Charlottetown sailor Geoff Ralling, left, and fellow Vinland Society of P.E.I. member Harry Baglole have been busy planning Ralling’s Voyage to Vinland sail, which is set for this summer. This round-trip journey from P.E.I. to the Viking archeological site of L'Anse aux Meadows on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland will retrace the seafaring steps thought to be taken by Viking explorer Leif Eriksson more than 1,000 years ago.
©GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
This summer, Charlottetown mariner Geoff Ralling will set sail upon a new version of a more than 1,000-year-old voyage to Vinland.
This seasoned sailor plans to retrace the Maritime seafaring steps thought to have been taken by Viking explorers in the early 11th century where they overwintered for several years in what is now L’anse Aux Meadows National Historic Site in Newfoundland and explored the Straits of Belle Isle and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
These adventures, retold in the Viking Sagas by authors who put these oral tales to paper a few centuries after the fact, describe Viking explorer Leif Eriksson’s Vinland as an island north of the mainland, with excessive tides, wild grapes growing and larger salmon than he had seen before in a river flowing into a sea lagoon.
Many, including Ralling, believe that Vinland could be Prince Edward Island or, at the very least, that it is part of the larger Vinland region.
“This is not a replica voyage by any means. Really it’s an excuse to go somewhere,” smiles Ralling, who is a founding member of the Vinland Society of P.E.I., which aims to create a Vinland state-of-mind and establish close links between P.E.I. and Iceland.
Starting in early July, he and a small crew will sail from Charlottetown to the famous Viking settlement, L’Anse aux Meadows, and arrive back on Island shores sometime in late August.
Ralling has explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence extensively over the past 20 years in his sailboat, Be Faithful 2.
In 2005 he sailed to Greenland on the heels of a visit to Iceland with fellow Vinland Society member Harry Baglole of Bonshaw in 2002 in conjunction with an educational journey with the Institute of Island Studies of which Baglole was then director.
“On the way home we flew over Greenland so the stories of Viking voyages and the images of Greenland in my head, that’s really what drove it. When I see something fascinating I think about going there in a boat,” Ralling remembers.
“And I just loved (the idea of it). I’d sailed a number of times to Newfoundland and up the coast. It’s just wonderful water to sail in. The northern waters are just beautiful sailing waters.”
With the very tangible L’Anse aux Meadows archeological site, many believe that Newfoundland is the elusive Vinland, or “land of wine,” described in two saga manuscripts.
However, others believe the Newfoundland was the gateway to Vinland because descriptions of the Vikings’ explorations in the sagas resemble more southerly locations.
“I think the whole Gulf of St Lawrence is part of the story. It’s a regional eastern Canadian story, not just a Northern Peninsula story,” Baglole says.
Items found at the L’Anse aux Meadows archeological site also indicate that the Norsemen definitely ventured beyond their overwintering base camp.
“There are artifacts from the southern Gulf as in butternut wood and butternuts themselves, and there were other things that would not have been found in Newfoundland at the time but would have been found in the Gulf,” says Ralling, who sees his self-funded Viking-inspired sailing adventure as a way to promote the society and the sagas, as well as the understanding of the early explorations of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and P.E.I.
“Everybody is interested in Vikings and all that interest is based on the sagas. They are incredible adventure stories; and two of them involve Prince Edward Island. It’s quite an extraordinary tale really.”
AT A GLANCE
The Vinland Society of Prince Edward Island aims to create a Vinland state-of-mind and establish close links between P.E.I. and Iceland.
Just over a thousand years ago, the Viking explorer Leifur Eriksson (aka Leif the Lucky and son of Erik the Red) sailed southwest from the land he called Markland and entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence, thus discovering and naming Vinland, where he found an island north of the mainland with excessive tides, wild grapes growing and larger salmon than he had seen before in a river flowing into a sea lagoon.
In the words of Icelandic saga scholar Dr. Gisli Sigurdsson - “... the likely location of Leif’s Vinland can be narrowed down to Prince Edward Island and the southern shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.”
Exploring the potential of this Vinland affiliation is one of the main objectives of the Vinland Society of Prince Edward Island.