Saturday 5 January 2008

Viking rowing

I went out in slightly choppy conditions this morning, with a stiffish westerly behind a neap tide. Lots of birds. I surprised myself by a fairly rapid progress from Itchenor to Dell Quay and back.
That statement is probably of no real interest but is there to rectify the impression that I have sitting on the sofa watching TV for the last fortnight.
Tonight it was the BBC's great Timewatch programme, which followed the maiden voyage of the first big Viking ship built in 800 years or something.
The ship, Sea Stallion, is a reproduction of one of the famous Viking ships at the Danish Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde. She is 30m long and has a crew of 60, all of whom can row at the same time but apparently only half the crew would usually row at one time, allowing the other half to rest.
The original ship was built in Dublin in about 1070, according to analysis of the timbers. So the reproduction was sailed and rowed from Denmark to Dublin via Orkney to celebrate.
The oars work in keyholes in the hull, with a rectangular slot for the blade to slide through and a round hole in the middle to hold the loom. The holes are blocked with wooden plugs while sailing, a rather less than watertight arrangement.
The crew rowed with a staccato beat, allowing the boat to glide forwards for a good few seconds between strokes, which looked a bit odd but was presumably easier to keep up for hours at a stretch.
The Sea Stallion was put through a load of tests when stopping at the island of Islay, including comparing upwind performance under sail and oar. Interestingly, she was twice as fast upwind under oar than sail, because of the need to tack.
The other revelation was that they could not row in heavy weather, presumably because of the danger of the handles being pulled out of the rowers' hands by wave action. This meant that when the rudder mounting failed, the ship was helpless and was in danger of broaching.
The BBC has a comprehensive website with lots of video and tracks of the voyage, and the Sea Stallion has her own website as well.

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