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Spring 2004


Commodore’s Bit
AGM & Prize Giving 2003
Annual Club Dinner 2003
AQSC Clothing
Kempton Fireworks 2003
Last Sail of 2003
New Consumer Unit
Open Weekend Notice
Out Comes ‘Aquarius’
Quiz Social 2004
Replacing Things
Sail With the Vikings
Sailing Program 2004
Saint Comes Out
Start of Season Party Note
Valentine’s Dinner, Lyn
Valentine’s Dinner, Mike
Work Party

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What was sailing like in the ships of the Vikings, those bloodthirsty raiders who terrorised the coast of Britain a thousand years ago? On a tour of Denmark last summer we had the chance to find out.

The best place to see Viking ships is at Roskilde, a few miles west of Copenhagen, where a specially built museum houses the remains of five 11th century boats that apparently were sunk at the entrance to the fiord to form a defensive barrier. Two are long and narrow, the warships of the day, but the others are broader with more cargo space, the trading vessels. They have built modern replicas of four of the boats, and are still working on the fifth one, the largest; tests on the wood of the latter show that it was actually built in Dublin, so there are plans to sail the modern version back from Denmark to Ireland.

It is well known that the Vikings made incredible voyages, such as to Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland. Their ships just had one square sail and no drop keel, but experiments have shown that they could sail at 60 degrees to the wind.

The sail was controlled by a sheet to each of the four corners plus one to a point half way along the foot, so it could be braced fairly tautly for beating to windward. Steering was by means of a vertical oar over the starboard side near the stern. It seems strange that they never had more than one mast, and never developed leeboards to improve the performance, but presumably tradition was important in shipbuilding.

The hull would have been made of oak planks, split rather than sawn, overlapping as in clinker construction. Iron was used sparingly, for anchors and some of the nails. Sails were normally wool, or else flax, treated with animal fat. For the rigging they preferred strips of walrus skin, but probably hemp was more common, and rope was also made with horse hair or the fibres of lime trees.

The highlight of our visit was an outing in one of the reconstructions, the Kraka Fyr, a small fishing and cargo vessel built in Norway about 1030; length 12.0m, breadth 2.5m, draught 0.5m, sail area 25 square metres. It has five oars on each side, and fortunately there were enough volunteers among the passengers to row out of harbour against the wind. Once in the middle of the fiord we hoisted sail and enjoyed reaching in about a force 3. Tacking was tricky, and involved backing the leading half of the sail and giving reverse rudder in order to go about, making a sort of 3—point turn. I was allowed to helm for some of the time, and had to get used to a tiller going across the boat. So that you sit behind it and push to go to port and pull for starboard.

At the end of the trip we were able to sail into harbour, so no more rowing was needed. Sadly we were not allowed to go ashore anywhere for a bit of rape and pillage - I don’t think Erik Bloodaxe would have been satisfied with our meal at the local Chinese restaurant at the end of the