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The Viking of the 21st Century

Updated: May 13

Based on our Settlement Era theme for 2024, Icelandic Roots presents a three-part series relating to the journey of Gunnar Marel Eggertsson (IR#I410712) and the replica Viking ship he built in the late 1990s and sailed to North America in commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of Leif Eriksson’s journey.


The first part is a brief description of different Viking Ships used during the Viking Era. One of which Gunnar Marel Eggertsson used as his model for his own Viking ship build, Íslendingur or Icelander. The journey of the Íslendingur to North America in 2000 will be profiled in Part Two. The final part of this series is discovering more about the man, the 21st Century Viking, Gunnar Marel Eggertsson.


There is a vast amount of information online and in print about the ships and the journey of the Íslendingur, much more than could be expressed in this blog series. If you find this short series interesting, we encourage further exploration in person or through various available mediums.

 

Part One: The Viking Ships


Viking ships, unique to the Nordic sea and ocean travelers, were used throughout the Viking Age, 793-1066 CE. An essential element in the life of a Viking these ships were build for exploration, trade, raiding, and relocation.


These boats were built relative to their task, although many were multi-purpose vessels. Whether the journey was short or long, each boat had to withstand the challenging conditions of the seaways. Years of experience and observing the wind, water, and weather patterns, helped to develop the Vikings’ proficient seamanship and engineering resourcefulness. Viking ships were more advanced than many others built during the era.


Knarr Viking Ship
Knarr Viking Ship (Photo Credit: about-history.com)

KNARR  The knarr is a sturdy Norse merchant ship designed to haul cargo and support the trade of the Vikings. Some were deployed for longer sea voyages or the Viking expansion. With its wider hull, it was deeper and shorter than the longship. There were fewer crew mainly due to its size but also because the knarr was more dependent upon sail-power.


Viking Age knarr ships have been discovered in more contemporary times. In 1962, the Skuldelev 1, one of five ships discovered in Denmark, is believed to be from about 1030 AD. They are now exhibited at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark’s national ship museum dedicated to ships of the prehistoric and medieval period. The Äskekärr ship found in Sweden in 1933 is believed to be from about 930 AD.

 

Longship The longships were built long and narrow, and from light-weight wood. It was flexible because of its design and had a multi-use purpose: for trade, commerce, exploration and warfare. Its shallow draft hull was designed for speed and was able to land on beaches. Its lighter weight made portaging the ship easier.


Replica of Viking Longship
Viking Longship replica (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

The uniqueness of the longship was its symmetrical shape known as a double-ended vessel. This allowed the ship to quickly reverse direction without having to turn around, a very convenient feature in narrow passages.


A large crew provided the oar-power. The earlier versions of the longship didn’t have the large rectangular sail until in the later years.


The longships were valued possessions with impressive naval power. In times of conflict, the respective king would assemble his navy by summoning those who owned the longships.

 

Karve Similar to the knarr, the karve is a smaller type of Viking longship. This ship was able to navigate through very shallow water and was often used to follow along the coastlines. They transported people, cargo, or livestock. If required, they were used in war.

 

Gokstad The Gokstad ship is a 9th-century Viking ship that was discovered in 1880 a burial mound at Gokstad in Sandar, Sandefjord, Vestfold, Norway. It is presently displayed at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway.


Gokstad Ship at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway
Gokstad Ship at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway

As a clinker-built ship constructed largely of oak, it was intended for warfare, trade, transportation of people and cargo. The clinker method of building boat hulls was the process of overlapping the planks along their edges. The Vikings were one group of peoples that, in 300 CE, introduced this method of hull construction.[1]


Constructed of different sized planks and attachments to ensure its seaworthiness, this ship had removable decking portions for the loading and securing of cargo. They design also focused on a lighter and more flexible lower decking for maneuverability, in particular during heavy seas.


A crew of forty to seventy men, including thirty-two oarsmen when not under sail, were housed in the longship. Its sail was a large square measuring approximately 110 square metres (1,200 sq ft), which facilitated an estimated speed of over 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph). The mast could be raised and lowered as needed. Steering was conducted by a quarter rudder fastened to a large block of wood attached to the outside of the hull and supported by an extra stout rib.

 

Funeral Boats A Viking burial ceremony at sea was reserved for prominent members of Norse society. The dead were dressed in their finest, adorned with various accoutrements, and surrounded by prized possessions, which could include their horse, or dog, sometimes their thrall (a servant). Dry brush and grass were placed around these possessions and the body to be ignited by a marksman with flaming arrows.  


These funeral boats, sometimes known as a Ladby ship, were smaller than the other ships the Vikings built and were used for this single purpose.

 

Replicas Viking, the very first Viking ship replica, was built by the Rødsverven shipyard in Sandefjord, Norway. In 1893 it sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition.


There are a considerable number of modern reconstructions of Viking Age ships in service around Northern Europe and North America. The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, has been particularly prolific in building accurate reconstructions of archaeological finds in its collection.

Another Viking ship, the Íslendingur or "Icelander", is a replica of the Gokstad Viking ship built by Gunnar Marel Eggertsson, dubbed the 21st Century Viking.

Watch for Part Two: The Íslendingur Journey published in a future Roots News .



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