In the year 1000, the Viking Leif Eriksson sailed from Greenland to a place the Vikings called Vinland, somewhere on the northeast coast of America. Nearly a thousand years later, in 1995, the American adventurer W Hodding Carter became obsessed with Eriksson's voyage, asking himself, "Why not retrace the Viking voyages to the New World?"
Over the next three years Hodding Carter set about retracing Eriksson's voyage from Greenland to L'Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, believed by many to be the location of the legendary Vinland. However, there were a few obstacles, such as the author's lack of money, crew and expertise--he concedes from the outset, "I knew nothing about sailing. I had not even read a single Patrick O'Brian novel." A Viking Voyage records his extraordinary and often foolhardy adventures as he builds a Viking cargo ship, or "knarr", called Snorri, hires a crew of eight men and eventually sets sail on one of the greatest, but also hazardous voyages of ancient times. The naivety of Hodding Carter's dream as opposed to its often reckless reality is unwittingly amusing and incongruous, as the crew sit around in full Viking regalia sending and reading e-mails, and experiencing both the terror and the wonder of close calls with both icebergs and hungry polar bears as the Snorri battles its way to Vinland. In retracing the Viking voyage, the author concludes that "we did not find a new continent, a new passageway, or even a new way to use the bathroom in an open boat, but we did discover what it felt like to sail into the wind, heading straight for an iceberg, albeit unknowingly". Even Lief Eriksson would have been impressed. --Jerry Brotton