Viking ship arrives, just like vessel now in Geneva did in 1893
For the first time in 123 years Wednesday, a dragon head ship from Norway sailed into harbor in Chicago.
Almost as rare among the participants in Navy Pier's annual Tall Ships exhibition, the Viking vessel Draken Harald Hårfagre then lowered its red silk sail so its crew of 33 could row into port with oars.
"Oh my God, is that stunning!" exclaimed Dave Nordin of Naperville. He is a member of the Friends of the Viking Ship organization that now owns the earlier vessel housed in West suburban Geneva that made the same journey for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.
"The singular beauty of a Viking ship is the same today as it was in 1893," he said.
Nordin said even a person who knows nothing about ships would recognize the sheer grace and physical beauty of the Draken. But those who do know ships would understand the significance of this one's arrival in Chicago.
The crew of the smaller 1893 ship -- actually named The Viking -- were trying to demonstrate that Leif Erikson could indeed have made such a journey from the Old World to the New nearly 400 years before Columbus.
Given that it was the Columbian Exposition they were headed for, the 1893 crew found themselves accosted by supporters of the Italian explorer during their stop in New York.
Nordin said he didn't expect today's supporters of Columbus to be quite so passionate in their expression.
The Draken's stay at Navy Pier through Sunday is expected to help The Friends of the Viking Ship raise awareness for their campaign to get the 1893 ship permanently housed in a Chicago museum.
Nordin said tens of thousands are expected to visit the Tall Ships exhibition this week, many of whom don't know the area already has a Viking ship of its own at Good Templar Park in Geneva.
Apart from the sheer physical endurance required to sail from Norway, the Draken crew faced the added struggle of having to raise funds to hire a pilot to navigate U.S. waters to Chicago. The Minneapolis-based Sons of Norway foundation has so far received pledges of more than $81,000 -- enough to reach Chicago, but $430,000 is needed for the Draken to make all its scheduled stops in the Great Lakes.
No commitment beyond Chicago had yet been made Wednesday, but a news conference Thursday morning is expected to address that.
While that's been going on online, Captain Björn Ahlander said he and the crew have kept their focus on the task they set out to complete.
"To run a ship like this is not only skills, you have to have the guts and you also have to have the interest," he said. "You call it nowadays 'team building.' But it's called seamanship here. That's what it's all about. You work hard together, and you become good friends and trust each other."
• Daily Herald staff photographer Morgan Timms contributed to this report.