These Vikings like to party, not pillage

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The Wild Vikings slip the lines of everyday life to cruise their way — and let the chips fall where they may

The Wild Vikings slip the lines of everyday life to cruise their way — and let the chips fall where they may

Some call them crazy. Some call them pirates. But the globe-trotting bad boy sailors known as the Wild Vikings have become icons for those who want to throw away their micromanaged lives and become of the stuff of

 

legend.

This small group of sailing vagabonds is led by Capt. Jarle Andhoy, 29, an inveterate Norwegian adventurer who has spent the last 12 years exploring the world on a series of project boats named Berserk. Andhoy and his loose band cruise to a mantra that puts personal freedom above all else.

“Live the dream,” Andhoy preaches.

While they may be low-budget swashbucklers — they eat a lot of pasta and onions to stretch their kroners — they embody what their leader calls the “Viking attitude.”

But the free-spirited Vikings found themselves in a bit of hot water late last summer in CambridgeBay near the Nunavut territory while transiting the Northwest Passage. It seems as if the sailors failed to report their presence to Canadian immigration officials and also were carrying a crewmember, Fredrick Juell, who had been deported from Canada earlier in the year. Canadian authorities were not pleased.

“The way I see it is the Northwest Passage is an international waterway, and we have the right to sail through it,” maintains Andhoy. “We thought it was an innocent water passage, but I guess we learned the hard way.” More on that later.

Testing limits is something Andhoy is well-accustomed to. When he was 15 he acquired a 30-foot sailboat (“a complete wreck”), which he and friends rebuilt. “My family was never into sailing or anything like that,” says Andhoy. “I was this punk kid who was fed up with stuff and bad in school. I wasn’t focused on the right values. Boats to me meant freedom.”

Andhoy says he and his companions knew nothing about sailing but took their refurbished boat out and learned the hard way. By the time he was 17, he had made up his mind: He was going to take on the world in a sailboat. Selling most of his possessions, he purchased a 27-foot Albin Vega with an outboard and named it Berserk, because he says that’s what everyone called him when he announced his plan to sail around the world. “When one goes berserk, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he says. “The attitude is to live the dream you are not living now.”

He slipped the lines and began his first voyage at age 19 in 1997. “I decided that I was fed up with the 7-to-4 life in the routine,” says Andhoy. “So I took Berserk and sailed her around Cape Horn.”

After about a year, Andhoy met American and fellow adventurer David Mercy while cruising coastal Chile. They became friends, and Jan. 1, 1999, they set out for Antarctica on Berserk. Mercy recounts their trip in detail in the book “Berserk: My Voyage to the Antarctic in a Twenty-Seven-Foot Sailboat” (Lyons Press, 2004).

Shortly after the Antarctica trip, Mercy and Andhoy went their separate ways but would meet up again in 2003 to cruise to northern Russia. Andhoy also bade a farewell of sorts to Berserk after Antarctica; he struck a container at night off Argentina. The boat sank and Andhoy swam to shore.

“This boat had been through the Antarctic, Cape Horn — it went through a lot,” Andhoy says. “And it had been a perfect sailing day up until that point.”

After returning to Norway and working for a few years, Andhoy purchased another Albin Vega 27. He christened her Berserk II, and in 2003 he reunited with Mercy for the journey to Northern Russia. Joining them was Russian sailor Alexj Moukhine, who served as an interpreter.

“I was friends with a reporter who put me in touch with Jarle,” says Moukhine, who sailed with Andhoy and Mercy for a month. “I had a lot of free time, so I decided to sail with them on this little 27-foot boat.”

Wearing horned Norseman helmets, the Wild Vikings were coming into their own.

They visited exotic locales and began to cultivate a growing fan base. To keep their admirers in touch with their escapades, they launched a Web site (www.wildvikings.com ) that includes their philosophy, a blog, a forum and merchandise. “It is what it is, and it shows the life of adventurers — that’s living life and being free,” says Andhoy. “Most importantly, it is about having control over your life and not having your life control you.”

Though Andhoy calls Norway home — “a place to put my mail” — he spends at least seven months of the year on the water. When he is landlocked, he spends his days maintaining his boats and doing odd jobs to help finance his next trip to wherever.

“We are low-budget travelers, and we eat a lot of pasta and onions because it’s cheap,” says Andhoy. “We also meet people, such as Inuit tribes, who we can trade with. They will give us seal meat if we give them a knife. Just like the old ways. Half the fun of new adventures is seeing new people and the variety of cultures.”

Last January Andhoy decided to start a new adventure in a new boat. The plan was to work their way from the Caribbean to Greenland and, eventually, the Northwest Passage. “I held auditions [for crewmembers] in Norway, and a lot of people wanted to be a part of it,” says Andhoy. “We had everyone from frustrated housewives to hardcore sailors. But it wasn’t about the experience; they had to have the right attitude to do it, the right attitude as a Viking.”

Once the crew was chosen, they traveled to Puerto Rico and worked on rebuilding a 48-foot steel sailboat that Andhoy had found on the Internet — the latest Berserk. Retired from the U.S. Navy, this boat was built to go through ice; it was perfect for the latest trip to the north. Crewmember Rune Holsjard painted shark’s teeth on the bow and flames on the stern.

“We really liked the concept of the shark,” he says. “It reminded us of the old World War II planes that would bomb the enemies, and they would fear them. We thought if we did this it would make the ice in the Arctic fear us. … We thought that the shark’s teeth could cut through the ice, and if that didn’t work, the flames in the back would melt it.”

Before setting out in February, Andhoy says the boat was “baptized” in Haiti by three voodoo priests, whoinvoked the gods to bring the Vikings good fortune as they raised the Jolly Roger and the Norwegian flag. From there, they made their way up the East Coast to Greenland. They had entered the Northwest Passage when they were caught in Canadian waters in early September without checking in with immigration officials. Andhoy and Juell were deported to Norway along with a third crewmember. Mercy and the fifth crewmember were ordered out of the country and not to return for a year.

“We weren’t there to visit Canada; we were there just to sail on,” says Andhoy. “It’s just a ridiculous ending to our story.”

Andhoy says Canadian authorities had given them two options: sail back to Greenland or leave their boat behind and head home. “We didn’t want to turn the boat around; that’s not in the Berserk spirit,” says Andhoy. “It didn’t make sense, since we have only the last 2,000 miles to get to the Pacific.”

The crew went their separate ways, but Andhoy returned to Alaska in late September to wait for his ship to come in — literally. “A friend of mine picked up the boat for me and sailed it up here,” says Andhoy. “She is a good boat for Arctic sailing and big voyages with her strong steel hull.”

Andhoy says the Vikings received a very warm welcome in Nome, Alaska. “We did a lot of drinking with the locals,” says Andhoy. “We got out of our Canadian prison to American freedom.”

With Berserk safely berthed in Nome, everyone went back to their respective homelands to wait out the winter before starting the next chapter of their adventures: The Bering Sea.

“It’s all about getting back to basics,” says Andhoy. “We were all stuck in our routines and afraid to break out of it, but we are beyond that now.”