Monday, April 29, 2013

Viking Waters

Viking Ship Restored at the Viking Ship Museum
It has been a long time since the Viking culture blessed the blue waters and fjord lands of what is now Scandinavia. From Canada, an airplane brought me over the North Atlantic, through Reykjavik (Iceland), a quick and adventurous stop in Olso (Norway), until I reached a chief trading land of the Atlantic's bearded wayfarers, Copenhagen (Denmark). Though the continuum of culture has changed this water plenty city since the Vikings in the 1100's , the hip and aware population has kept alive a few boats. Making the journey (though much faster) the ancestors would have made, I went to meet them.

Viking Burial in Ship (Viking Ship Museum)
Bow of a ship reconstruction using all traditional tools
Roskilde in the Copenhagen area is both an ancient capital and home of the Danish Viking Ship Museum. Not too far from here, five different size Viking ships were found buried in a line to create a natural block during times of strife between different Vikings groups. From these war, fishing, and trade ships, modern Danish have been able to reconstruct vessels which would have been of top importance, in all possible ways to this Nordic culture of the past.

Cutting a plank
The axe is the most important tool in building Viking ships
The hardwoods of the north were used to make a keel based, symmetrical boat that had clinker (overlapping planks) and ribs. Depending on use, these vessels would vary in width, length and other design elements. With these forest materials and a treasured knowledge of the North Atlantic, the Vikings were able to make boats that would venture round Europe, to the Arctic and west to Canada. They were truly masters of their resources, and forever shaped this part of the world with their boats.

On a cargo ship reconstruction
The Viking longship is the most iconic of these vessels, with dragon heads protruding its curved ends and colorful shields riddling the sides. These ships were used to protect lands and to raid others. They were the vessels of culture and spiritual significance, being used for burials of important figures along with wives and favorite horses.

The Sea Stallion, longship reconstruction
Along with my friend Polly, I spent time with the Viking boat builders and sailors in Roskilde. Showing me the axes and design thinking, as well as sharing stories of sailing in the Atlantic was inspiring. This is the ship of my own Scandinavian genetic heritage, and to see the vessels of the past floating on these waters is a source of identity for the present.


Nyhevn's a canal in downtown Copenhagen

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