This weekend, families gathered by the harbor of the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde to experience the thrill of ships being launched into the water for the spring season. 

Inside the Viking Ship Hall, soon to be redesigned, original 1,000-year-old Viking ships are beautifully displayed with the fjord as a living backdrop. On the grass outside the hall, replicas of the original Viking ships spend the winter ashore. 

Heave ho! 

With the smell of freshly tarred ropes in the air, volunteer members of the boat guilds gathered to push several crafts into the fjord over the course of the whole day. 

But the one that everyone was waiting for was the great warship, the Sea Stallion from Glendalough, scheduled to enter the water at 1 pm. 

For this, raw muscle power is needed. Forty men stand shoulder to shoulder with their backs to each side of the ship, lifting and pushing the 8,000 kg (over 17,000 pounds) vessel forward. At the same time, they also support the ship so that it does not tip over to one side. 

The world's longest reconstruction of a Viking ship, the 30-meter-long Sea Stallion, was placed on wooden rails to ensure that the men were pushing it in the right direction.

The underside is smeared with beef tallow to give as much slip as possible to ease it all the way down into the water slowly.

Each ship is equipped with ropes and pulleys, which allow for lifting and pulling. Ten people stand ready every second to pull the ship down towards the water when the command sounds. 

As the first part of the ship's bow touches the water, the guild members quickly move to the side to make space for others. Lightly and elegantly, the Sea Stallion glides into the water, while more and more of the guild members gather as they release their grip on the side of the ship. 

The Sea Stallion from Glendalough, the largest reconstruction of a Viking ship ever made, serves as the centerpiece of the annual ship launches at Roskilde. Photo: Werner Karrasch / The Viking Ship Museum

Originals and replicas 

When the last part of the ship slides into the water, the final big splash usually mixes with the sound of cheering. This must have been what it was like 1,000 years ago. 

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

From the 11th century until 1443, Roskilde was the capital of Denmark. During the Viking era, it was a vital trading center for routes over land and sea. 

Founded by Harald Bluetooth in the 980s, it was made a bishopric 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, allowing visitors to observe the process. 

Over time, this endeavor will further unveil the intricate details of how these vessels were constructed, with the reconstruction anticipated to span several years. 

In 2007, the Sea Stallion completed a voyage from Roskilde, north of Scotland, to Dublin and back the following year, then journeyed south through the Channel and crossed the North Sea. Photo: Werner Karrasch / The Viking Ship Museum

Call of the sea 

It's now 20 years since the Sea Stallion from Glendalough first hit the water after being built by experts at the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum. 

After another two summers of training and sea trials, the craft made the perilous journey across the North Sea to Scotland, and then over to Dublin, coming back the following year. 

Of the many who have sailed in her over the last two decades, few have been there the entire journey. One of them is Claus Laage-Thomsen. 

"I never get tired of that fantastic feeling of standing with the right equipment in your hands and then streaking across the water," said Claus, a school teacher by day in Østerbro on a daily basis.

"The Sea Stallion was the highlight for me because it is the largest reconstruction of a Viking ship that has ever been made. It is really exciting to see it sail and feel the history. The original ship sailed across the North Sea 1,000 years ago. It's quite an adventure to help bring that form of archeology back to life." 

The Sea Stallion is a reconstruction of the original longship Skuldelev 2, which is part of the Viking Ship Museum's permanent exhibition. Analyses of the wood-grain pattern show that the nave was built of oak in the Dublin area around 1042. 

Claus' greatest experience on board over the past 20 years was the journey across the North Sea from Roskilde to Dublin in 2007: "Looking straight into a wave that is six meters high or more out in the middle of the Irish Sea… it was wild and fantastic." 

Because of a storm from the Atlantic, the crew on board the Sea Stallion had to wait several days on the Isle of Skye. At one point, it appeared that the storm had passed and the ship continued its journey towards Ireland.

"But when we then sail into the Irish Sea, it turns out that there is quite a lot of wind anyway. Here, the whole crew feels how the ship just lifts up like a cork on the high waves. With the low keel, the Sea Stallion has no problem sticking to the water, as a keelboat might have done." 

Claus was among the many who gathered for the annual launch and is looking forward to another voyage on the majestic ship. 

"I never get tired of the teamwork. Both now, with up to 100 people working together to get the ship in the water and during sailing." 

"You are a large team of 60 people who know the procedures for how the ship should be sailed, and everyone has to their part to play." 

"Everyone helps the boats when rowing, when the sail has to be raised, and when the ship has to go upwind to stay steady in a headwind." 

"The rope running through the hands and the feeling of the big ship turning onto a new course. It still fascinates me so many years later."

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

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