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Hjemkomst crewmates tell of new voyage across Atlantic

MOORHEAD - When Paul and Erik Hesse and their friend Mark Hilde talk about the geysers they saw in Iceland and waterfalls in Greenland, it sounds like they were talking about a recent vacation.

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Paul Hesse, an original crew member of the Hjemkomst transatlantic voyage, talks Sunday, Jan. 10, 2015, during a presentation at the Hjemkomst Center about the Great Circle route he sailed between Norway and North America. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MOORHEAD – When Paul and Erik Hesse and their friend Mark Hilde talk about the geysers they saw in Iceland and waterfalls in Greenland, it sounds like they were talking about a recent vacation.

They even brought a slideshow.

Paul Hesse and Hilde were crewmembers on the 1982 voyage of the Hjemkomst viking ship from Duluth to Oslo, Norway. In their most recent trip, they took a modern sailboat called the Raven in the opposite direction, tracing a route the vikings themselves could've made to the New World.

Hilde said he declined to take part at first but "it wasn't about a couple days later and I said, 'How many chances do you have to sail not only west to east but now east to west?' and I said, 'You've got to go for it.'"

They were joined by Erik Hesse, Paul's son.

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The three gave a presentation to a group of about 50 Sunday at the Hjemkomst Center, the permanent home of the eponymous ship built by Moorhead's Robert Asp. They noted that the turnout was pretty good considering the subzero temperatures and the Minnesota Viking's tense playoff game.

The Raven's owner and captain, Dean Rau, was on the voyage but didn't make it to Moorhead Sunday.

The sailboat began in Oslo in summer 2014 and finished 78 days later in the boat's home port of Bayfield, Wis., east of Duluth on the shores of Lake Superior. Hopping from island to island, they would encounter the remains of viking settlements and the descendents of the Norse explorers.

Hesse said the distance between the islands meant it would've taken only a few days to sail from one to the other.

He was 31 and already an experienced sailor when the Hjemkomst began its historic voyage. He was named the ship's primary navigator, a role he reprised on the Raven. Hilde, then 29, was the first mate and cook, a role he also reprised on the Raven.

The Hjemkomst, which means "homecoming" in Norwegian, sailed about 600 miles south of the Raven's route to take advantage of an ocean current, according to Hesse. The earlier voyage was also very dramatic, with one of the strakes cracking during a storm and causing a leak, according to the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. The Hjemkomst crew didn't have the advantage of a motor or modern weather forecasts either.

The Raven's route adhered much closer to the vikings', stopping as it did in the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Labrador, where evidence of a viking settlement was found in 1960. The voyage had some suspense, such as when they watched for baby icebergs that were too small to be seen by radar and when they encountered storms, the Hesses and Hilde recounted, but nothing too scary.

And like the historical vikings, the Raven's crew also encountered other viking ships along the way.

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Hilde said one night he heard raucous celebration and thought there were drunks outside the boat only to find crewmembers from a viking ship that had limped into port after a storm with a mast missing. They were kissing the ground in thanks, he said.

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