VIKING SHIPS AND SEAFARING
By: Maria Metaxenioy/Vestfoldguide | 10 min read
The Viking ships are Norway's most beautiful national treasures and strongest cultural heritage.
Youtube-Video of the launch: Saga Farmann. Photographer: Marius Sagen
Saga Farmann - replica of the viking ship; Klåstadskipet. Photographer image above:: Sissel Ausberg
In this case, hurry up to see the beautiful ships close up. The ships are not only beautiful, they also testify to the Viking's skilled construction art and the impressive knowledge of creating ships as the power to maneuver the weather and winds on all of the world's seas.
It has taken four years to build a copy of the Klåstad ship, referred to as Norway's fourth viking ship. On the opening day of the Tønsberg Viking Festival in 2018, the ship was finally launched. Great festivities at Tønsberg brygge made this a memorable evening for the visitors.
Viking ships may well be Norway's most important cultural treasure and national icon
We are fascinated by the Viking ship. Our great admiration is due to the pride of what our ancestors were able to gain from shipbuilding, but also that the ships in addition to being neat and decorative, they were built in a way that made them ready to maneuver in a seaworthy way sea, yes, on the grandiose and sometimes frantic oceans! Impressive, too, is when you think this was at a time when geography knowledge of the globe was not as extensive as today's. Is the globe flat, what meets us next time we arrive in unknown territory and land?
Viking ships found in Vestfold
To find a Viking ship is rare. The fact that it has been found four Viking ships in Vestfold is a big deal, and puts Norway on the map. That the ships were found some distance from the water is due to the land rising 2 meters since the Viking era. It is 168 years since the first Viking ship was found in the world, and it happened in Sandefjord, Vestfold.
We are going to talk about the history around the finding of these ships, the Oseberg ship. The Gokstad ship, the ship in Skipshaugen at Borre an the Klåstad ship. The world famous ships from Oseberghaugen and Gokstadhaugen was given as burial gifts on the 800s and 900s. Even though the ship from Borre is less known, it is not behind the others when it comes to glory. The three ships tell us about art, craft, believes in death, and political power demonstrations during the time
Leif Erikson discovers America") by Christian Krogh (1893)
We have been following the work of the buildings of Saga Oseberg (replica of Osebergskipet) and Saga Farmann (replica of Klåstadskipet) in the last 10 years. In this connection we have made two articles about the most famous Viking ships, and about the construction of Saga Oseberg and Saga Farmann. The articles have previously been published, but to a limited extent and publishing area.
Now you can read a little about the history of the Viking ships, and about the outstanding work behind the buildings of the replica Saga Oseberg, and Saga Farmann.
Please have a good reading time:
By: Maria Metaxenioy
Imagine standing aboard a ship that’s over 1200 years old, a ship made by hand, with simple tools like an axe and a hand drill. In Tønsberg, this is actually possible. Saga Oseberg isn’t more than six years old, but it’s an exact copy of the more than 1000-year-old Oseberg ship that’s been found in Vestfold. A real Viking ship, so special that it gets publicity from well-known TV-productions all over the world.
The unique sail that is referred to as "The World's Most Beautiful Cruise Sail". The process of making the sail is a process in itself. The wool of the yarn is made from Old Speal Sheep - also known as Viking sheep. Nowadays, sheep graze on 20 of the islands in Færder Nationalpark. Photographer: Ole Harald Flåthen
Building a full scale replica
It’s a little cold and miserable, it’s January outside with a light drizzle – not exactly the ideal weather for sailing. When it’s not in season, Saga Oseberg stands on the pier outside of the House of Culture in Tønsberg, where the reconstruction of the Viking ships takes place all year. So far, three exact copies of Viking Ships found in Vestfold have been made. All by hand, like they did several 1000 years ago.
- We don’t want to just make a copy of the ships, like others do. We do it the exact same way as the Vikings did. No modernisation or improvement. This is important to us in order to understand the history properly, to know how the ships actually worked – and of course, because it’s very interesting, Ole Harald Flåten explains.
Ole Harald Flåten is the main centurion – the skipper in charge on the Båtlag. He took part in the building of Saga Oseberg, and is now taking part in the new Klåstadskipet. There are only three ships in the world that have been built so they can be researched, he explains. These are Roar Ege in Roskilde, a boat from the 600’s, which is in Sweden, and Saga Oseberg I Tønsberg.
A fine piece of modern shiparchaeology. Image above: Saga Oseberg sailing the Vestfold Archipelago. Photographer: Ole Harald Flåthen
Ole Harald Flåthen. Photographer: Erik Winther
The start of the Viking adventure
In the 80’s, a copy of Osebergksipet was made for the first time, which is located on Bygdøy – a Viking ship that didn’t function at sea. The rumour came from an error that was made in the front during the copying, which caused the ship to take in water when it was tested at seas, which lead to it sinking in 30 seconds. The ship therefore got the reputation of being a magnificent ship, not a ship that had been used at seas during the Viking Age. This rumour claimed that Osebergskipets friends were wrong, and thus started a desire to build a proper Viking ship. When it was first mentioned to move Osebergskipet, a 3D-scanning was first performed, which clearly showed where the error had been made.
It had been underground for 1100 years, and a few mistakes were made when putting the ship together.Therefore, two new models were made, and tested in a tank in Trondheim.
The ships were tested with a speed up to 18 knops, and the results could not have been better. The copy (same as the one on Bygdøy) sunk in the tank, while the exact copy moved nicely in the water. This became the beginning of the Viking adventure about Saga Oseberg.
In 2010, the work started, after a lot of planning and research down to every last detail. Every centimetre of the ship had to be exactly the same as the original. Over 100 volunteers, and countless axe blows later, the Viking ship was launched for the first time in 2012. Two years, twelve million Norwegian kroners and several volunteer works was what it took to finish Saga Oseberg.
- Oak and pine are the main materials that were brought from Denmark. Knees and bracings have been found in Norway, and the hull comes from Tønsberg, Ole Harald Flåten explains.
Osebergskipet weighs 8.5 tons, is 21 metres long and five metres wide. A huge ship to handle, but it sails amazingly, centurion Flåten says. Personally he’s taken part in several excursions and longer trips where they’ve sailed to Oslo – and he’s says it’s just as much fun every time.
- When we sail for long trips, the perfect number of men is 15-20. The ship then moves amazingly on the water, and there’s plenty of room to sleep on board. It’s a great experience, being on voyages like these. No matter where we are, we encounter other boats that stop, wave at us and want to take pictures – it’s a real treat.
Before a Viking ship is built, thorough planning is required. Osebergskipet’s friends have a close cooperation with the Viking museums in Roskilde and Oslo, where they’ve been given access to all data and drawings of the ships. Based on these, cardboard models of the ships are made, and that’s the beginning of an incredibly comprehensive and wonderful project.
These reconstructions are so supreme and unique that people have come from both Australia and America to participate in the process. TV- and movie productions from all around the world have also shown their interest. Everything from Travel Channel (will be shown on TV in March this year) to Chinese, Japanese, French and English productions have been in Tønsberg to film the projects.
Strong Tønsberg symbols, the Slottsfjell tower, and Saga Oseberg sailing in to Norway's oldest city . Photographer image above: Ole Harald Flåthen
The Woman Ship
The carvings that can be found on Saga Oseberg are led by Jay Haavik – a Norwegian-American who specialises in woodcarving. No other Viking Ships have been found with as many carvings and great details like Osebergskipet. Very unique and elaborate
– and if there is one mistake in the carvings on the original ship, this gets copied too – nothing is changed.
The carvings on the ship are many. At the front of the boat, there are carvings of humans, and the bottom shows a picture of something that may be the owner of the boat.
Osebergskipet is known as a grave-ship, as it was found with two women buried with the ship.
The theory behind it is that the ship was used by the Freya-Crone for blot – sacrifices, and grøde – fertility. After testing the skeletons of the women, one of them was found to be an 82-year-old woman.
- This is very special, as the life expectancy during this age was 29-32 years old, and we think this was the boss of the ship. She was 150 cm tall, a stoop lady because of a fracture in her back, in addition to male features, such as a deep voice and stubble-growth, because of a disease, Ole Harald Flåten explains.
The Slottsfjell Museum offers an exhibition on the Middle Ages, “The history of Tønsberg city” both in the museum and in the Slottfjell Tower on top of the hill, “Svend Foyn and Tønsberg”, the Whale Hall and its whale skeletons and the Viking Hall with Norway’s four preserved Viking ships and the history of the Oseberg find.
In the middle of Tønsberg, in a beautiful setting at the foot of Slottsfjellet, you will find the museum Slottsfjellsmuseet.
The bottom carving on Saga Oseberg shows prominent breasts and a triangle between the legs, which implies that it’s a woman. In addition, she has a long beard that she’s holding in her hand, which builds the theory that it’s a picture of the old woman, and that she was the boss on board.
- Based on history and findings, we think that the ship was used as a private ship, some sort of limo that she travelled around with and collected reticence, Ole Harald Flåten says.
It’s fascinating that real Viking ship are being built today, and furthermore – how they’re built. The tools are made by professional smiths who create reconstructions from the Viking Age. Axes, scrapes, pattern chisels, picks and drills. Everything is made by hand – even the unique sail.
"The world’s most beautiful square sail", as it’s referred to as, and the method is a process in itself.
The wool for the yarn is made from spælsau – also known as Viking-sheep. These roam freely in the archipelago, and up to Slottsfjell, sheds hair that gets stuck to thickets, which is later picked. Then the process of spinning it to yarn begins, and sowing it into sails.
Outside the culture house in Tønsberg, the reconstruction of the Viking ships was carried out year-round in the period 2010-2012. So far, two exact copies of Viking ships have been build on this building site. All by hand, like they did it 1000 years ago. Gregorius Grim Knockelkatt and Ole Magnus Svanevik helped build a true copy of the Oseberg ship, from December 2010.
Viking Shipyard in Tønsberg. The work on the construction of the Viking ships takes place in the center of Tønsberg, making the place Lindahlplan outside Oseberg Culture House has become an attraction in itself, and very inclusive that the audience can follow the construction day after day. The next project is the construction of the new copy of the Gokstad Ship, the largest Viking ship found in Norway.
- In the Viking Age, the sail was actually the most expensive part of the ship, and in the Gulating law, it says; when the sail is not in use, it is carried to the church to be kept. Therefore, we hang the sail at the top of the cathedral when it’s not being used, we can’t break the law, the Ole Harald Flåten says.
Now that Saga Oseberg is finished, the modern Vikings have started on Gokstadskipet. He took part in the excavation of the Viking Ship himself, which will be the third reconstruction made in Vestfold. During these projects, there are always two to three permanent employees who work daily, and contribute with the professional competence underway. While the volunteers meet up to work two nights a week.
“Even though the Saga Oseberg, wich is an archeological replica of the Oseberg ship, is not manned you are free to get on board to take a closer view on the ship - any time :-).” - Ole Harald Flåten
Outside Osberg's cultural center you will find Saga Osberg when she is not out sailing.
When they’re not building boats, there are a lot of other exciting things happening for Osebergskipet’s friends. Saga Oseberg is booked for several events, and the rowing trips are popular both among tourists, conference groups and school classes. A trip that lasts about two hours becomes a mixture of rowing and history lessons, and of course, everyone on board are dressed as real Vikings.
The fall is the big highlight of the year, because that’s when the Viking festival is hosted in Tønsberg city. Everyone is encouraged to contribute with a bit of Viking inspiration. Haugar is hosting an art exhibition with Viking-inspired art from all around the world, there will be professional conferences, markets, Viking games and other activities. From all over the world there are Viking Ships coming to say hello during the festival.
Experience of a lifetime
With the new project Klåstadskipet underway, there’s a big desire for more members. Ole Harald Flåten tells us that everyone who wants to take part, are more than welcome. Regardless of what the interests might be – the construction, textiles or a desire to take part in rowing trips – all contributions are greatly appreciated. They get together every Tuesday and Saturday evening.
- As a member, you’ll get experiences to last you a lifetime, a community, many amazing expeditions and events. In addition, you’ll be trained in sailing and other fun things, Centurion Flåten encourages.
Because so many takes part in the journey of reconstructing the Viking Ships, even if it’s just to come and watch the construction, a pride and connection amongst the people here in Vestfold is growing.
The dream project
- We have a goal to build all the ships that have been dated with timber and that come from Vestfold. A dream project is a Longship that’s located in Roskilde. This is a war ship that’s 36 metres long, and is a completely different ship than the Viking Ships we’ve made until now, it would be a lot of fun to work with. But to make these projects work, we need more volunteers, finishes the Viking, main centurion, Ole Harald Flåten.
Klåstadskip differs from the other ships as it is
sunk down and recovered on former seabed while the three
Other ships from Oseberg, Gokstad and Skipshaugen are burial gods.