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Lost at sea

The old Icelandic manuscript, The Book of Settlers, reserves for us the old sailing instructions from Norway to Iceland and over to Old Greenland.  On this route the Sagas have countless stories of ships getting lost at sea for months on, sometimes the whole summer with survivors telling there story.  Many where never found.  The navigation formula is counting the days in dægur, starting the dægur at noon with the sun in south.  This they could see on the top of the mast by standing in the bow or stern on east west heading.  This is the instruction given for the direct route from Bergen Norway to north east of Iceland.

  " wise men say that from Stad in Norway is 7 dægra sailing to the west, arriving at Horn in east Iceland.  But from Snæfellsnes(west Iceland) the shortest way to Greenland is 4 dægur sailing to the west."

The ship would depart land in the early morning hours and with the sun at the top of the mast the pilot would start the count down at noon the following day,  That would be dægur one and a true course corretion.  This sounds easy on a bright sunny day but this Atlandic route was not a sunny route during the short summer.

The manuscript Hauksbók has sailing instructions for the direct route to Greenland from Norway given as seven dægur sailing.

     " From Hernum in Norway you will always stear west until up at Hvarf in Greenland,  you will sail north of Hjaltland, the visibility must be good, then south of the Fero Islands so as to have the horizon in the middle of the mountains, then south of Iceland, as to see both birds and whales, sailing for seven dægur(days)".

One way of finding land was to have a flock of ravens on board and release them one by one,  if the raven circles over the boat, no land.  If the bird leaves the boat via the stern they continue, if the bird leaves the boat via the bow, they follow. 

One of the least known stories on lost at sea is written down by Ari the wise and comes from the settlement farm at Reykhólar at Breidafjördur.  The story is of his relative Ari Marson and orginates from the Earl of Orkney, Þorfinnur.

Ari Marson got lost on his way to Iceland from Ireland.  After six dægur sailing came to a strange land with white people and called it White peoples land, later called Ireland the Great.  The course was to be north west to hit on Iceland.  But he did not.

This sounds unbelivable but if Ari Marson was on a good longship and the speed was 25 knots this is possible if the ship was in strong easterly winds and poor visibility for them to strugle on the heading of west to south west, they would end up in the New World prior to the year 985.


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