Sunday, August 3, 2008

Setting sail for home


Well, that's about it. Tomorrow we head home, after nigh-on three months of an around the world trip.

But we aren't heading home in a Viking longship. However there are a group who, as I write are heading for home in a Viking Longship, the Sea Stallion from Glendalough. And this is about them, as their trip home is going to be (I hope) more interesting, historic (in both senses) and exciting than our trip.

Above: One of the Skuldev ships in Roskilde. Below: The Sea Stallion from Glendalough, from the ship's website, as are the other Sea Stallion photographs.
The Sea Stallion is a completely accurate (as far as is possible) reconstruction of one of the Skuldev blockships recovered in the 1960s and put on show at the Viking ship museum at Roskilde. We saw the original ships at the museum when we were in Denmark, and it was another exceptional highlight to our travels.

What we 'know' of the Vikings is, like much history, very partial. As well as all that raping and pillaging, they were great colonists, navigators and explorers. In addition, they had an amazing oral literary tradition, and as Jim was explaining to us the other night, a political system that has some aspects that pre-figure some of the best of what we hope for today.

We know the original Sea Stallion was built in Dublin, from local wood (which is how we know where it came from - the wonders of dendrochronology). Dublin was a Viking settlement and colony, and the original Sea Stallion must have sailed to Denmark at least once, to have been deliberately scuttled there to protect Roskilde. The recreation, an amazing archaeological and technical achievement, was built in Denmark, and in 2007 was sailed from Roskilde to Dublin. This year, and in fact right now: (Time: 03/08/08. 07:32. State: Under sail. Latitude: 056° 35.4’ N. Longitude: 008° 01.36’ E. Speed: 9.4 knots. Course: 022°) it is being sailed back to Denmark. This, then, is one episode from the Sea Stallion crew's story...


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The North Sea at Last
We have been sailing for more than 24 hours, at first in relatively high sea with a following wind of 16–17 metres/sec. We were prepared for a lot of wind and had taken a reef in from the top of the sail before we left Den Helder. When we came free of the coast, the ship began to turn violently to windward and we took in two more reefs – this time from the bottom. And then it was just full speed for Thybor√łn, where we expect to be late tomorrow morning.
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And once again we are showing how 60 outstanding square-rig crew sail a Viking longship. The ship, rig and crew work as a single unit – from the look-out man at the front to the helmsman at the stern. We have all the life-saving equipment we could dream of – life rafts, life jackets, wet suits, distress buttons, SART, EPIRP, life buoy, safety lines, support vessel. But the most important safety lies in the fact that we are the best to sail the Sea Stallion. If everyone pays attention and acts resolutely on orders from the aft deck, we will get all the way home. If just one member of the crew fails his duty, it could be very serious for us all. It is one week before we are home in Roskilde, we are in the middle of the North Sea, and everyone is at their posts!


Who, then are these modern Vikings?


In our current crew there are all kinds of people from many walks of life, ten different countries, and with nearly half a century separating the youngest and the oldest. One third are women. And there are students, unemployed, self-employed and pensioners. But we have one thing in common: life on board the Sea Stallion.

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At Roskilde, Bev and I found that you can go sailing on one of the smaller ships. We were pressed for time, and the weather was getting worse, so we didn't, but it looked very, well, authentically uncomfortable.
But many of the recreated ships show how much these were the highest technology of their day; weapons of war, transports, communications and, of course status too. They were built by powerful leaders, and held together a maritime empire that is little appreciated today for its size and achievement.


We will return to the Roskilde museum in a later blog, but in the meantime, on one of Bev's regularly checked blogs, there was a visit to a Viking encampment. Sometimes one picture says it all. iHanna calls this 'Viking Age Kiddo' but I see him as Eric the small but fiesty...

(Credit for the Sea Stallion photos and text go to the Sea Stallion website, and Eric the small to iHanna - and do have a look - they are both insights into an almost forgotten world.)

While our trip is almost over, the blog certainly isn't. We will, I'm sure, be continuing to add posts on the things we saw and did and want to share for some months yet.

In the meantime, a big thank you to all those who made our trip as fascinating and great as it was - we couldn't have done it without you. Thanks too to all the readers, we hope you continue to enjoy it, and let us know what you think of it too.

Cheers
James

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