Tales of the GS-12 Vikings

People interested in Viking history and sailing take a voyage on the replica Viking longship called the Sae Hrafn, which means "sea raven," from Calvert Marina on Solomons Island, Md.Video by Whitney Shefte/washingtonpost.com
By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 19, 2008

One of the hardest things about pretending to be a Viking, it seems, is that people tend to mistake you for a pirate.

Just ask the crew of the Sae Hrafn, a reproduction Viking ship based in Southern Maryland. On a recent afternoon, passing boaters on the Potomac River cried out, "Avast ye, mateys!" and "Show me your swords!"

"Wrong fantasy," muttered Viking enthusiast David Tristan.

Tristan, 55, and his shipmates were acting out the fantasy of their choosing, as they do on regular outings. As they sailed the 38-foot longship, its bow adorned with a carved dragon head, they verbally accosted other boaters.

"I give you three sheep for the woman!" captain Bruce Blackistone roared at a passing sailboat, its white-haired female passenger waving and smiling nervously.

Of course, the 60 members of what is formally known as the Longship Company are anything but pillagers and plunderers. More than a few are government employees. One is a logistics analyst and another is a retired aviation safety inspector. There is a surveyor and even a rocket scientist; Tristan is a television reporter.

What unites them is an unusual interest in all things Viking. Aboard Sae Hrafn, or Sea Raven, early this month on one of the hottest days of the year, any sense of modern decorum seemed to melt away.

They sang, nearly in unison, to the tune of "Oh! Susanna": "I'm a Viking! That's the thing to be. There's no greater joy than fighting for a berserker like me."

Blackistone, who is in charge of leased space for the National Park Service, and others passed around a horn filled with mead, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and water.

The Longship Company is organized as a nonprofit group with an educational mission. Its members want to teach people that the 8th-to-11th-century seafaring people "were more than plunderers and raiders," said Marc Blaydoe, 52, of Waldorf, a naval engineer. "They were explorers and settlers" whose "secret" was their ships.

These days, in the world of reenactment, Vikings seem to be increasingly popular, Blackistone said. But don't tell that to the other boaters on the Potomac River.

See a wooden ship powered by oars? Must be pirates.

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