“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. … We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time …”
Last month I moved to Denmark. “Hvorfor kommer du til Danmark?” is the question I am usually asked, “Why did you come to Denmark?”. My reply is simple, “Til sejl et Vikingskib” or to sail a Viking Ship!
Last summer I fell in love, with a ship called the Sea Stallion, well to be honest our history goes even further back. I first set eyes on the 30m (100ft) long warship as it sailed up the River Liffey in 2007 after an epic 7 week voyage from Roskilde in Denmark. I was so envious of the jaded crew, I wanted to be a part of the adventure. As an archaeologist this kind of opportunity means something very special. We spend most of our careers trying to imagine what it would be like to live in the past and experience the smells, sounds and emotions our ancestors had. Were they very different to us? Or is the past merely a foreign land, that we will never fully understand?
The Sea Stallion was constructed at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. You can learn more about the ship if you click on this link:
In July 2015 my dream came true and I had the huge privilege along with over 60 others to sail the Sea Stallion from Denmark to Sweden. The Sea Stallion or “Havhingsten” as it’s known in Denmark (don’t even try to pronounce it!) is the reconstruction of a Viking war ship that was discovered in Roskilde Ford in the 1960s. It was one of 5 Vikings ships that were filled with rocks and intentionally sunk to block a deep section of the fjord known as Skuledev. All 5 ships were meticulously excavated and preserved using unprecedented conservation techniques. The boat was designed specifically to carry up to 80 warriors, it needs a minimum of 60 people to row it, when its 112 m2 square sail is fully rigged it can have reach up to 17 knots. This knowledge about the original ship could only be discovered from building and sailing the Sea Stallion reconstruction which is a living experiment.
The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde was built to house the ships and it attracts the largest amount of visitors outside of Copenhagen. It the past ALIVE, you can sail in the boats, build a boat with authentic Viking axes and adzes, you can watch the black smith forge the nails used to hold the clinker built boats together, or you can observe the carpenter carving or the rope maker spinning rope from seal skin, horse hair and various other natural resources that were available in Viking times.
But what makes this particular Viking ship special? Well the boat it’s based on was actually built near Dublin in the 11th century. After dendrochronological testing the keel of the ship (the spine) was found to be from a huge Irish Oak tree felled in the year 1042. Perhaps my ancestors sailed the boat? Or perhaps the Vikings that sailed it were trying to escape from my ancestors? We can trace my family’s history right back to Brian Ború, the Irish King who fought the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf and sent them “back to where they came from”. In actual fact, many of the Vikings had been living in Ireland for generations at this stage and Dublin probably felt more like home than Scandinavia. Afterall, Norse and Gaelic were spoken on Fishamble and Cooke Street in Dublin on a daily basis.
So, this year we are sailing the Sea Stallion along the coast of Denmark for 3 weeks. The last two weeks of the sailing schedule is ambitious, with a lot of nautical miles, we shall be taking part in a festival called “Kongens Togt” or The King’s Expedition, where we shall be visiting towns in Zealand – Kørsor, Taiping, Kalundborg, Rørvig, Holbæk and Frederikssund – to celebrate the millennium of the Danish King Cnut’s conquest of England. We will be sailing with a fleet of other reconstructed Viking and medieval ships which should be interesting and make for some nice photo opportunities.
For more information on the King’s Cruise: http://www.kongenstogt.dk/in-english/
If you’d like to join me in my journey of learning about the Vikings, Danish culture (you may even pick up a few Danish words along the way), I’ll be keeping a journal of the trip – its ups and downs and I’ll even introduce you to some of the crew that have mastered this Nordic beast of the sea.
We sail from the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde on the 9th of July and return on Sunday the 30th.