My search for 1066 has led me to a wide range of topics, including “what did they eat,” “how did they light fires,” and “what were their homes like.” My latest search is to learn what their ships were like.
The Bayeux tapestry depicts several ships and from what I’ve been able to learn, many of the Normans and English ships of 1066 were not too far from the Viking langskip of earlier times. This ship design had been used for at least three centuries to carry Vikings on their restless quests of new lands and new riches. The ships had broad beams and shallow drafts, with high prows fore and aft. Their hulls were constructed from planks in a clinker style, in which each board was lapped over the one below it and fastened with iron rivets. The shaping of each iron rivet requires up to a hundred hammer strikes, which gives the process its name of klinking. They were powered by sails and oars, wind and brawn. Incredibly well designed, the Norwegians and Danes built them in various sizes and for different purposes.
Perhaps the most famous design was the drekar – large, troop-carrying dragon ships, so called because of the fierce dragon heads mounted on the prows, and because of the fear they invoked in their hit-and-run attacks.
Living here in the desert southwest, a long, long ways from the seas of the world, I don’t expect to experience a Viking longship first hand, not even an exquisitely crafted replica, but I wanted to know more about them. I read articles and watched videos of the building and sailing of the replicas, in particular the Dragon Harald Fairhair, constructed in Norway starting n 2010 (see the YouTube video at https://youtu.be/eQ3u0jjWCkc, a fascinating documentary of the building of this ship). The ship was built by ten men who worked on it over a twenty month period.
My hands-on experience of building a Viking ship would need to be much, much smaller and simpler. I only wanted to be engaged in the process for a few weeks, not months. I went online and found a well-rated plastic model of a drekar made by Revell. This model is a decent scale of the Gokstad, which was a ship found in a burial mound in Norway and from dendrochronological dating, appears to have been built in about 890 AD. In my next blog, I’ll talk about assembling and painting the model.