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- The Drakkar
- Nothing is as symbolic
of the Vikings as the longship or drakkar.
Also called a dragon ship by its enemies, the
drakkar was really a warship designed to carry
fearless Viking warriors on their raids across Europe
over a millennium ago.
- The average
length of a longship was 28 metres. The largest ever excavated
was seventy metres long. Its sixty oarsmen could
swiftly deliver as many as four hundred warriors to a
battlefield along the coast or well inland via a
river. Like most large drakkars, it was owned by a
powerful king. He was the only one who could afford to
build it. In the last days of the Viking Age, three
hundred of these longships were in the Viking fleet
- Like all Viking ships, the longship,
was constructed using the clinker design.
This means it was planked using two centimeter
thick oak boards which were overlapped slightly
and then nailed together with iron nails. The spaces
between the planks were caulked with tarred
wool or animal fur to make the ship watertight.
The planks were also nailed to support-ribbing
that ran from the gunwale to the keel.
The keel, which ran the full length of the ship, was
made of one solid piece of oak. It add stability
and made the ship travel straight through the
water. The longship was very sturdy, and
yet flexible enough to withstand the waves of
stormy seas and light enough to be dragged overland
between two lakes or rivers. The prow, or bow, was
sometimes tipped with a very ornate carving of
a snake or dragon head, thus earning it the nickname
"dragon ship". The prow ornament was
removed while the ship was it sea. Replacing such a
finely carved piece would be expensive and losing it
might be a bad omen.
- Sail and Mast
- The sail of a Viking ship was very expensive
to make, often costing more the rest of the ship
itself. Sail design is often misrepresented in modern
drawings and replicas. Tapestries from
the Viking age show a cross-hatched pattern in the
sail, a result of how it was made. The sails of all Viking sailing ships, were
made of wool from sheep or linen from the flax
plant . Making them was the responsibility of
Viking women. Replacing a broken mast
would not be possible on a raid.
- The Knarr
- While Viking
warriors raided and looted their way across Europe and
parts of Asia, many more of them lived in communities
scattered along the coastline of Norway, Denmark,
Sweden and later Iceland and Greenland. These Vikings
were hunters, farmers, shipbuilders, blacksmiths and
- To sell or trade
their goods, the Vikings used a ship especially
designed for the job. It wasn't long, sleek and built
for speed like the longship. It was shorter, wider and
better suited to carrying cargo such as cattle, wool
and wheat. It was called a "knarr" or cargo
ship. The knarr averaged 16 metres long, 5 metres
wide, and over 2 metres high from keel to gunwale. It
had a deeper draft than the longship and could not
navigate the shoals as well.
- Like the longship, the knarr was
constructed in the clinker method using oak for
the planks and keel. Typical of all Viking ships, the
knarr had one mast with one square wool or linen sail.
The sail was stitched in the typical
cross-hatched pattern. Unlike the drakkar, it was
equipped with only a couple of oars. The knarr's mast
could not be taken down and stored like the
longship's. It was permanently fixed to the
- Uses of the Knarr
- The knarr was used to haul cargo over
long distances. It was well suited for ocean travel
and because it was shorter, it was a better ship in
rougher seas than the drakkar. Lief Erikson and other
Viking explorers used the knarr for their voyages to
If you were to travel on a ship today, you would feel very
safe knowing the captain had the latest in technology to get
you to your destination. His ship would be equipped with a
global positioning system (GPS) to pin point the exact
location of the ship on the globe and a radar to indicate if
other vessels or land were nearby. This technology would work
day and night through all kinds of weather. The Vikings had
none of this type of technology. Yet a thousand years ago,
they were able to navigate the ocean waters off Europe and
sail westward to North America. The Vikings were not only
remarkable ship builders. They were skilled navigators and
Steering a Viking Ship
When the Vikings invaded England, they took their knowledge of
boat building and sailing with them. At the end of the Viking
Age, many of these raiders remained in England, married the
local women and settled down to a new more civilized
lifestyle. Some of the words in the English language comes
from the Norsemen who remained. One of these word is connected
with ships and sailing.
The Vikings steered their ships with a special oar-like rudder
called a "styri". It was attached to the right-hand side of
the ship near the stern as pictured in the image to the left
of the screen. The Vikings called this side of the ship
"stjornbordi" which eventually became known as "starboard".
Today, the word starboard is used to refer to the right side
of all ships.
Whether it was a cargo ship (the knarr) or a longship (the
drakkar), the Vikings followed some simple rules of
navigation. During the day, they sailed within sight of land,
using its familiar landmarks to guide them to their
destination. Rarely did they go beyond the horizon unless
blown off course by a storm. It was on these occasions they
discovered new lands which they eventually settled.
The Vikings were the first real European explorers. From their
Scandinavian homeland, they explored the rivers of western
Russia and Europe and sailed as far south as the Mediterranean
Sea, north Africa and on to what is now Israel. They were also
the first Europeans to travel westward beyond the horizon and
onto North America. Since they were very practical people, the
Vikings based their navigation skills on knowledge gained from
many years of sailing. They knew about prevailing winds and
where these steady winds would take them. They could identify
where they were by the type of seaweed floating on the ocean,
the types of seabirds flying overhead and the presence of
whales and other sea animals. During expeditions that took
them out of sight of land, the Vikings released captured
seabirds and ravens and watched the directions in which they
flew to find land and then followed them. If the seabirds
returned to the ship, it was a sign that land was still far
off. There are also accounts of the Vikings using the colour
of seafloor mud samples raised on sinkers to help them
determine where they were.
Finding Location By Night and By Day
While the Vikings did not develop a way of measuring time as
we do today, they did use the position of the Sun as a
navigational aid. Evidence of a type of sundial, pictured to
the left, is believed to have been used to find their
north/south position more accurately on sunny days.
They used the sun's location above the horizon at sunrise to
determine east, its position at noon to determine north and
south and its location at sunset to determine west sailing
directions. During foggy and cloudy days, they used a special
stone called a "sun stone" to help them locate the sun's
position. This stone, really a calcite mineral called
Icelandic spar, would change colour slightly as it was turned
in the light. A certain colour marked the position of the sun
even through fog and cloud cover.
If, in their explorations for new land, they sailed at night,
the Vikings used the stars to guide them. Their favourite star
was the same one used by explorers centuries later; Polaris,
the North Star. Its position in the night sky helped them to
fix their north/south position on the earth's surface.
The Vikings most reliable method of navigating was the use of
landmarks. These were special shapes of the land like mountain
peaks, fjords and headlands. The Vikings knew that if they
sailed directly west or east from a particular landmark, they
would reach a certain destination. Without knowing it, the
were using the concept of latitude to fix their location north
and south of the equator and guide their east/west journeys.
They used this method of navigation to sail from Norway to
Iceland, from Iceland to Greenland and from Greenland to North
New Navigation Aids
Most of the Viking's navigation problems disappeared late in
the Viking Age. They began using the magnetic compass,
invented by the Chinese and brought to Europe by traders. The
remaining navigation problems were solved long after the
Viking Age when clocks were invented. With ways of tracking
time and the speed of a vessel, determining longitude was now
possible. Combined with positioning by the stars, sailors
could finally determine accurately where they were and not
have to rely on landmarks and sea life to help.
north copied and
enlarged our ship designs.
Frisians have Celtic social traditions and
Germanic language traditions, probably
from being wedged in between two larger ethnic groups.
- The following was submitted via eMail by a
Reader. Very interesting and informative
- Just to let you know that we Frisians claim that the
Vikings to our
- Here's evidence of Frisians that most
don't notice In the 1950's Wham-o
came out with a wonderful toy based on the flying saucer
craze. It was a plastic disk that looked
like a flying saucer. They called it the
Pluto Platter. The name didn't take.
- They noticed that students around
Boston already had fun tossing pie tins from the
Frisbee bakery back and forth. Wham-o changed their
product name to Frisbee and the
rest is history.
- That part is pretty well known. Now to
link another angle, o.k., 2 angles.
- "We" normally think of
North Frisians (split between Denmark and Germany),
East Frisians (Germany), West
Frisians (in North Holland, and the rest of us in
Friesland and Groningen province
(Fryslan and Grinslan in Frisian). There was another
group of Frisians, those who joined their
neighboring Jutes in the invasion
of post Roman Britain. The name Frisbee points back
to a Frisian invader long ago.
Can you imagine a world with Frisbees? Without a
Frisian invasion Wham-o would
be making do with another name like "plastic
toy flying discuses".
- O.K. Second point. The Jute kingdom
in Britain was Kent, that's the only one that
i know of, most of the German kingdoms were Saxon
and a few were Angle/Anglican.
The traditional Netherlandic center for North
America, including Frisians,
is Grand Rapids. G.R. is the county seat of Kent
County. Kent was probably
chosen long before any Netherlanders started
arriving in the late 1840's. A
very appropriate name for an area of Frisian
- Hope you enjoyed the above.
Regards W. Aardsma