The Vikings are coming!
A thousand years after Leif Erikson – or his fellow Vikings – created a European settlement in North America, the great seafarers have finally arrived in Bermuda, having crossed the Gulf Stream in the Viking Orion, one of the oceanic vessels of the Viking Cruise Line.
Viking Ocean Cruises is the recent creation of a modern-day Viking, the Norwegian, Herr Torstein Hagen, out of Bergen, a major seaport on the western coast of Norway.
By the by, I spent a year in Bergen as an archaeologist in 1972, excavating the remains of earlier versions of the town, just to the rear of the famous Bryggen, now the signature buildings on the waterfront, dating back a thousand years to the times of the Hanseatic League. Oddly enough, the archaeological dig and the museum which followed were largely sponsored by Erling Naess, one of the first major shipowners to have a significant presence in Bermuda after the Second World War. I first met Mr. Naess in his home town of Bergen, not on the south shore in Paget, where his office was for many years.
In developing Viking Cruise Line, Mr Hagen took an almost Viking approach to Europe by entering the water passages of the continent with a fleet of river boats. Aiming to be the finest such vessels afloat, they cater to a class of people interested “in thinking rather than drinking”.
That concept expresses itself in Viking’s cultural curriculum of their enrichment programmes on their vessels, under which I was recently invited to give four lectures on Bermuda on the Viking Orion. There I joined the resident astronomer, Lou Thieblemont, and resident historian, Bryan Babcock, who also spoke for the enrichment of the passengers.
In days of yore, a cry that “the Vikings are coming!” could inspire some apprehension, but in the case of the arrival of the Viking Orion, Mr Hagen is to be congratulated on homeporting his ship in Bermuda in the time of Covid. This has brought some good visitor business to the island in the economic drought caused by the virus. The crew and staff, especially cruise director (and opera singer!), Brian Rodriquez, were hospitality itself and a number of Bermudians were afloat to enjoy a break from lockdowns.
However, Vikings have been in Bermuda for many decades, as Scandinavians have married into the local community. One such person has even called the family business – you guessed it – Viking Foods!
Also of significance was the coming to Bermuda of the racing yachts, known as the International One Design class, designed by a latter-day Viking, Norwegian Bjorne Aas.
Fitted with our home-grown Bermuda rig, those vessels were made famous with the help of Bermudian sailors. One such boat of unparalleled beauty and brilliant performance, the appropriately named Saga skippered by Kenneth and Eldon Trimingham, cleaned up in the races at Bermuda in 1936, leaving competitors in its elegant wake.
A famous American designer, Cornelius Shields, was captivated by that Viking production: “The moment I saw Saga I fell in love with her. I thought she was the most beautiful boat I’d ever seen.”
In more recent times, in the company of Norwegian residents of Bermuda, Akka and Per Arneberg of Fram Shipping, I visited the excavation of a Viking archaeological site south of Oslo, as well as a major museum dedicated to those Norsemen of long ago. In another connection with Norway, 35 Bermudians gave their lives in the Second World War, supreme sacrifices that are acknowledged in the generality in the final exhibit panel of the Resistance Museum in Oslo.
In the skies above London
In the African desert
In the ruins of Stalingrad
And on the Normandy beaches
Norway was given back to us
In times of present distress, Mr Hagen and his Viking Ocean Lines have brought a little relief to Bermuda, for which many are hopefully thankful.