October 12, 2000


Aboard Thor's Hammer, Sea Scout Ship 101 training vessel, Roger Crossland, a Stratford attorney, retired Navy Seal and Thor's Hammer skipper, checks the horizon. On the right is Michael Taylor, one of four Newtown Sea Scouts.

Viking ship visit an adventure for scout

By Sybil Blau


Newtown High School sophomore Michael Taylor had the opportunity of a lifetime recently and he grabbed it.

Michael, 15, served aboard one of two vessels that escorted a replica of a Viking ship into New Haven harbor Sept. 28. The vessel, the Islendingur, was on the last leg of a five-month voyage to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of Leif Eriksson's journey to the New World.

"The whole adventure was exciting," says Michael, son of Mary and Michael Taylor Sr. of Head of Meadow Road.

He got his chance to be part of an unforgettable experience because he is a Sea Scout.

"Sea Scouts are a little known division of Boys Scouts, USA," says his mother. He is one of four such scouts in town."

Michael and the other Newtown Sea Scouts belong to pack "Viking," out of Stratford; they sail aboard the Sea Scout Ship 101, dubbed "Thor's Hammer", a 40-foot Pearson Invicta yawl. The ship's skipper is Stratford lawyer Roger Crossland, a retired Navy Seal officer now serving in the Reserves.

Michael, who's been a Sea Scout for a year and has reached the rank of apprentice, jumped at the chance to be part of the historic escort.

"I had the time available, so I signed up," he explained. He was aboard Thor's Hammer for five days, using his sailing skills and learning as much as he could about the Islendingur.

Michael, who was introduced to sailing three years ago by his parents, is interested in history. He studied up on the Vikings before the adventure. He didn't have to, he explains, "but to understand the Vikings and their ships, I did."

He found the whole experience to be "great, lots of fun. I realized Columbus wasn't the first one in America."

For him, the best thing about the experience was "being able to talk to the crew of nine fishermen and farmers; to hear them tell about how the Islendigur was built and about their culture."

The Islendingur, a replica of a Viking ship found in a funeral mound in Norway in 1885. The Islendingur recently ended a five-month voyage in honor of the 1,000th anniversary of Leif Eriksson's journey to the New World.

Thor's Hammer crew members got a chance to board the Islendigur, though the visit was only 30 minutes long.

Being on board was unforgettable, said Michael, who seemingly explored every Islendigur nook and cranny.

"I lifted up a hatch on deck so I could see the lashings. It was very exciting," he exclaimed.

The ship, a duplicate of an ancient Viking vessel excavated in Norway in 1882, is 75-feet long, 17.3 feet wide and has one mast and one large, square sail. One of the men who helped build the oak and pine ship is a direct descendant of Lief Eriksson, said Michael.

"It has a steer board but no rudder," Michael explained. Though the Icelandic government required radar and an engine be installed, there were few other modern amenities. One of the things missing from the replica is a "head" (bathroom). "There were chamber pots instead," mused his mother, who was present during the interview.

Michael and his family were so impressed by the Islendingur's crew and representatives of the Icelandic government they met at a luncheon, they will go to New York City to visit the ship again. It will be docked at South Street Seaport until Oct. 23.

Given the chance, would Michael do it again?

"Oh, yeah. Definitely," he said. "I don't think I'd have a chance like this again, but if I had, I would."

However, this young man with a passion for sailing is happy being a Sea Scout and happy with the opportunities it presents.

Aboard Thor's Hammer, Michael and his fellow mates make their own meals. "We do the cooking," he said, shyly admitting that the cook's job ultimately falls to a female Sea Scout.

Crew members sleep in bunks below deck, but that's not Michael's favorite place to snooze. He and a friend like to sleep on deck. The drawback is that "we wake up wet with dew," he says.

Above all, Sea Scouts work as a team and are constantly reminded that life on a sailing vessel is no pleasure cruise.

The must-learn items in Sea Scouting include piloting and navigation skills as well as weather forecasting.

"People think Sea Scouting ends when the sailing season ends in late October or early November," said Mary Taylor. "They should know Sea Scouting is a year-round activity. When they're not sailing, among other things they learn navigation, piloting and go on camping trips."

Does Sea Scout Michael Taylor want to serve in the Navy?

Michael shrugs his shoulders; it's too early in his life to discuss that. However, "Whatever I do, I'll always be racing sail ships," he said.

For more information about Sea Scouting, call Michael Taylor Sr., pack co-chairman, 426-0787.

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