Friday, 8 March 2013

The Oseberg ship

Last winter an exact replica of the famous Oseberg ship was built in Tunsberg, Norway. As part of my research for coming books, I visited the building site last spring, and it was extremely interesting to watch the work and talk with shipwrights, woodcarvers and other craftsmen building the ship. The building was done outside a hotel near the harbour in Tunsberg and the site was open to the general public. In the hotel’s lobby women were also weaving cloth for tents and sail.

In the project everything was done the old way, from the making of tools and rivets, the cutting, splitting and trimming of timber, the laying of ropes, to the actual building of the boat. Watching a builder lashing the sideboards or strakes to the framework with straps made of baleen from a Greenland whale was an extraordinary experience. The finely cut straps were heated up in water to 70 degrees Celsius. Having reached the right temperature, the shipwright had but a few minutes to tread and tie up the knot. When the baleen cooled it hardened into a very strong knot, still allowing for some movement and flexibility. The shipwright had one try only; if he messed up the knot, had to cut it loose and find himself a new strap of baleen. I was very impressed indeed by the level of skill the workers in Tunsberg had achieved.

Bottom planks lashed to the frame

On the project's Facebook-page there are several collections of photos form the building process, well worth seeing. On their website they have an illustrated article on how the lashings are made of baleen plates.
In Vikings, the History Channel series ( +Vikings Circle ) Floki, the shipwright, is very proud of his ship. And he is also talking of the bottom planks that he had lashed to the ribs:

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