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SPORTS WEEKEND | THE OUTDOORS

Obscure 'Vikings' Tackle an Unusual World Tour

May 05, 2000|PETE THOMAS

They cruised into port suntanned and a bit salty but otherwise none the worse for wear, amid fanfare that was fairly scant and almost purely Scandinavian.

A news helicopter buzzed overhead. A firefighting boat paved their way, water cannons blazing. A dozen or so compatriots waited patiently at the docks.

Hardly a welcome fit for a king, but for a couple of modern-day Vikings, it'll do.

Sweden's Roy Karlsen and Ove Herlogson are being called that and more by those following their obscure and daring adventure around the world--in an 18-foot motorboat that has only a canvas canopy for cover and a built-in gas tank that holds only 35 gallons.

They carry much more fuel, of course, in plastic containers stored with other gear beneath the canopy.

"And we stopped smoking," Herlogson assures.

The pair pulled into Marina del Rey on Monday afternoon, about one-fifth of the way through their journey, having run nonstop for seven hours from San Diego. It was the latest of many long legs during an odyssey aboard a little red boat powered by a 50-horsepower outboard that has served them faithfully since they left Lysekil, Sweden, last June 5.

Their travels have taken them 11,000 miles across the stormy North Atlantic, to Iceland and then Greenland before the most harrowing stretch, a 490-mile run to Labrador in the Canadian province of Newfoundland, during which they went sleepless for 55 hours while negotiating 50-foot peaks and dodging icebergs.

"You give me $10 million, I never try that again," Karlsen said, while sipping a cold beer from the sunny California Yacht Club patio. "No, no, no, no! It's so cold, you don't even want to hear about it."

At one point, his hands literally froze to the steering wheel and Herlogson had to pour water on them to free his grip. "That was crazy," he said.

At Newfoundland, Herlogson recorded in his log, "Today we have been to the Viking village Lanc's au Meadows. It was found in 1961 by Helge and Anne Ingestad from Norway. They have been here eight years excavating a village believed to be founded by Leif Eriksson in 1000 AD. It was a marvelous feeling to come here almost exactly 1000 years later."

Off the East Coast of the United States they were tossed about by hurricanes Floyd and Irene. In Cuba, they were nearly rammed by a gunboat "because we were supposed to announce our arrival" and detained for three days.

In Nicaragua, they were ripped off by fuel salesmen and threatened with bodily harm by people who had more interest in their belongings than their historic quest. "We had to leave because of those people," Herlogson said. "They wanted our engine and one guy killed a dog in front of my face and said, 'This can happen to you.' "

They became pilots of what they claim is the smallest motorboat to pass through the Panama Canal, before making their way north along the coasts of Central America and Mexico.

When they set foot on the docks in Marina del Rey, they were greeted by mostly blond people waving Swedish and Norwegian flags (Karlsen is Norwegian but lives in Sweden), and met by Norway's honorary consul general, Richard L. Fine, who proclaimed, "In these two we have the Vikings all over again, but in a far more modern situation. I think it's unbelievable."

Indeed, to sail around the world in a small boat is one thing. To attempt a circumnavigation in a small motorboat is quite another. The wind is an enemy, not an ally. Long crossings are not possible. Karlsen and Herlogson must hug the coast whenever possible and hope to find gas at every port of call.

If they complete their journey, they will have covered 55,000 miles, more than twice the circumference of Earth. They also will have become pilots of the smallest powerboat to have traveled around the world, thus earning an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Their gas bill, they estimate, will total about $36,000.

Karlsen, 41, a former construction worker from Oslo, said the idea came about 10 years ago while he was making one of his 40-mile shopping runs from Lysekil in a 16-foot open boat to Skagen, Denmark, "because they have cheaper wine over there."

"It was out there, where I got this crystal-clear vision. I thought, 'If I can go over to that small town in such a little boat, I can actually do this around the world. I started working on it. I was focused."

He divorced his wife four weeks before his departure in a marriage he said wasn't working out, anyway. He left behind two young sons.

"I was fed up with my total life. I was out-burned," he explained, struggling only slightly with his English. "And this is no escape. This is a dream. I want to have a world record nobody else can break."

He and Herlogson, 38, who had been opal mining in Australia when contacted by his longtime pal, have no support team and only a handful of sponsors. One of them, Mercury, came aboard to drum up publicity for its more efficient and less-polluting four-stroke engines.

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