Yesterday I got to sail on a Viking ship! One of Denmark’s more famous tourist sites is the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, where 5 different Viking ships from ~1079 AD were brought up from the bottom of Roskildefjord in the 1950’s. As a diehard fan of sailing history, I have been three times.
The first visit, as especially thorough blog visitors may recall, was when my parents were visiting. That time, the museum was unfortunately closed. So what was I to do but climb up on the windows outside the museum to grab some pics of the wrecks the museum rescued from the bottom of Roskildefjord? We still got to walk around the museum docks and boatyard where a lot of boats were tied up for the winter. It turns out that the museum employs a group of boat builders whose job is to recreate Viking longboats using the tools, techniques, and materials that the Vikings had! This means felling trees, making their own nails, cutting timber to size and attaching it all without the use of saws. After 20 years I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.
My next visit occurred when Jeff and I were on our way to Legoland. You can see my earlier post of us running around in Viking garb, but the most exciting part was finally getting to see the wrecks up close! There are five, a large and small longboat, a two trading ships, and one fishing boat (or one trading boat and two fishing boats, I can’t quite remember). Anyway there were two especially significant occurrences that marked this visit:
1. The five boats are named Skuldelev 1, Skuldelev 2, Skuldelv 3, Suldelev 5, Skuldelev 6. Got them all? Skuldelevs 1-2-3-5-and-6. Now, if you just counted those on your fingers starting with the thumb, you noticed that by the time you got to your pinky, you were at number 6 instead of number 5. This is exactly what happened to me when I counted! Where was number 4? I saw no mention of this in the museum anywhere. It doesn’t seem like a museum curator would count incorrectly, does it? Was it stolen? If so, it belongs in a museum, no matter how cool it is. So began the mystery of Skuldelev 4.
2. The other memorable thing is: I learned that from May 1st on, in addition to the price of admission, on the weekends you can pay 80 kroner to take a ride on a Viking longboat! I have wanted to ride on a Viking boat for as long as I can possibly remember. I think it began when I was a kid and my Dad, who lived in the DK for 7 years, told me stories about, and I quote, “super-ultra-turbo-viking-warriors,” a title only achievable by keeping a piece of salt licorice in your mouth for an entire 60 seconds. Then on one of many family trips to Boston when I was in elementary and middle schools, which included visits to the USS Constitution, I saw a replica longboat sailing in the harbor. From that day on, I knew I could not die happy without sailing on a Viking longboat. Needless to say, I had to return to the Viking ship museum.
So it was on Saturday the 11th of May, 2013, my last Saturday in Denmark, I struck out to Roskilde for a third time to fulfill my childhood dream of sailing on a Viking longboat. I was the proud holder of an eclectic mix of clip cards that together would pay for my train ticket to and back to Roskilde, and I caught an early train so that I could be first in line to sign up! To be honest though, my spirits were quite a bit lower than you might think. I was still getting over a pretty bad stomach bug, which I think was due to insufficiently cooked pork. It’s a shame, because I used it in this penne allaluganica sauce that was out of this world, and I had leftovers at home that I had no desire to eat! Anyway, the point is that my stomach was still a little unsettled, and I wasn’t sure how the boat ride would affect it. As it was, rain was forecasted on Sunday and this was my last chance to be a Viking! So I tried to relax on my 25 minute train to Roskilde.
By this time I was intimately familiar with the layout of the city, so I got to the museum with no problem by about 10:15am and purchased a ticket for the 12:00 trip. Since I had my Danish test that Monday, I expected to do some studying….but there were demonstrations going on in the dockyard! There was a blacksmith making nails, more boats were rigged than before, and the main workshop was open. Studying was immediately forgotten. Probably the coolest part was when I got to talk to one worker on the Sea Stallion, the replica of the largest longboat warship Skuldelev 2. I asked him my favorite question, which is: “How did you end up working here?” After some nice chit chat, and me asking jokingly if they hire Americans, he gave me his business card! If I were to apply and get selected for the sole (and competitive) years long apprenticeship, I could become a Viking ship builder! Never say never.
Anyway, at 12 we were rounded up, briefed, and equipped with our super cool, only-inflate-when-you-fall-in life jackets by my boys Tim and Jannes, and hopped into our boat, the Bjørnefjord! We had a ragtag crew of 9 people, one couple in their 30’s that I think was Swedish or Norwegian, a Scottish family of 5, a 40 something woman and her mother, and yours truly, plus skippers Tim and Jannes. I was positioned in the bow, while Scottish dad and ?Swedish? man took up the stroke seats, and we struck out for open water! While our timing would have given my high school crew coach a heart attack, we made it into the bay alive, got the sail up, and were under way!
We then settled in for our leisurely 50 minute tour with Scottish Dad at the rudder while Tim handled the sails, and we were given the opportunity to ask questions about Viking ships. As often happens in these situations, most of the people were pretty quiet, so I took the lead.
How do you steer when the sail is blocking your view?
You get directions from a guy in the front.
Too easy, how about this one- what is the fastest point of sail?
In our boat, it’s with the wind a quarter astern.
Okay, okay, now….which is the fastest boat in the museum harbor?
That depends on sea and wind conditions, but ours is actually a contender, since it is small enough that its hull doesn’t limit its speed. Bjørnefjord can reach up to 14 knots in strong winds.
Excellent, they knew their stuff. I should also mention that the entire trip was conducted in English, much to our benefit, although Tim and Jannes did converse in Danish about what they said were “sailing tactics.” Well, I understand a bit of Danish, and while they may have been talking boats most of the time, I know the words for “lunch break” and “hotdog” when I hear it. In their position, though, I would be thinking about the same thing.
We arrived back safe and sound, and I even got to take down the sail and row us in. As we took off our James Bond life vests and picked up our things, I remembered one more question- What in Thor’s name happened to Skuldelev 4? It turns out that when the ships were first excavated from the bottom of Roskildefjord, Skuldelev 2 (the largest Viking warship) was so big and had so little left (~25%) that they thought it was two ships! Only later was it discovered that it was in fact just the one massive longboat. Adios, skuldelev 4.
Well, after a successful day on the high seas, my stomach was completely settled and I had fulfilled one of my life long dreams! How better to celebrate than with to scoops of licorice ice cream in a waffle cone to enjoy on my walk back to the train station? I even asked for it in Danish. Fortunately, I didn’t need to be a super-ultra-turbo-viking-warrior to enjoy it.