Oars and Axes

OARS AND AXES – A research trip to see the Gaia ship at Sandefjord, Oslo, Norway by a club member. Michael Bolton-Hall’s trip demystifies some Viking Longship sailing practices. Read his story below. (…Now we at the PHBC will start to build our 32 oars!)

Contact hosts Otte and Svein of the Gaia Gokstadt replica in Sandefjord proved very hospitable indeed during a September visit this year. The Gaia and crew had just completed a 2000Nm. journey taking in France and England. The Gaia Longship undertakes long ocean trips every summer and to see this 23m open vessel accomplish these journeys is impressive indeed. Yes, they have a small auxillery diesel engine but they do sail and carry 32 oars.

The Gaia house/workshop in Sandefjord, built especially to house the vessel in recent years, is full of the oars and floors of the vessel, and I was given access to photograph all aspects of rigging and construction. This was a great opportunity to for me demystify some aspects of Longship practice. My first impression on looking around the workshop was the number of broken oars, and just the number of oars for all vessel sizes. The oars are not built of number one clear-grade timber, as we had thought necessary here in Pyrmont for our Gokstadt replica ‘Jorgen Jorgenson’. -The best timber oars will break anyhow because of the forces involved with such a large oared vessel …so why waste that expensive material?- The Gaia oars are made of knotted pine and are broken and made constantly. The blades are very small, so are managed easily, and having many oars makes light work for each oarsmen to move the vessel.

Have a look at another recent Viking Ship replica build – the Saga Oseberg. Apparently this 20m vessel took two years to build with no power tools. I checked out their workshop – it was wall to wall axes of every shape and size.

My hosts were busy but found time to arrange accommodation for me in a beautifully restored timber and stone house nearby the Gaia House. In the precinct there was also another community workshop of boatbuilders restoring a myriad of vessels moored nearby.

Our next project is the building of 32 oars by volunteer work experience participants in our Pyrmont Heritage Boating Club Community Building programs.

Posted by Michael Bolton-Hall

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