Copenhagen, Denmark Denmark's royal couple watched Saturday as Inuit kayaks escorted a Viking ship scheduled to retrace Leif Eriksson's discovery voyage to North America to its starting point in southern Greenland.
The Arrival of the Islendingur -- the Icelander -- in the tiny village of Brattahlid, 250 miles south of Greenland's capital, Nuuk, kicked off a three-day festival celebrating the 1,000-year anniversary of Eriksson's voyage.
Eleven Inuits in kayaks followed the ship the last few miles up a fjord and rolled their vessels to the thrill of more than 1,000 spectators, including Denmark's Queen Margrethe and her husband, Prince Henrik.
"We welcome you and praise your valor and courage," Iceland's president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson told the nine-man crew upon their arrival in Brattahlid, which normally has a population of 60.
The 75-foot Viking ship left Iceland a month ago from the site where the Viking explorer was believed to have lived before he moved to Brattahlid, the starting point of his historic expedition.
"The journey from Iceland to Greenland made the crew reflect on the great accomplishments that marked sea voyages and discoveries in the Viking Age," said skipper Gunnar Marel Eggertson, who along with the rest of the crew was dressed in traditional Viking clothing.
They'll have five days to rest and gather fresh supplies before beginning their voyage to Canada and New England on Thursday. Their first planned stop in North America was L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, the site of North America's only Viking camp, which was excavated in the 1960s.
"Accept our good wishes and hopes that the old tale of Leif's accomplishments will bring you luck during your remaining journey," Grimsson said.
Tents were set up, and the hotel, hostel and even the fire station in the nearby city of Narssarssuaq completely booked to accommodate the 700 Inuits and 500 foreign guests who have arrived for the festivities.
The Arctic island is a semiautonomous territory that is part of Denmark.
The four-month journey will cover about 3,000 miles and make several stops, including Portsmouth, N.H., Boston and New York, where the ship will mark the Oct. 5 opening of the Smithsonian exhibition "Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga" at the American Museum of Natural History.
Eriksson's landing in North America -- or Vinland the Good, as he named it -- is well recorded in two medieval Icelandic manuscripts, the "Saga of Erik the Red" and the "Saga of Greenlanders."
To re-enact the voyage, skipper Eggertson used Norwegian and Swedish oak and pine to build the ship, a replica of the well-preserved ninth century Gokstad ship discovered in Norway a century ago.
One big difference -- a battleship like Islendingur would have had a crew of 70 in the Viking era, including a double shift of 32 oarsmen for a quick getaway when winds were weak. This time, it will rely on a motor, although the crew said they haven't had to use it yet.
Check out the voyage on the Internet at www.greenland-guide.gl/leif2000.