doug Asp, it was spotting the Norwegian coastline.
"Then we knew we'd made it."
"Agreed," Holtet chimed in.
Appropriately enough, Hjemkomst is the Norwegian word for home coming.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522
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