Sailing Directions of the North Atlantic Viking Age (from about the year 860 to 1400)
By Soren Thirslund
Journal of Navigation, Vol.50 (1997)
Introduction: As long as man has ventured to go to sea, sailing directions have existed. Man’s survival depended upon knowing the best fishing and hunting places and how to find these were secrets, told only to family or friends.
Later, sailing directions covered areas in the world where trade or new settlements had begun and, as early as 500 years B.C., some of these sailing directions were written down. They covered the Mediterranean Sea and part of western Europe and they were called PERIPLUS meaning ‘sailing around’. They contained almost the same information as sailing directions today, namely: harbours, anchorages, currents, possibilities for fresh water, provisions and other supplies.
In our northern cultures of the viking age, we also had sailing directions. They are remarkable as they covered not only the coasts of Scandinavia and western Europe from North Cape as far into the Mediterranean Sea, but also the whole North Atlantic as far west as Newfoundland. They even give us proof that the Norsemen discovered America half a millennium before Columbus. In fact, Columbus never saw America, whereas the Norsemen even settled there for some time.