2000-07-22 / Front Page

Viking Ships Heading To Rockaway?

Local Looking For Support Of Community

The ad hoc committee to bring a flotilla of Viking ship replicas to Rockaway on Labor Day weekend held its fourth weekly meeting this past Sunday on Beach 116 street. According to Stuart Mirsky, a local Rockaway resident who is also serving as citywide coordinator of this event, the group had a productive discussion centered around identifying prospective event sponsors and hammering out a program for the day. Mirsky notes that the ships, which are part of a small fleet sailing in North American waters this year in honor
of the thousandth anniversary of the first Norse sailings to the "New World", are tentatively scheduled to come to Rockaway on Labor Day Weekend on Sunday, September 3.

"There are still a lot of contingencies," Mirsky pointed out, "including
firming up a solid group of event organizers here in the Rockaways, ensuring the ships can get past the Marine Park bridge (one ship's mast stands over 16 meters tall), clearing sailing routes with the Coast Guard, and ensuring the ships all make it here successfully (one is on the high seas even now, recreating the early Norse voyages across the Atlantic)."

But if the weather is right and the other things fall into place, the fleet
captains have promised Mirsky to "make Rockaway one of their main stops on the first weekend in September."

According to others present at the meeting, there's still a lot to be done to ensure that Rockaway can hold an event at all and there remains a serious possibility that the ships will have to pass the peninsula by. The site and nature of the event have yet to be finalized, however a sidewalk festival around Beach 116 street is under consideration. Other possibilities include obtaining dockage at one of the locations in Gateway and holding an event there (although, since this would likely occur in the Floyd Bennett Field area, if anywhere, it would diminish Rockaway's role in the day's activities).

According to Mirsky, the ships are scheduled to appear in New York Harbor on Friday September 1; their first sailing and event will involve a parade up the Hudson River to the Riverside Park Boat Basin where the Riverside Park Conservancy is scheduling a Viking theme fair in the park at 79 street on September 2. On September 3, Mirsky indicates, the ships would like to come to Rockaway, by sailing across New York Harbor and into Jamaica Bay for a rendezvous and reception in the 116 street area. The crews are looking forward to some kind of celebration and would, of course, need to be provided food and refreshments after a full day's sailing and rowing. Some of the ships have mementos and souvenirs, which they offer for sale to visitors interested in seeing their ships up close. These include, among other things, replica Viking flags and ships, tee shirts, tote bags, simulated Viking coins, books, etc.

"But," says Mirsky, "if there isn't going to be an event here, it won't pay
for them to come and I'll have to find another location to bring them to.
Everything depends on the folks here in Rockaway now."

Mirsky went on to note that there are three to five ships expected. The most interesting are two Swedish ships. One, the Viking Plym, is the oldest Viking replica still sailing. It was built in 1912 and is all hand carved. The other, the Skidblander (pronounced Shidbladner), is the largest Viking replica sailing today at about 80 feet in length and is now en route to us via the North Atlantic. "The Swedish authorities actually tried to prevent this one from sailing," Mirsky adds, "and we were all pretty nervous for awhile but it looks like the ship may have slipped out of the harbor in the middle of the night because now they're on their way, despite the objections of the Swedish government. We last heard from them when they hit the Faroe
Islands preparatory to setting sail for the Shetlands. After that it's
Iceland and then over to Greenland. From there they'll cross to North America and rendezvous with the other viking ships off the coast of Newfoundland for an historic celebration at the end of July. Then they plan to sail down the coast of North America to New York Harbor."

Mirsky tells us he got involved in all this as a result of an historical
novel he wrote a couple of years ago about Norsemen in North America. "I
never expected to be coordinating a Norse invasion when I wrote the book," he says, "but when I got in touch with this group to promote it about a year ago and learned they were having trouble finding someone to coordinate their arrival in New York City I kind of stepped forward. And I figured, as long as
I was doing this, I might as well try to get them for Rockaway."

After Rockaway, he notes, the ships are scheduled to sail to an event in
Bayridge, Brooklyn, on Labor Day Monday. But, Mirsky stresses, the stopover in Rockaway at this point is still not "in the bag." He pointed out that time is rapidly slipping away and unless things get firmed up pretty quickly he's going to have to re-route the ships to another site.

"Actually, the Manhattan folks have invited the ships to remain with them for the entire three days if
they want to," Mirsky added, "and the Intrepid has come forward as another alternative site. I'd really like to bring them out to Rockway, but I'm
working on a very tight schedule and whoever gives me a proposal I can rely on is where I'll direct the ships. Personally, I hope we can make it Rockaway since I think this would be a very nice way to end the summer beach season, with a parade of medieval ships to give us Rockaway's very own OpSail right here on Jamaica Bay."

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