Crash Course

Skuldeleve #1 was an ocean-going cargo ship, measuring 54 feet with a beam of 15 feet. Loaded with 24 tons of cargo, it had a draft of 4.2 feet. With a crew of 5 to 8 men, this ship could range all over the North Sea, the Baltic and the North Atlantic, achieving an average speed under sail of 5 to 6 knots.

In addition to cleaning, preserving and reassembling all five of the retrieved Skuldelev boats, the shipwrights at the Viking Ship Museum have also constructed replicas, complete with standing and running rigging, that are maintained along the docks surrounding the museum. A few are available for rowing or sailing trips.

As we walked outside to look at the replica of the ocean-going trader, a group of students was in the process of taking one of the several copies of Skuldelev #3, the small trading vessel, out for an excursion in the fjord.

The Viking ships were square-rigged, loose-footed, sailing ships, with their masts set almost exactly amidships. Here’s a side view of Skuldelev #1, the bow is to the left:

These rigs have no boom; they only have an upper yard from which the sail hangs. That’s it in the picture, below, lying across the deck. Skuldelev #1 had an amazing assortment of sheetlines, halyards and adjustable stays that had to be mastered by the crew in order to tack. We were surprised to learn that these ships could beat 60° into the wind.

Viking ships did not have stern-mounted rudders. Instead, they were steered by a paddle lashed to starboard:

As I was examining the tackle at the bow, I glanced up to see the students we had observed further down the dock bearing down on me. It looked like they were going to T-bone the replica of Skuldelev #1 right in front of me!

At the last minute, the guide in the boat turned the boat – in spite of the chaotic paddling of the crew – averting the accident.

A few minutes later and they were safely out in Roskilde Fjord. If you look to the far right, you can see another tourist-manned Viking ship under sail.

They are continuing to make replica Viking boats here in the museum’s shipyard.

It’s a good thing that they have a complete boatyard here at the museum.

Not long ago, another group of students was out for a ride in one of the replicas, skippered by their teacher, who didn’t quite make the turn out of the channel. They slammed head-on into the dock, cracking a number of the planks at the bow, but, fortunately, not sinking.

They must have really been moving in order to do that much damage. I hope the teacher doesn’t conduct the Driver’s Ed class.

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