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Viking Ship Models


We specialize in Museum quality scale Viking ship scale models built from the Gokstad and other Viking ship plans. We can build to suit a variety of size and budget requirements, depending on the model. Understand the these models are built with an exceptionally level of detail required to keep the models authentic..

Captain Magnus Andersen's replica of the Gokstad ship Viking in New York Harbor in 1893.


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Gokstad Viking Ship Construction Methods Page 4

We have now reviewed the structure of the ship up to the waterline and shall proceed to examine the building of the topsides. The planking here has a different function The purpose is no longer to keep the ship afloat, but to shield the inside of the ship against the waves, and to withstand the pressure of the sea when the ship heels over in the wind. To brace the ship inside, solid knees are placed at each cross-beam, one arm nailed to the upper side of the beam, and the other formed so that it corresponds to the curve of the planking at each rib. To these the strakes above the water-line are riveted. Above the water-line there is no need for the cumbersome construction with cleats and lashings used in the bottom of the ship. In the Gokstad ship the knees extend over four strakes above the cross-beam, but this is a particularly high-boarded vessel, with two more strakes nailed on to the top-ribs above the knees. These top-ribs are nailed to the three strakes immediately below them, one for every other knee. With that the ship was built to its full height.

The first three strakes of the boards are of the same thickness as the strakes below the water-line, i.e. 1" (2.6 cm). Alter them comes the 14th strake, counting from the keel, somewhat thicker, 1 1/4" (3.2 cm), as the oar-holes were placed here, and a stronger plank was called for. The Gokstad ship has 16 pairs of oars, one pair for each space between ribs, except the last space fore and aft. We shall later return to this subject of the oars and the rowing; we shall only mention here that the oar-holes are closed on the inside by small, round shutters with a small hook aft, fitting over a nail in the planking. In the forward end there is a notch in the lower edge, fitting under another nail in the planking, so that the shutter will keep out the water. The shutter is opened by turning it forwards on the supporting nail. Even in this little detail everything is well thought out, practical and convenient. The two top strakes, fastened to the top-ribs, are particularly light, only 7/12" (1.60 cm.) thick, but along the upper edge, inboard, a special, rectangular gunnel has been added, measuring 4 l/4" by 3 3/32 (11 cm. X 8 cm.).

Below the gunnel there is an independent batten with rectangular openings (11 openings for each space between the ribs). Towards the ends of the ship, where the strakes curve sharply upwards, corresponding openings are cut in the gunnel itself. This is the shield rack, which in the old days was also the name for the entire upper strake. As implied by the name, this is where the shields were hung to adorn the side of the ship, a custom which is frequently mentioned in the sagas. When the Gokstad ship was found in the grave-mound it had 32 shields on each side, two for each oar-hole. The shields were hung externally along the gunnel, tied to the shield rack with thin last cords drawn through the handles of the shields. The shields were hung so that each one tall-way overlapped the one aft of it. They were painted yellow and black alternately, forming a continuous row from stem to stern. This corresponds to a stock phrase in the sagas: < Naturally the shields could not hang there when the ship was under way, nor could they serve for defense; they were used solely when the ship was in port, and only for decorative purposes and to indicate rank and honour of the ship. To sail with the shields hung out was at variance with proper conduct, or anyway a most unusual procedure; as we shall see from the sagas when Bjorn, one of the early settlers of Iceland, came into Bjarnarfjord with the shields hung out; and bore the name of Skajaldabjorn (from skjold = shield) ever since.

The shield rack completed the height of the ship. After that, the floor-board were placed over the cross- beams. That part of the knee which is nailed to the cross-beam is slightly narrower than the latter, so that a small ledge is left, serving as a support for the floor-boards. These are thin pine boards, held together on the under surface by narrow strips of oak. All the floor boards are loose, so that the space underneath may be utilized. Nailed fast inboard are three cleats on each side of the stern, for sheets and other cordage front the sails. Finally, there is in the Gokstad ship a rather enigmatic contrivance consisting of three upright hire posts, each with a cross-bar on top and rising 7'8" (2.40 m.) above the floor-boards. One is mid-way between the mast and the bow, one mid-way between the mast and the stern and one right in front of the mast. The latter is fastened to the mast partner, and the two others are supported by an oak block on the keel and two small cleats at the level of the floor-boards. There has been some doubt as to what was the purpose of these posts, but there seems to be general agreement in the present time that they were used For stowing away the oars, sprits and other equipment when the ship was in port. The posts are slightly more than 13' (4 m.) long. The cross bar is 7' 8" (2.40 m.) above the floor-boards, or well over the height of a man. When the ship was in harbor it would be quite essential to life on board that the deck should not be cluttered with 32 large oars and other equipment This problem is nicely and practically solved in the Gokstad ship. In the Oseberg Ship the solution is somewhat different; here the oars were stowed away in four high gaff's fastened to the side of the ship, one on each side.



Finally we come to the rudder, one of the most important parts of the ship, and one which well deserves closer examination. To the modern eye the Gokstad ship is furnished with a very curious arrangement for steering. The rudder itself is shaped like an oversized oar-blade, hanging outside to starboard, aft. It is cut front one piece of oak, 10' 8 3/4" (3.30 m.) high and 16 1/2" (42 cm.) wide, with a slightly out-curving heel at the lower cud. Fundamentally it is thus a very large steering-oar. Originally, the rudder must have been just an oar, held against the side of the ship, as is done in small boats today, but with larger vessels such a rudder gets too heavy for one man to handle and keep in the correct position when the ship is under way. It must have been a very complicated problem to fasten the rudder so that it would cleave the water at a suitable depth, turn on its own axis and resist the pressure of heavy seas. We have seen how imperfectly this was arranged even at the time of the Nydam ship. In the Viking ships a satisfactory solution bas finally been found, the rudder being attached to the last rib aft, which is especially shaped for this purpose.

As mentioned earlier, the last rib is shaped like an upended, thick plank. On the starboard side a wide, solid board extends from this plank, pointing sternwards front the rib and lying against the ship's side, inboard, along the shield rack. The whole thing is made from the trunk of a large oak, and the rib is thus considerably reinforced so that it will withstand the pressure of the rudder against the side of the ship. Next to the gunnel there is, moreover, at this point a heavy plank, about 3 3/4" (10 cm.)thick amid extending over two strakes, with all additional reinforcement where the neck of the rudder rests against tile gunnel. Outboard, the rudder is kept in an upright position by a heavy oak block, rounded at one end and hence called the wart. This is secured by nails driven through the planking and tile rudder rib. Here are also the actual fastenings for the rudder. A hole is made through the rudder, the wart, the planking and the rib, making room for a thick withy, with a knot in the outside end and made fast inboard through three holes in the upper end of the rudder rib. By this device the rudder is held to the side of the ship, while the pliant withy allows the rudder to turn on its vertical axis. The lower part of the rudder may be raised or lowered at will around the horizontal axis formed by the withy. When tile rudder is adjusted properly, the end of the blade goes about 1' 6" (50 cm.) deeper than the keel, and this explains how the ship could be so well steered with such a narrow rudder.

To support the neck of the rudder and keep it in the right position, there is a broad band running through two slits in the gunnel, and tied inboard to the rudder rib. The band itself was not found in the Gokstad ship. It was probably made of rope and has rotted Away. In the Oseberg ship there is a finely braided leather band, and here we can see how this detail was arranged 1a ()It(. CIO of the band was an oval piece of wood, and in the outer end a foot, Shaped like a buttonhole. The band was passed through one of the slits, keeping it firm, the wooden oval preventing the other end front slipping through around the rudder neck, back through the other slit, and then the loop was slipped over a peg inboard. The band secures the rudder neck and keeps it in the right position against the gunnel. At the same time it is so arranged that the rudder neck could be loosened or trade fast quite easily whenever the rudder had to he lowered or raised. This was done by means of a rope, tied to a cramp on the lower aft. end of the blade. This little cramp is still intact on the Gokstad ship. The rudder neck goes up about 20" above the gunnel. Here is the hole for the tiller, a vertical slit made at right angles to the plane of the rudder so that the tiller projects horizontally across the gunnel. The tiller for the Gokstad ship was about 40" (1 m.) long, and the only part of the ship to be furnished with carved ornaments When the ship was found the tiller was not in place, but stood near at hand, leaning against the stern. The floor-board over the rudder rib forms the poop deck, slightly higher than the other parts of the deck. Directly behind the rudder stands the helmsman with the tiller in front of him at a convenient height to be grasped with both hands. The Norwegian newspaperman and seafarer, Captain Magnus Andersen was very favourably impressed with the rudder when he sailed an exact copy of the Gokstad ship across the Atlantic in 1893. He regarded it as nothing short of brilliant for a ship of this type. Without the slightest difficulty a man could stand and steer the ship >, in all kinds of weather and through the roughest seas. The fact that the rudder goes some 18" (50 cm.) deeper than the keel midship has also contributed greatly to the maneuverability of the ship. This too, is probably a result of the old experience with a loose steering oar. It was less important that they had to raise the rudder wheel they were in shallow waters, or when the ship was taken ashore, as it was very simple procedure to loosen the band around the rudder fleck and haul in the rope aft. The rudder was also usually raised when the ship rode at anchor, and in some cases when the sea was so rough that it threatened tear the rudder off. This, however, was not mentioned by Captain Andersen, although he had some very rough weather on his voyage with the viking ship across the Atlantic. Otherwise he is full of interesting information about the rudder. He says that it does not matter whether the rudder is to windward or leeward, except that in the former case the baud around the rudder neck has to he hauled taut. There is some pressure on the rope to the bottom of the rudder blade with the wind is to starboard, while on the other hand the withy to the gunnel is strained when the wind is to port.

The Gokstad ship was interred with the mast stepped, and when the ship was found, the mast projected through the roof of the grave chamber. This part had rotted away. The top of the mast had been cut off and placed on the posts in the stern. The mast is made of pine, 11 5/16" (30 cm.) thick throughout the remaining part. We do not know the height, but according to all old rule the height of the mast should be equal to the girth, -i.e. the circumference of the ship at the widest point. When this is applied to the Gokstad ship we get a mast of some 42' 7" (13 m.), which seems quite reasonable for a vessel of that size. The rigging consisted no doubt only of one large square sail.

This is the last page of 'Viking Ship Construction Methods'.

Happy Winds!




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