<< Viking ship index Introduction to this viking ship site
by Jørn Olav Løset, Norway

Why make these viking ship pages?

My starting point for making these pages was originally quite modest. I had a small collection of photos of viking ship replicas and got the idea that I could present some of them on the web.

My interest in wooden boats reach back to when I was a kid. At home we always had some kind of vessel which could be rowed, paddled or sailed. By the summer I was 7 my grandfather Ola taught me how to row by myself in a nordfjord færing on the lake in the Bjørkedal valley in northwestern Norway. Later that year I attended the local scout association of Snarøen Sjø were I lived close by Oslo. They were "sea-scouts", with focus on sailing and boat maintenance rather than trekking in the forests. The boats there were open wooden boats ranging from 14 to 20 feet rigged with one mast and usually two sails. They were simple and easy to master, but challenging enough for us kids. At home we also had a 14 feet fibre glass sailing boat for some years. When I was 13 we also built a fibre glass canoe which is still in use from time to time. Eventually my brother also got a 14 feet "Askeladden" sailer, which replaced the older boat. The Askeladd wss sold some years later.
Now I am settled in the Dalsfjord in the northwestern Norway, not far from Bjørkedalen. At the time we have access to a small rowing boat, but I want to step up to a slightly larger boat with sail in a few years. The scenery here is great and the fishing is good almost anywhere, so I really don't need any large vessel. What matters most is just to be on the fjord now and then.

In the 1980-ties a series of full-scale viking ship replicas were built in Bjørkedalen quite close to us. The norwegian adventurer and journalist Ragnar Thorset sailed several of these ships across the Atlantic Ocean. The Skuldelev knarr replica "Saga Siglar" even made it all around the world. I didn't want to miss out the sea launchings of these great ships. The launching of the Gokstad replica "Gaia" in Bjørkedalen was the beginning of my collection of viking ship photos. Later on I witnessed several other launchings, among them another knarr replica named "Borgundknarren". From 1990 and on annual rowing contests were held in Bjørkedalen and later in Nordfjordeid. After taking part in one of these as a crewmember on a viking ship my interest in wooden boats kept growing.

After publishing the first photos of boats on our homepage, I started to search for more information about the vikings and viking ships in particular. I was surprised to see how big the interest for this subject was on foreign websites, especially in Sweden, Denmark, England, Germany and the US. On the other hand only little was to be found on norwegian websites. A good norwegian site with norwegian text which spanned from the stone age log-boats to modern wooden boats simply did not exist at that time. Some good scandinavian sites are made by the norse-dane Arild Hauge and the swedes Ove Långe and Axel Nelson. They have inspired me, but had to start from scratch when I began to write these pages.
However things change and develop in time, so the number of sites about viking ships is increasing. Hopefully this is an indication of more people building and using these fine boats. If people stop to use and build wooden boats, the building tradition and knowledge of practical use will eventually vanish. No website can replace such a loss.

As I read more about the viking ships and their origin I was thrilled by the connection between the boats made two millenniums ago and the wooden boats which still are built in western and northern Norway.Their construction is virtually the same with overlapping strakes, a shallow long keel, sharp stems and sterns and stabilizing crossbeams. The boats have developed in small increments all the time, exept for the introduction of the sail in Scandinavia in the 7th and 8th century. The viking ships were fast and did not need any harbours as they could land on beaches and enter shallow river mouths where enemy ships could not follow.
The sail and keel was the quantum leap which made it possible for the scandinavians to cross the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and raid the coasts of England and continental Europe. Without these ships the viking age as we know it would simply not have occurred, and the forming of nations in northern Europe would have looked significantly different. The english language would have been different today. For instance the city of New York would have had a another name, as York is derived from norse "Jorvik". Maybe Christopher Columbus had a clue about the viking settlements in Vinland - Newfoundland - when he set out to discover America 500 years later? All such changes are hard or impossible to imagine today. By no doubt the viking ships changed european history forever.

Smaller wooden boats are still in use along the western coast of Norway. In Bjørkedalen and some other places the tradition of building these boats is still carried on. Some of my ancestors also made boats for a living, as my great grandfather Per Løset was one of the shipbuilders in Bjørkedalen. His skills had been passed on from father to son for centuries at least from the medieval age. Records of his ancestors there can be traced back to early in the 13th century. These craftsmen did whatever they could to make the most out of the rich pine and birch forests in Bjørkedalen. Building boats was a great way to keep control of the resources all the way from the standing tree in the wood to the finished product.

In our guestbook one vistior mention that the nazis used viking symbols in their propaganda, and that it is now time to take back this part of our heritage. I can't agree more. The viking heritage and norse boat culture belongs to our common scandinavian legacy. No political party or ideology make a claim on this, neither before, now or in the future. I despice racism and narrowminded nationality.
The cruelty of the norse raidings can not be defended today from our ethic values, but must be understood in relation to its time. What mattered then was the right of the stronger. The man in power ruled it all, while the others had to submit themselves. At the bottom were the "trells", which was a class of slaves. Taking part in a successful raid could be a fast way to wealth and power. Today the modern society promote values like tolerance and equality between men regardless of social class, religion and race. But sadly enough, in many parts of the world things haven't really changed much in 1000 years.
The first of the viking raidings from 789 and on can also be interpreted as a direct response from the heathen Scandinavia against the expanding church and powerful kingdoms further south in Europe. Especially the christian
Emperor Charles (fr. Charlemagne) of the Franks (b.742, d. 816) presented a threath to the Northmen as he fought war against the dane king Godfred.The first of the targets selected were monasterys along the shores of England, which were perfect targets if one deliberately wanted to spread fear and rumours about the wild berserkers from the heathen north. This can explain at least some of the shift from peaceful trading connections to the repeatedly violent attacks and colonization which characterize the viking age.

As you may have understood already, these pages have become like a hobby project to me. I'm not a professional in any of the fields presented here. But I try to do my best to collect and present content based on facts and not on romantisized assumptions and wishes. I struggle to doublecheck my sources carefully. I have also realized that I am in a favourable position regarding some of the subjects here, as I know some of the craftsmen which still perform the art of building norse wooden boats in the traditional manner.

To english readers I must apologize for the orthography in the sections with english texting. I'm a native norwegian, so english is a foreign language to me. I don't (yet) have had anybody to read through and correct misspellings here. I also find it hard to translate all the special maritime terms from norwegian to english. Some of the norwegians names for certain boat parts doesen't even have an english equivalent. But I try to "write around" the word to clarify the meaning of the word.
It also takes time to shoot new pictures because the locations are very scattered, in fact all across northern Europe. Because of this I also must ask you to respect my copyright to most of the pictures here. When a picture is shot by another photographer this is stated. Thanks Ottar Bjørkedal for letting me use his images on the page about the long ship "

From now on I expect these pages will grow slower. But I hope you find it worth to revisit them from time to time.

Best regards

Jørn Olav Løset

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Jørn at Hafrsfjord, Stavanger, Norway

Me at a famous viking battlefield memorial at Hafrsfjord in Stavanger, Norway.

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Copyright 2005 Jørn Olav Løset. E-mail: joeolavl @ online.no