Ship Happens: The Story of a Man Who Built a Viking Ship by Hand

Posted by GOOD HQ

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In 1974, Moorhead, Minnesota native Robert Asp was a junior high school guidance counselor with a dream.

His dream?

To build a full-scale replica of the Gokstad Viking ship found in Norway in 1881, naturally.

Asp began construction in a potato warehouse in Hawley, Minnesota, which local skeptics soon dubbed the “Hawley Shipyard.” But Asp eventually proved the naysayers wrong, completing The Hjemkomst (Norwegian for “Homecoming”) after six arduous years, in spite of being diagnosed with leukemia. Asp’s original plan was to sail the ship 6,352 nautical miles across the Great Lakes and the North Atlantic to his ancestral home of Norway, but passed away in December of 1980 before he could make the voyage.

The Hjemkomst: Thirty Years Later is an 11-minute documentary short that chronicles the journey Asp’s four children and eight friends embarked on in 1982 in order to fulfill his dream. With little experience or thought given to the danger they were about to face, the twelve brave souls set sail in the handmade boat, embarking on a 74-day voyage that would eventually see them greeted by the King of Norway upon their arrival. 

The film was conceived in 2010, when documentarian Eli Kaufman was a guest filmmaker at the Fargo Film Festival and happened upon The Heritage Hjemkomst Center. He was captivated by the story of the ship, and soon applied for a grant with The Minnesota Historical Society to film the 30th anniversary celebration. With the blessing and participation of the Asp family, Kaufman enlisted the help of fellow filmmaker Alex Gorosh, and together they finally made the project a reality.

In the summer of 2012, the two were on hand to capture the reunion of the ship’s crew members, who re-live their historic journey from the deck of the ship itself (which is housed in the museum), and who are now unanimously thunderstruck by their own audacity and, well, lunacy. Kaufman, the Head of Video Production at GOOD, thought the “crazy ambition of Bob's dream and the power of the collective to make it a reality would resonate with the GOOD community."

The documentary seamlessly weaves together honesty, humor, and drama, and serves as a fitting tribute to Robert Asp, his family, and the Hawley community itself.