Always keen to offer an authentic visitor experience, the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde is offering courses this month on how to sail one of their reconstructed vessels. 

Although the primary language of tuition will be Danish, basic instructions will also be given in English.

The Viking sailing heritage

The ships in question are the Kraka Fyr and the Skjoldungen, which potential sailors can attempt to tackle on Saturday, September 16. 

Another session takes place on board the Estrid Byrding a week later, on Saturday, September 23.

Participants are introduced to traditional Viking sailing techniques and the unique construction of these ships.

The Viking Ship Museum is built around the five Viking ships uncovered at the nearby Roskilde Fjord in 1962.

The Skuldelev ships were deliberately sunk just north of Roskilde in 1070 in order to block the passage of the Peberrenden waterway and defend against potential invasion. 

Each different in character and purpose, the vessels have given up a wealth of information from several points of view.

Capital of Denmark from the 11th century until 1443, Roskilde was a vital trading center during the Viking era for routes over land and sea. 

Founded by Harald Bluetooth in the 980s, it was made a diocese by King Cnut nearly four decades later.

All five Skuldelev ships are on display in the Viking Ship Hall at the Museum after being excavated, raised, documented, conserved, and pieced together. 

This initiative provides family-friendly entertainment at the boatyard while the team works out in the open.

Over time, this will reveal deeper secrets into how these vessels were built. Reconstruction is expected to last several years. 

The project prioritizes hands-on techniques, not only in terms of shipbuilding but also sewing and other crafts. These are demonstrated by specialists throughout the summer.

Recently, The Viking Herald reported that an expert was using photogrammetry to take multiple overlapping images, which can be processed to generate a 3D scale model of a ship.

From construction to navigation, these Viking replicas at Roskilde harbor embody the Viking Ship Museum's dedication to hands-on historical education. Photo: Attila JANDI / Shutterstock

Learn to sail the Viking way

This month, the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde offers day-long courses teaching participants how to sail a Viking ship on Roskilde Fjord. 

On board the Kraka Fyr, the Skjoldungen, and the Estrid Byrding, participants will learn about jib sails, jib lines, bowlines, and all the other concepts associated with Viking ships.

Kraka Fyr and Skjoldungen are reconstructions of the Skuldelev 6 ship, a fishing and cargo vessel from the Viking Age

Both were built at the Roskilde shipyard, using the same methods, materials, and tools that Norse predecessors would have used, and they represent one of the closest things you can get to how these vessels would have been made 1,000 years ago.

There is room for ten participants and two crew members. Courses start at 10 am and finish around 4 pm, with lunch provided. Prices range from 1,350 to 2,400 Dkr.

The course gives the participants a basic introduction to sailing with the raw sail, which differs significantly from sailing with modern rig types. 

In contrast to Bermuda and gaff sails, the mainsail is placed in front of the mast, for example, and it often requires a lot of getting used to, especially for sailors with experience in more modern ship types. 

The ship's ropes – often in original materials, such as horsehair and linden bast – are presented and explained.

Before departure from the museum harbor, participants receive a short safety instruction, and life jackets will be issued.

Weighing 8 tonnes and stretching 30 meters, the "Havhingsten" is the second ship from the left and a prime example of the Museum's commitment to preserving and showcasing Viking maritime heritage. Photo: Werner Karrasch / Roskilde Viking Ship Museum

Building a Viking ship

This summer, The Viking Herald also reported on how craftsmen worked with oak trees specifically chosen for the purpose of shipbuilding.

Different parts of the ship make distinct demands on the material. 

Some – such as the characteristic prow, the hallmark of a Viking ship – require a large tree, which has been grown in a shape that can accommodate the curved lines.

As construction manager Martin Rodevad Dael explained, "It always takes a little time to find suitable trees in the forest, and it is important to seek out selected trees for felling. They must fit the dimensions and possess top-quality wood."

"Most are what we call flådeeg, trees that were planted at the beginning of the 19th century after the loss of the Danish fleet. They are around 200 years old."

"And when oak trees get that old, they become more vulnerable to rot. We look carefully at their growth, condition, and appearance to find shipbuilding material."

"The saw wasn't used in Viking Age shipbuilding, so the whole process of splitting is absolutely fundamental to our work in reconstructing full-scale Viking ships." 

"To achieve the best results, we must use the same techniques, types of materials, and tools as they did in the Viking Age. That means the trees must be split - first in halves, then in quarters, then in eighths, and so on – just like when you split a layer cake."

Martin's team starts by opening a small crack in the root end of the oak trunk, and then slowly – with bigger and bigger wedges and masses of heavy blows with clubs – they force the crack further into the trunk until the massive trunk splits in two.

Viking Ship Museum, Vindeboder 12, 4000 Roskilde Denmark. Open daily, 10 am-4 pm.

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