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The Viking of the 21st Century

Part Three: Gunnar Marel Eggertsson,

Welcome back to our third and final instalment of the Viking of the 21st Century series. Part One identified different Viking ships and their roles. Part Two introduced the reader to Íslendingur, a modern day Viking ship that lead the 1000 anniversary celebration of Leif Eiriksson’s voyage to North America. She was built by Gunnar Marel Eggertsson, our 21st  Century Viking, who we will get to know more in Part Three.



Gunnar Marel Eggertsson
Gunnar Marel Eggertsson (Photo Cr: Dagblaðið Vísir 2011)

Born on the volcanic Vestmannaeyjar, or Westmann Islands, of the south coast of Iceland to a family of fishermen, Gunnar Marel Eggertson (IR#I410712) was raised on the sea. From the tender age of 5 years old, he worked with his father and grandfather on the boats: sailing, repairing, fishing and catching puffins, up to a 1000 per day. He was the fourth-generation seaman and boatbuilder.

Gunnar Marel Jónsson
Gunnar Marel Jónsson

Gunnar’s grandfather, Gunnar Marel Jónsson (IR#I181880), 6 Jan 1891 – 7 May 1976, arrived in Vestmannaeyjar at the age of twenty. Gunnar (the elder) worked as a fisherman in the winter, and during the summer, he worked in construction. As a master ship builder, he built the largest wooden ship at that time in Iceland, the Helgi VE-333. He was the Director of Vestmannaeyja Dragarbraut, or Tow-way, from 1925-1958, then continued to oversee the construction work until 1968. Gunnar was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Falcon in 1940 for his work.[1]  

Eggert Gunnarsson
Eggert Gunnarsson

Gunnar Marel's father, Eggert Gunnarsson (IR#I263290), 4 Sep 1922- 4 Jan 1991, and his mother, Jóna Guðrún Ólafsdóttir (IR#I409935), initially settled in Víðivellir, a farm in Blönduhlíð in Skagafjörður, where she was from. They lived there until Eggert built their house in the Vestmannaeyjar, where they remained raising their family of six children, Gunnar Marel being the fourth child. Eggert was a shipwright and learned his trade from his father. He completed a journeyman's exam in the trade in 1944. Eggert took over the Vestmannaeyjar Dragarbraut when his father had to retire due to his health. [2]

Under the tutelage of his grandfather and father, Gunnar Marel learned much about boatbuilding and seamanship. He studied navigation at the College of Maritime Navigation. Additionally, by the age of 25, he received his Master in Wooden Boat Building and his Master Grad in the Art of Shipbuilding. He was a member Iceland’s sea rescue squad: rescuing people who fall into the sea, bringing back stray or stranded boats, saving lives or properties in challenging circumstances.

Gunnar Marel had built many fishing boats over the years; however, he always dreamed about building his own ship. He possessed a profound interest in history, especially the Viking era and the settlement of Iceland. His passionate interest in Viking ships and his acute knowledge of their building techniques contributed greatly to fulfilling that dream.


In 1991, Gunnar Marel was the First Mate of a crew of ten who sailed Gaia, a replica of the 9th century Viking ship Gokstad ship built in 1990. She departed Bergen, Norway for North America on 17 May 1991. Gaia was on a fourteen-month, 15,000-mile voyage to Rio de Janeiro and the Earth Summit via the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and North America.

It was on this voyage that Gunnar learned more about the hands-on sailing of a Viking longship, absorbing the knowledge passed from the ship’s Captain, Ragnar Thorseth, and his Norwegian shipmate, Jon Godal. Gaia presented some challenges attributable the complicated technical deficiencies with the construction. Gunnar recognized how to improve the design and felt dutybound to build a ship with these problems corrected. He had the knowledge and the will. He wanted to demonstrate that Viking ships were stable and seaworthy vessels. [2]



Not long after returning to Iceland, Gunnar’s dream intensified, spurred on by the improvements he felt were needed. The Íslendingur, the Icelander, was constructed following the same methods, instructions, and often the same tools, as his Viking forefathers. For two years Gunnar laboured alone. With stubborn determination he sourced the funding and materials. (You can read about Íslendingur in Part Two of this series.) Towards the completion of his ship, public interest grew as it did for the government.

Few others possess the expertise and knowledge of the craftsmanship that Gunnar put into building such a quality and seaworthy longship. Íslendingur was an exact replica that experts claim was the most successful replica that had ever been made. [3]

Once completed, the City of Reykjavik contracted Íslendingur to sail with either children or tourists, each learning about the Viking life. Despite government involvement, it was still a costly venture. Gunnar had pulled Islendingur from this service, which was a loss to tourism, but necessary. [4] Hollywood also inquired about leasing Íslendingur. They were looking for a Viking ship in an American movie being shot in Norway in 1998. This did not come to fruition.

Gunnar Marel Eggertsson aboard Íslendingur
Gunnar Marel Eggertsson aboard Íslendingur 2000

Gunnar became engaged with the millennial celebrations planned for the year 2000 in commemoration of Leif Eiriksson’s voyage and settlement in North America. He knew that Íslendingur was the Viking ship that could bring history to life. Not only did his dream of building a Viking ship become a reality, but on 17 June 2000, Iceland’s National Day, Íslendingur as the flagship set sail for North America. She proved herself an exceptionally stable ocean-going vessel.


Íslendingur remained in the US as part of the exhibit “Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga” at the American Museum of Natural History until January 2001. 

Gunnar announced the sale of his ship. Few prospects came forward, but strong support from the Icelandic government and companies brought Íslendingur home in 2003.[5]

The Viking World Museum near Keflavik is where she now resides. Gunnar Marel was hired as the director of the museum to introduce and manage Íslendingur and the related projects. He retired from that position in Sept 2009, but stayed long enough to ensure the ship was set up appropriately and the Viking exhibit itself was running smoothly. [6]  


Gunnar Marel Eggertsson receiving a photo of Islendingur from Árni Sigfússon, then Mayor of Reykjanesbær
Gunnar Marel Eggertsson receiving a photo of Islendingur from Árni Sigfússon, then Mayor of Reykjanesbær (Photo cr: Víkurfréttir 2002)


Gunnar received the Media Cup of Tourism in Dec 2000 for the building of Íslendingur and her voyage to North America. It was a most unique voyage that created tremendous publicity and boosted Icelandic Tourism. The overseas media’s positive attention and people’s discussions about Iceland created a flurry about all things Icelandic. Gunnar claimed the credit was not his alone, but for the many others that assisted with the project and the journey. The purpose of the award was to acknowledge media discussion on Icelandic tourism in a broader sense.

For his work on Íslendingur, Gunnar received The Order of the Falcon presented by the President of Iceland in Jan 2001. He was also recognized for the contributions made to the culture in Keflavik with the museum and the Íslendingur exhibit.

Additionally, he has a street named after him in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Gunnar also portrayed himself in three very different documentaries that discuss Viking travel, explorations and settlement. The list can be found at

  • The Far Traveller is a book authored by Nancy Marie Brown. This book was the focus of the documentary of the same name discussing the voyage of Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir, a Viking woman who traveled to Greenland, Vinland, Iceland, Rome, and Iceland again. She bore the first European child in North America.

  • The Viking World – TV special documentary in the UK

  • The Pirates of History (2019) – a small team of sailors, and scholars discuss the accepted history of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America

(Editor Note: At the time of writing this article, we were unable to find the link to view these documentaries in North America. If anyone has that knowledge or ability, please pass the information to Icelandic Roots will be happy to share this with its readers.)

A recent post by Gunnar’s daughter, Aldís, on social media identified that in late 2023 Gunnar and his friend, Ragnar Thorseth, are leading an ambitious project. (You might recall that Ragnar Thorseth was the Skipper on Gaia in 1991.) They and other shipbuilders of Bjørkedalen, Norway are working towards building a modern replica of a Viking-era transport vessel that was used to move families, livestock, and materials in the North Atlantic.


Gunnar Marel is known worldwide for building the most accurate Viking ship. His legacy is his dedication to and preservation of the Viking heritage. He possesses a passion for shipbuilding and formidable seamanship. He has strengthened the ties between Iceland and other countries, in particular, North America.

Gunnar Marel Eggertson’s earliest memories are being at sea with his father and grandfather. The sea is in his blood as he is part of the sea. Gunnar Marel, a modern-day Viking who brought history forward.   



[1] heimaslóð.is Gunnar Marel Jónsson

[3] Icelandic Roots Database – Gunnar Marel Eggertson Biography

[7]…Víkurfréttir - 29. tölublað (18.07.2002)


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