Hjemkomst – (Yem-komst: Norwegian for Homecoming)
Moorhead is located in western Minnesota just across the Red River of the North from Fargo, North Dakota. It is not an area that conjures up images of ocean going vessels, but the ancestors of many of these landlocked residents came from the seafaring nations of Scandinavia. The Vikings were the kings of the seas from the 8th through the 11th centuries. It is said that Viking explorers discovered the New World nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The Vikings’ main vessel for sailing was the long boat. The long boat was well adapted for sailing the seas and navigating shallow rivers thanks to the flexibility of its hull and its shallow draft.
Robert Asp, a guidance counselor at Moorhead Junior High School, first talked of building and sailing a replica of an ancient Viking ship with his brother Bjarne. Bob Asp studied books about Vikings while recovering from a severe fall during the summer of 1971. The dream of sailing a Viking ship to Norway began to take shape. Bjarne Asp studied Norwegian history at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota in the summer of 1971. Bjarne provided Bob Asp with books about Vikings. Bob Asp based the design of his ship on the Gokstad burial ship. The Gokstad had been unearthed from a burial mound near Sandefjord, Norway in 1880. The ship was dated with a construction date circa 800 AD.
After one year of planning, Bob Asp was ready to begin work on the ship. Bob searched the countryside for trees. Maynard Gulbranson’s farm, north of East Grand Forks, was the principle source of lumber. Lumber was also donated by family members, friends, and local communities. Bob originally estimated that it would take 15 oak trees to build a Viking ship. The Hjemkomst ultimately required well over 100 trees.
Bob Asp carefully selected the trees used for the ship. White oak trees were selected for their flexibility required in ship construction. The first lumber for the Hjemkomst was milled at Harvey Engen’s sawmill north of Viking, Minnesota, on July 4, 1972. Most of the lumber was 1″-2″ thick and approximately 8″ wide. A total of approximately 11,000 feet of lumber was sawed. The lumber was carefully sorted, piled and left to dry for two years. Hot paraffin wax was brushed on the ends to help prevent twisting and bending of the lumber. Milling was later done in Rollag, Minnesota.
Hawley Ship Yard
It was difficult to find a place large enough to construct a Viking ship. The Asp’s backyard was too small. Many adequate buildings in the Fargo-Moorhead area were being torn down for urban renewal projects. In 1973, Bob Asp heard that the Leslie Welter Potato Warehouse in Hawley, Minnesota was empty. The Hawley City Council purchased the building and leased it to Bob and Rose Asp for $10 a year. Renovations during January and February 1974 transformed the Welter Potato Warehouse into the Hawley Shipyard. The first floor was removed from the building. The Hjemkomst was built on the basement floor, approximately six feet below street level. The Hawley Shipyard was adopted by the community of Hawley and became an important tourist attraction in town.
The Hjemkomst construction progressed slowly for the first several years. Bob Asp, a junior high school counselor, could work on the ship only on weekends and during the summer. Although he was diagnosed as have leukemia in 1974, Bob continued his work on the Hjemkomst. With the help of family and friends, Bob designed or modified most of the equipment to build the Hjemkomst. A surface planer was purchased for $120. With the addition of reduction gears, chains and belts, Bob was able to prepare over 11,000 feet of lumber stock. Material for the ship was moved and lifted with a “come-a-long” winch and tripod. While some continued to voice skepticism about the project, several loyal volunteers assisted Bob with building the ship. Once the lumber was milled and the shipyard readied, the Hjemkomst took six years to complete.
On July 10, 1980 the front wall of the Hawley Shipyard was torn down. Care was given to support the roof and sidewalls to ensure the whole structure would not collapse. The sidewalk and old bricks were pushed in and many loads of gravel were added to create a ramp. Removing the completed Hjemkomst from the shipyard building was a difficult task. The front of the old warehouse had to be removed without collapsing the entire building. EM “Lefty” Johnson, a Hawley Postmaster and former colonel in the US Combat Engineers, directed the procedure.
July 17, 1980 was the day the ship made her entrance into the sunlight to greet her public. With a tow truck and winch the ship was inched out supported by bridge timbers and rolling on steel pipes. Once in the street, a crane picked up the ship and turned it so the moving process could be completed. Hannah Foldoe, Bob Asp’s mother-in-law and a Scandinavian Immigrant, was given the honor of christening the ship, Hjemkomst on July 20, 1980. Hjemkomst means homecoming in Norwegian in honor of immigrants of Nordic heritage. The christening ceremony was part of the three day “Viking Ship Days” celebration held in Hawley. Approximately $35,000 was raised during the celebration. The proceeds would go towards the Hjemkomst‘s voyage.
The Hjemkomst left Hawley for Duluth, Minnesota on August 5, 1980 at 9 PM. Because of the special permits needed for being an overweight and over-sized ship the Hjemkomst had to be transported at night. The drivers of the transport were Bob’s nephews, Alvin and Kenny Asp, of Asp Brothers Trucking. A State Highway escort was provided by state troopers Bob Elliot and Wilbur Crist.
A crew of twelve sailed the Hjemkomst from Duluth, Minnesota to Norway. A thirteenth member sailed as far as New York City. Crew occupations included professional sailors, a long distance truck driver, and college students. Four of Robert Asp’s children helped to sail their father’s dream across the North Atlantic.
Robert Asp – Captain
Erik Rudstrom – Skipper
Roger Asp – Shipmaster
Mark Hilde – First Mate
Dennis Morken – Boatswain Mate
Myron Anderson – Medical Officer
Jeff Solum – Radio Operator
Paul Hesse – Navigator
Deb Asp – Crew Member
Doug Asp – Crew Member
Tom Asp – Project Coordinator
Vergard Heide – Crew Member
Bjorn Holtet – Crew Member
Lynn Halmrast – Crew Member
Many doubted that the Hjemkomst would float before the ship was launched in Duluth harbor. Bob Asp had always said that the Hjemkomst would float, but he would not guarantee it would float right side up. The Port Authority of Duluth donated the use of its 90-ton twin gantry cranes to put the Hjemkomst in the water. Over 4000 spectators witnessed the launching of the ship.
The Hjemkomst took her maiden voyage, under her own power, in the Duluth Harbor on August 9, 1980
Bob Asp took his last trip on the Hjemkomst on September 27, 1980. Although Bob died on December 27, 1980, his family was committed to keeping his dream of sailing the Hjemkomst to Norway alive.
During March 1981, the Hjemkomst was displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts along with the famous Viking Exposition. This move and public display was the first step in continuing the project and the long road of fund-raising to bring the funds necessary to complete the dream voyage of the Hjemkomst.
Training on Lake Superior proved to be frustrating because of calm or near calm conditions. Once under sail, the Hjemkomst proved difficult to control with the square rigging. The crew would need someone with experience sailing square-rigged vessels to train them for the voyage. In present day Norway square-rigged descendants of the old Viking ships called Femborings are now sailed. One of the best known Femboring sailors is Erik Rudstrom, who had sailed Femborings from Norway to Iceland four times. Rudstrom was very interested in the Hjemkomst, and agreed to give suggestions on improving the performance. On Rudstrom’s suggestions eight more tons of ballast was added to improve stability, the rudder was redesigned, an extension was added to the keel, and a larger mast and sail were made for the vessel. The original sail of the Hjemkomst was 30′ x 38′, with a 45′ mast and a 38′ yard. The new mast was 63′, with a main sail measuring 30′ x 40′ with a top sail measuring 10′ x 30′. Roger Asp and Dennis Morken were able to shorten the original yard to accommodate the new sails, but the original mast was discarded near Knife River Marina.
The voyage began in May, 1982 on the Great Lakes. Lake Superior has been reported to be the coldest and hardest part of the voyage. The Hjemkomst and her crew sailed Lake Huron in near record-setting time. All along the trip through the United States, the crew was honored at many receptions and celebrations. Through part of the Erie Canal the crew had to row the Hjemkomst as their Viking ancestors did along the coasts, and up river and fjords. The Buffalo, NY Westside Rowing Club volunteered to row the ship to North Tonowanda, the beginning of the Erie Canal. The sight of the majestic ship with her oars working in unison is quite a sight to behold.
The Hjemkomst arrived in New York City on June 8, 1982. The sail around the Statue of Liberty, which symbolizes freedom and hope all around the world, brought national attention once again. Not unlike the Statue of Liberty, the Hjemkomst and her story has inspired people all over the world to dream and aspire to whatever their minds can conjure.
A few days out of New York the crew began preparing for a fierce tropical storm. They needed to make a few repairs to the rigging and batten down in anticipation. The Hjemkomst was handling well in the heavy seas and soon the crew were to face the ultimate test of the North Atlantic.
Five hundred miles out of New York the storm hit and the crew dauntlessly worked to ensure the survival of themselves and the Hjemkomst. The strake on the port side closest to the keel cracked and began to leak. Although only 1/8 of an inch wide, the crack ran fourteen feet. Crew members stuffed burlap sacks into the crack to slow the leaking. Interestingly, the damage the ship suffered was after the worst of the storm had passed and the waves increased to enormous size. Although only 500 miles from New York, Skipper Rudstrom decided the Hjemkomst should continue its voyage to Norway. To turn back meant the ship would sail against the wind, perhaps causing more damage, and would take the same amount of time as it would to sail to Norway. Several more gales were encountered, but nothing compared to their first and only significant storm.
During the following weeks on the North Atlantic the crew entertained themselves by writing in their journals, relaxing and reflecting, filling the silence with music, and watching and swimming with dolphins. Words could not express how the crew felt when they first sighted Norway after the weeks spent on the high seas. The crew had put in months of training in preparation for this moment. They did it for Bob Asp and his dream, and for personal dreams, and for adventure-and did it successfully. The crew of 12 was greeted by their families and honored by a hero’s welcome by the people of Bergen, Norway on July 19,1982. All around the coast of Norway the Hjemkomst and her crew were honored in many celebrations, including a royal visit with the King of Norway on his yacht outside of Hotrod in the Oslo Fjord. On August 9, 1982, the Hjemkomst reached Oslo, Norway, her final destination-the destination dreamed of by her creator and builder, Robert Asp. Bob’s dream had been fulfilled.
The Hjemkomst was stored in Oslo, Norway for one year after the voyage. It was towed to Porsgrunn, its point of departure. The Hjemkomst was transported from Porsgrunn to Cleveland, Ohio aboard the M/V Brunto in August 1983. The ship was then towed from Cleveland to Detroit, Michigan, then transported by truck back to Minnesota. The ship was donated to the City of Moorhead and placed on display at the Hjemkomst Center since 1986.