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The Viking of the 21st Century

Part Two: Íslendingur and her voyage

Welcome back to the second of the three-part series of The 21st Century Icelander.  We will explore the beginnings of Íslendingur and her anniversary voyage from Iceland to North America, to her retirement.

From desires and dreams a reality is borne. Throughout his life, Gunnar Marel Eggertsson (IR#I410712) was exposed to the sea and ship building, and possessed an in-depth knowledge of historical Viking era ships. Convergence of these assets framed the strategy he used in building an exact replica of the Gokstad ship.

You might recall from Part 1 of this series that the Gokstad was a Viking longship dubbed "Gaukstada" because of the location where it was found in Norway in the 1880s and was believed to have been from the Viking Era in 870 CE.

It is difficult to explore Gunnar Marel's prowess at shipbuilding, particularly the building of Íslendingur, or "The Icelander", without relating more about Gunnar Marel Eggertsson himself; however, his story will be presented in Part Three.

Gunnar Marel Eggertsson knew what he needed and where to get it. Central to his plan was carefully following the shipbuilding instructions from many years of highly developed techniques. He travelled to Norway and Sweden to source the perfect oak and pine wood. The sail was crafted in Denmark.

Building Islendingur
Building Íslendingur
Viking Ship Íslendingur at Stekkjarkot
Íslendingur at Stekkjarkot

In 1996, after two years on his own with spirited determination and following the ancient techniques, Íslendingur was christened. She measured 22.5 metres (74 feet) in length, 5.3 metres (17 feet) in breadth, has a draught of 1.7 metres (5.5 feet) and tonnage was 80 gross tonnes. The wood to build her weighed 18 tonnes and required 5000 nails.

Íslendingur’s average speed is 7 knots, topping out at 18 knots. A few modern elements were necessary: she had two 50HP engines, a rubber dingy, a telephone and a washroom. The midship area bore a shelter and a small dining hall. The addition of some of these modern accoutrements were initially resisted, but their use was to be occasional or only as needed. Without the full complement of Viking oarsman on a longship, two shifts of 32 oarsmen, we can assume she sailed mostly under wind power with the eight oarsmen/women assisting, but the engines might have been engaged on the high seas.

A Viking enthusiast, Gunnar Marel intended for his ship to be instrumental in educating Icelandic children about the Viking era. He would set sail with the youngsters where they would learn about the ships, the sea and the sagas. As successful as this was with the children, and tourists in the summer, it wasn’t a lucrative venture.

The year 2000 was on the horizon. In 1998 planning the millennial celebrations honouring Leif Eiríksson’s voyage to North America were underway. Gunnar Marel realized his next step (or rather, leap) for Íslendingur. He would sail her to North America following the same voyage that landed Leif Eiríksson in Vinland, the northern peninsula of what we now know as Newfoundland in Canada. She was a stable and reliable, fast ocean-going vessel, worthy of this representation. A foundation to raise funds for the journey was established with The Leifur Eiríksson Millennium Commission becoming a principal sponsor. Gunnar Marel and Íslendingur would be an integral part of the 1000th Anniversary celebrations; she became the flagship of the flotilla.


Fair Winds and Following Seas

17 June 2000

In the old harbor of Reykjavik, hundreds of Icelanders gathered wishing Íslendingur “Fair Winds and Following Seas”, a safe voyage to all. With Gunnar Marel as the skipper and an experienced crew of eight, seven men and one woman, she set sail. This crew size was a huge contrast from the crew of seventy that maneuvered the Viking ships of yore.

The voyage had begun. Following along the west coast of Iceland, Íslendingur docked in Búðardalur in Hvammsfjörður. The first celebratory stop was held at Eiríksstaðir, the home of Eiríkur "rauði" (The Red) Þorvaldsson (IR# I137642) and the birthplace of Leifur "heppni" (The Lucky) Eiríksson (IR# I137643).

The ship and crew remained in this port waiting for the pack ice to break up before safely sailing to their next stop, Greenland.

Arriving in L’Anse aux Meadows, NL, Canada 
Arriving in L’Anse aux Meadows, NL, Canada  (Photo Credit: Joyce Hill, CC BY-SA 3.0)

15 July 2000

They reached Brattahlíð, Greenland on July 15th where Erik the Red had settled around the year 985 CE. A celebration was held with Queen Margrethe II of Denmark in attendance. The ship and crew spent five days here before departing for Canada.


28 July 2000

With great fanfare and leading a flotilla of more than a dozen replica Viking ships, Íslendingur arrived at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, the place Leif called Vinland, on the 28th of July. This is a small community of 44 people that grew exponentially to over 15,000 spectators for the celebration. Some in attendance commented that they had stepped back in time witnessing history in the making all over again.

L’Anse aux Meadows, the only verified Viking settlement in North America, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1968. Parks Canada has preserved this area as a national historic site, which has remains of the original settlement enhanced by some replicated features and buildings. In the summer season, re-enactors host visitors and invite them to stop at the interpretive centre.

Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland
Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland (Photo Credit: By Dylan Kereluk from White Rock, Canada - Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Over the next twenty-five days, many celebrations took place in ten different ports along the Newfoundland coast. The last port of call was Port de Grave.  

YouTube has videos from Íslendingur’s journey to Newfoundland. It is worth the time to watch the beauty that is Íslendingur’s, and that of Newfoundland and its people. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

-Ron Hynes Welcomes the Vikings - the video shows a song being performed as the Íslendingur arrives

-Voyage of the Íslendingur 2000 - an amateur video of her arrival in Port de Grave

Íslendingur in New York City, October 2000
Íslendingur in New York City, October 2000

5 October 2000

Íslendingur continued her journey south stopping in Halifax, Nova Scotia, then on to the United States. She stopped in Boston and Providence before her planned arrival in New York City on the 5th of October, four days in advance of Leif Eiríksson Day on 9 October.

Íslendingur remained in the US at Westbrook, Connecticut, returning to Iceland in 2002.



A new chapter began for Íslendingur. She was brought home to Iceland and has resided at The Viking World Museum, also called Vikingaheimar, since 2008. This museum is located in Njarðvík, Reykjanesbær, Iceland, not far from the Keflavik International Airport.  The museum initially positioned Íslendingur outside, where she was either the first or the last true Viking element many people saw as they passed.

Íslendingur currently remains elevated within the halls of the museum. Here, she continues to help educate Icelandic children and tourists on the Viking era and traditional epic sagas. If one has time, perhaps a visit to the museum upon arrival to or pre-departure from Iceland might be on the agenda!  Just a suggestion!


Stay tuned for Part Three in our next edition of Roots where we learn more about Gunnar Marel Eggertson, the man behind Íslendingur, the 21st Century Viking.



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