Searching for the Vikings

Saturday, August 19 - Day 18: Sea Day in the North Sea

Last night, Captain Hans gave us another warning about winds and waves. Nothing to worry about he said, just three meter high waves (10 feet, yikes!). Well there was some rocking and rolling, but it didn’t seem as bad as a few days ago. The room creak was at it’s normal level.

This morning it started out cloudy with patches of sun, but there were some waves and the ship was rolling some. A little later there was rain, high wind, and whitecaps. Donnie had awakened during the night with a little nausea. She put on her Scopolamine ear patch and went back to sleep. She felt better this morning, but after breakfast we were walking down to the library where she wanted to sit and work on her blog, and the rocking while we walked around got to her, so she went back to our room.

Evidently, there have been some complaints about the scheduling of the lectures on board, so they made an announcement this morning that the lectures would be in the morning and then repeated in the afternoon. I think that whoever does the scheduling of events on this ship is not very experienced, but at least they appear to be learning.

Since things are quiet this morning, except for the wind and the waves and the rolling of the ship, now might be a good time to discuss another surprising feature of the ship. When you walk into the elevators, the carpet on the floor of the elevator has, in big, easy to read letters, the day of the week. Awesome! They take the time and effort, alright, the time and effort of some underpaid, overworked Indonesian staff member, to change the carpeting in all twelve guest elevators, every night, probably in the middle of the night, just so the guests will know what day it is. Never mind that there is a printed schedule of the next day’s events placed in your room every night, with all kinds of information, including the day of the week. Never mind that there is a channel on the TV in your room with all kinds of information including the date and time, the wind speed, a map of where the ship is at the current moment, and the day of the week. Never mind that as far as I can tell, it doesn’t really matter what day of the week it is. Nobody has to go to work. It’s a permanent weekend (or, at least, a 38-day one.)

This reminds me of something I overheard the other day. A woman was talking to another woman, and she was saying how useful it was that her smart phone had a GPS on it, because it told her what city she was in. Now, the printed program tells you what city you will be in the next day. There are all kinds of lectures discussing what to do in the city you will be in. There are all kinds of signs on the dock saying “Welcome to Fingenbingenfjordenville”. But, this lady was so happy that her GPS-equipped smart phone was capable of telling her what city she was in. Ain’t technology grand? Of course, in order for it to do that, she either had to find and connect to a free WIFI network somewhere in the city, or pay the outrageous cost of the ship’s WIFI, so the phone GPS could figure out from the coordinates what city it was in. But I’m sure she didn’t know any of that, and why should she.

(… The ship sailed. The clocks ticked. The smartphones updated their time readouts to reflect the passage of time …)

We attended two lectures in the afternoon. The first, by Dr. Hannesson was entitled “The Vikings: The North Atlantic Voyages”. It was quite interesting. He described how, back in the 9th century, Norway was a bunch of tiny kingdoms, and one of the kings, Harold, resolved to unite the country under one king, himself of course, and vowed not to wash or cut his hair or beard until it was accomplished. Unfortunately, if not for him, then for those close to him, this took ten years. Once he had united Norway, the first thing he did was impose taxes (well, the third thing, after washing and cutting his beard). This, along with the fact that Norway had very little farmable land, caused some people to try and find another place to live, so they sailed west and eventually found the Faroe Islands, and settled there.

Then, one of these exploring Norwegian Vikings, wishing to find new land on the Faroe Islands, sailed west from Norway and missed the Faroe’s entirely and ran into Iceland. He thought that it was a great place, since he got there in the summer, and he went back to Norway to tell his friends and family about it. They didn’t believe him. Later, another Viking explorer, once again missed the Faroe’s and bumped into Iceland. He got there in winter, thought it was a terrible place, and went back and told his friends about it and he named it Iceland, since that was all he saw there.

Eventually, Iceland was settled. Dr. Hannesson said that Iceland had been settled by a bunch of tax evaders, and that has been the national sport there ever since. Later, Erik The Red, who Dr. Hannesson said was a terrible person, was sailing from Norway to Iceland and missed Iceland entirely and hit Greenland. He is still credited with being the first settler of Greenland, even though the Inuit had sailed there from Canada much earlier. He called it Greenland so he could convince others to join him there. I’ll bet they were pissed at him when they saw it. Eventually, Lief Ericsson, who was his son, sailed west again and found and settled Vinland, which we call North America. They did this in the eleventh century, and there are very accurately researched and dated archeological artifacts that prove it. Take that Columbus.

Dr. Hannesson explained that the dating evidence for settlements on Iceland was very accurate because of all the volcanic eruptions. The volcanos that erupt spread layers of volcanic ash all over the island, and they are thicker near the volcano and thinner further away. He said if you dig a hole you will see many layers of volcanic ash, which can be read just like tree rings.

Dr. Hannesson also explained another very interesting thing about the Icelandic people. They have no family names. Their second name is the first name of their father or mother with “son”, or “dotter” appended, so Dr. Hannesson, whose first name is Thorsteinn will have a son named Something Thorsteinnsson or a daughter named Something Thorsteinnsdotter. The girl could also choose to use her mother’s first name instead. He said the Icelandic people use first names for everything and that the Icelandic phone books have no last names. He said this system was very simple and only took a thousand years to get used to.

We then listened to another great lecture by John Nixon again, this one entitled “Admiral Lord Thomas Cochran. The real Hornblower”. This one was a very interesting lecture about a little known British aristocrat who was a very adventurous seaman and who had a remarkable life. In brief, his father lost all the family money, so he had to join the British navy at a very young age, and was promoted early because one of his uncles was high up in the navy. He became a captain for the same reason and was in a lot of sea battles where he was quite successful. He also ran for Parliament and was the only member of Parliament who was also a sea captain. His career was successful and he was knighted, but then one of his other uncles perpetrated a stock market fraud and Thomas Cochran was, incorrectly, implicated and convicted, so he lost his knighthood and was thrown out of the navy and was briefly imprisoned.

He then left England because he was offered the post of Admiral of the Chilean navy. He was successful there too, but eventually fell out with the politicians, over money, of course, and left Chile, and was offered the post of Admiral of the Brazilian navy. He was successful there also, and again fell out with the politicians. He was then offered the Admiralty of the Greek navy. There he wasn’t so successful, mainly because of the incompetence of the greek sailors. He eventually got back to England, had his knighthood restored, was reinstated in the British navy, became a rear admiral, and was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey, where, to this day, the Chilean navy lays a wreath every year. Quite a story. Mr. Nixon said that many fictional books and stories about adventurous British Navy captains, including the Horatio Hornblower stories are about Cochran, admitted by the authors. He also said that Cochran had been “written out of British history” so that most British had never heard of him, so we weren’t to feel ashamed about  it.

We are extremely pleased and surprised by the quality of the lectures on board the ship. I’m wondering, since some of the major ports we visit during the second half of this cruise are Liverpool and Dublin, whether the next set of lectures will be on the Beatles and Irish Pubs.