Documenting the Stages in Building a Replica of a Viking Boat from about 1130AD
I have been intending to build a replica Viking boat for some time. Last month I visited Roskilde, in Denmark, where the Viking Boat Museum and Boatyard show off their craft and archaeology. They provide wonderfully well-organised experiences for visitors - from rowing and sailing a Viking Longboat, to building your own model, watching the current boat-building project or marvelling at the displays in their museum. They have a good café too!
I was hosted by Trona Sørensen (curator) and Martin Dael (boatyard foreman) and was permitted to work with Martin and his team on the shaping and trial fitting of the first garboard to the keel of another replica of a ‘Skuldelev-5’ ship. When I asked him which Viking boat he would suggest to build, he suggested a smaller boat and mentioned their Open Source Gislinge Project where they published plans for a fishing boat - 7 metres (23 feet) long. It looks rather like this:
Viking Longboat at Waterford in Ireland (Vadrarfjord is Nordic for Waterford).
So, that’s the essence of the design I’m going to follow, but scaled down to 5 metres (16’ 8”) long. This blog will documents the steps involved, stage by stage, with the most recent posts at the top. These navigation links may help you:
2024 January, winter break.
December, design rethink. November, strongback and keel. October, design and scaling. September, Roskilde visit.
Design Rethink - Wooden Boat Forum suggestions. I was rather at a loss how to proceed so I started this thread on the Wooden Boat forum asking the question “How short can a Viking-style boat be and still have the essence of the Viking look?”. The answer I got was very definite - anything shorter than 20-feet (6-metres) is just going to look ALL WRONG! Oh dear, that was not what I wanted to hear - I haven’t got space for something that big ...
However, the question had triggered some other wonderful advice, photos and videos (like of the ‘Draken’ longboat in a storm off Labrador), which you can read for yourself on the forum. Maybe, it was suggested, I might be better going for a Norse / Nordic boat like the ‘Norlandsbåt’. A member called ‘heimlaga’ pointed me at the website of Ulf Mikalsen, who has ‘how to do’ books on making these boats - see the photo below from his site.
Now, that’s the kind of boat I could make and enjoy using! I’m in the process of tracking down the books, so everything else is on hold till we have mulled about this over the New Year. Happy ‘Up-Helly-Aa’ (Viking Festival) to you all ;-)
Building the Strongback and Making the Keel. I started this work and then had doubts about whether a 17-foot (5-metre) long Viking boat would just look like a ‘tubby pretender’. Having set the strongback to the Gislinge keel profile I then laminated two pieces of stock (fixed to that profile before glueing). It looks OK, but I stopped further work at this point.
Designing a scaled-down version of the Gislinge boat: As you probably realise, scaling down plans for a boat is not just a matter of shrinking all the dimensions by the same amount in all directions. For example a 20-metre long by 4-metre wide boat reduced to 5-metres long would only be one metre wide - hardly practical! Instead, some design brainwork has to be applied. Here’s a sketch plan of the 7-metre Gislinge boat from the Roskilde open-source data (click to see a higher-resolution picture) where I have started making notes about sizes and proportions:
Dimensions and Proportions to Consider: Certain dimensions will be fixed, eg:
- The fact that I want this to be a boat rowed by two people sitting one behind the other means that the width has to be between about 1.45 to 1.65 metres. I’ve chosen 1.4 metres (55 inches) wide which gives a width scaling of 0.875. There is a formula for working out boat width, oar-length, thwart (seat) height - which I will find and add later.
- I’ve decided to limit the length of my boat to just over 5-metres (17-foot), so that’s a length scaling of 0.65.
- The length-to-width ratio will therefore be about 3.65. That’s rather stubby - which may mean a re-think! The original Gislinge had a ratio of 4.65 - and most of the working Viking boats (as opposed to the warship longboats) had ratios of between 4 and 5.
- The Gislinge has the ‘teardrop’ stem and stern profile in plan view. That’s hard to squeeze into a small boat to get it to look right. Also, the central area where the rowers sit (between the for small circles on the sketch above) must stay wide enough for both rowers to be comfortable - taking up at least 2-metres of the length of my boat.
- Lastly, the height scaling. They look to be about 0.8. The sheer (top edge of the boat), needs to be about 0.5 metres (20-inches) above the water.
You can see that the design has some tough circles to square! More later.
Visit to the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum and Boatyard: In September I was able to visit the boatyard of the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark. Thanks to the generous and hospitable hosting by Tríona Sørensen (curator) and Martin Dael (boatyard foreman), and with the permission of Søren Nielsen (Head of Boatyard and Boat Collection), I was given free run of the Museum and the Boatyard. A great privilege!
Getting There: Roskilde is just a half-hour train ride direct from Copenhagen international airport. A bus, the 203, then takes you from the station in Roskilde to the boatyard - 15 minutes away. I stayed in the ‘DanHostel’ which is right by the yard - I highly recommend it - and there are number of excellent restaurants nearby in walking distance.
Reason for Going: My main reason for visiting was that I wanted to see how the T-shaped keel was made on Viking ships and to understand better how the garboard (the lowest plank by the keel) was shaped and fixed to it. My timing was perfect (purely by chance), as that was exactly what Martin and his team were working on at that moment. Thanks must also go to Pernille Rosendal, shipwright, and to apprentice Oskar who patiently answered my questions and agreed to being filmed and photographed working (those will come later).
The Boatyard: The boatyard and visitor experience centre are in the same area. The working area is roped off, but the rest is open access (once you have bought a ticket). As well as a café, you can see ropes being made, row a viking longboat, make your own model and climb on and off the ships in their boat collection. There is also a ‘Going Viking’ play area, supplied with wooden swords and shields and a tog-or-war rope! Note: The word ‘viking’ is not the people but what they do - ‘viking’ means raiding - but it has been mis-used so long that it probably doesn’t matter. Also, they didn’t have horned helmets - that’s also a Hollywood myth, but hey!
Here’s a photo of the view northwards from the boatyard working area (the structure on the right is the stern post ‘wing’ attached to two garboards of the Skuldelev-5 ship replica that they are building over the next year or so).
[As at 10 Dec 2023]