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The Rus-project
(Finland) —
Voyage 1999

Viking ship
Heimlosa Rus

Sinan CAKMAK

Nine Days on a Viking Ship

When they told me to be there at seven o’clock the next morning and that they would set sail immediately, I had not actually made up my mind to go with them. I had heard that a Viking ship had come to Istanbul and gone to see it out of curiosity. For the past four years the ship had been at sea, sailing through the Baltic and across the North Sea to England, from there to France, and along the northern Mediterranean coast, finally arriving at Kalamis Marina in Istanbul. When the crew saw I was interested, they told me that they were down to four people and needed one crew member. Would I join them?

At ten o’clock that Thursday in early summer we had already sailed past Kizkulesi Tower at the southern mouth of the Bosphorus. In the powerful currents of the strait we had to use the small outboard engine to make headway, and when that proved inadequate get out the oars. Normally the engine was only kept for getting in and out of harbour and for emergencies, but now there was not enough wind to use the sails and rowing alone was impossible against the currents. Whenever the current became too strong our captain Fredrik Koivusalo instructed us to row towards the opposite shore, and in this way we zigzagged between Asia and Europe. At two o’clock we arrived at Istinye, halfway up the Bosphorus on the European shore, and had earned the first meal of the day. The daily routine was a lunch of salad, accompanied — when we had it — by a light white wine.

We set out again, our goal being to reach Poyrazkoy, where we would spend the night. But a north wind was now blowing, and combined with the currents all our efforts were in vain. We anchored in a small sheltered bay and resolved to wait there until the wind dropped. We set out again in the late afternoon and it was eight thirty when we arrived in Poyrazkoy harbour at the northern end of the Bosphorus. It had taken an entire day to navigate the strait.

If someone had told me that I would spend a day rowing up the Bosphorus in a replica of a 9th century Viking ship, I would probably have laughed. What we called a ship was actually only a tiny open boat, 12 metres in length and 3 metres wide. She was a copy of a one thousand year old wreck discovered near the island of Lapuri in the Gulf of Finland in 1976. Its name was Heimlosa Rus, meaning ’the homeless Russian’, since at that time the Arabs had referred to the Vikings as Russians.

Our boat was the second to have been built as apart of this incredible project. The first, named Rus, had sunk off Lithuania, and this was the second attempt. But what was really fascinating was that in the 9th century the Vikings had sailed to Istanbul in hundreds of such ships and besieged the city twice. Of course, the Heimlosa Rus had no such intention!

After a deep and much deserved sleep we boiled up some coffee and ate a good breakfast before leaving harbour. The weather was windless and cloudy. Today we aimed to reach Sile on the Black Sea coast. Watching the forested shore and in the company of dolphins, we reached this small fishing port without any serious difficulty. That evening we fried horse mackerel on our stone hearth and as we ate with relish, replenishing our store of energy ready for the next day, we discussed the journey.

The Heimlosa Rus had set out from Bodrum at the southeast extremity of the Aegean on 1 May and arrived in Istanbul two weeks later. There three of the crew members had left to be replaced by myself and two others. The next stage in the journey was to follow the Turkish Black Sea coast to Inebolu. After that the ship would sail due north across the Black Sea to the Ukrainian port of Yalta, and from then through the Sea of Azov to the Russian city of Rostov. There the ship would spend the winter, and next spring navigate the canals back to Finland. If you wonder why this route had been chosen, it was to trace the course the Vikings had taken one thousand years before, and as far as possible under the same conditions. In this respect the journey was of archaeological significance.

The third day we had a long distance to cover, from Sile to Kefken. We set out when dawn broke at six o’clock. The clouds dispersed around noon, and we took this opportunity to string up the horse mackerel which we had salted the day before to dry in the sun. The day was passing tranquilly when, at a point where the shoreline was barely visible on the horizon, some wasps started buzzing around us. More and more arrived until suddenly there were hundreds, perhaps thousands. The Swedish member of the crew, Jan, tried burning some tar on the theory that the smoke would drive them away, but instead we started suffocating. In desperation we embarked on a massacre. We emerged with a few stings, hut hundreds of wasps died in the battle and finally fled in disarray.

Although the ship itself was Finnish, the crew were all volunteers from unions different countries. On this stage of the journey there was our Finnish captain Frediik Koivusalo, and a Swede, Jan Mellring, who teas a radiologist by profession but engaged in the restoration of historic ships. Also Leikas was a Finnish shipbuilder and repairer. I was one of two crew members representing Turkey, the other being Kemal Saatci, who worked at Kusadasi Marina where he had met our Vikings. Unfortunately, he was due hack at work, so had to leave us at Kefken the following morning.

The fourth day of our journey we had the longest distance of all to go. Our plan was to set out from Kefken, pass by Akcakoca without calling in port, and reach Eregli, a journey of 60 wiles in all. That morning the weather was cloudy and windy. Before joining the ship my greatest fear, apart from storms, had been seasickness. I had been all right so far, but today the wares were alarmingly large. The heavy cloud cover contributed to create the perfect atmosphere for a horror film. That morning my stomach was suffering. Gritting my teeth I survived until noon, when the sun came out and I returned more or less to normal.

We arrived at Eregli after fourteen hours at sea. Night had already fallen, but we were given a warm welcome by the local people, who did all they could to make us comfortable. That evening we ate fish accompanied by raki.

At Eregli two new crew members joined us. Marja-Ritta Topcu and Seppo Suhonen were both Finnish. Marja-Ritta was a musician, and thanks to her we were to listen to real Viking music on our ship from now on.

The following morning I awoke to rain drops falling on my face. Today it was Jan’s last day. He was to leave the ship at Zonguldak. Although the waves were of menacing size, captain was delighted became of the southwesterly wind. Apparently southwesterlies were rare in this season. But our luck was not to hold. Hewing entered Zonguldak harbour a storm broke out, preventing us from leaving. The waves were rolling at us with such violence that we could not get out of the harbour mouth. For every minute lost the captain shouted at us and at the storm.

Finally we made it into the open sea, and set sail for Amasra where we were to spend the night. After a long and exhausting day we arrived in Amasra harbour around ten thirty at night. We moored and took a brief walk around the town. That was sufficient to enchant us, and we decided to spend the next day there.

The next morning after breakfast we set out to tour the town and its environs. Amasra was one of the most delightful towns I had ever seen. The captain and Marja-Ritta were invited to Amasra High School to give the pupils a lecture in English about the ship and the Vikings. After that they brought the whole class to see the Heimldsa Rus. The visit was a good opportunity to practise their English, and Marja-Ritta enjoyed showing them the Viking musical instruments which she had brought with her.

As we prepared our evening meal on the shore, a curious crowd gathered. When they realised that I was Turkish. I was subjected to a bombardment of questions. Where did we sleep? What animal did those fur pelts belong to? Didn’t we get wet when it rained? Didn’t we get cold? What did we do without a lavatory? Were we mad? The question about sleeping arrangements was asked most often. As I have already said, the ship was open with no cabin. In the stem and bow were spaces each large enough for one person to lie down, and along the sides were benches for the others. We slept in sleeping bags on elk skins, and perhaps von will not believe me, but I slept more comfortably on that bench than I had done for a long time.

The eighth day had arrived, and we were off again. The captain was looking for the hay of Gideros (alias Sutluce), one of just three sheltered natural harbours on the Turkish Black Sea coast. Finally he discovered the entrance concealed amongst identical looking cliffs, and we got in, but getting out was a different matter. As we resumed our voyage the waves put up such a determined resistance that we needed the help of another boat. After a difficult journey we arrived in Cide at nightfall.

The Heimlosa Rus was constructed entirely by our captain Fredrik. Moreover, he had felled the timber himself in Finland’s forests, the elk skins were from elk he had hunted himself, and the ropes he had woven himself from horsehair. The barrels for food and water and other accessories were made of wood and identical to those used by the Vikings. Experienced fishermen who saw the Heimlosa Rus commented that the boat was unseaworthy and that we were putting ourselves in danger. Yet if they had been with us, they would have changed their minds. We had sailed through rough seas, yet not a drop of water had entered the boat, which at its lowest point was just 30 cm above the waterline. It had felt like being in a walnut shell tossed about on the high seas.

It was the last day on the boat for Marja-Ritta and I, as we made for Inebolu. There the rest of the crew were going to complete the necessary formalities for leaving Turkey and continuing on to Ukraine. Since I had had neither the time nor the money to obtain a visa, Ineholu was unfortunately the end of the journey for me.

All through the journey I had missed just two things. The most important was cups which did not smell of raki. Since our cups were made of wood, the first time we had drunk raki from them they had absorbed the smell of aniseed ineradicably, and everything we had drunk since had tasted the same. My second complaint was the soup, which also tasted the same every time. For some unaccountable reason, every soup we made, whether tomato or vegetable, had precisely the same colour and flavour. Why, I still have no idea.




 
 
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