Written by girlfromals on 08 Jul, 2004
It is a beautiful morning along the British coast. The villagers are busy at their chores watching the fog lifting from the water. Then, one of the villagers spots the unmistakable sign of trouble ahead — the dark wooden head of an intricately…Read More
It is a beautiful morning along the British coast. The villagers are busy at their chores watching the fog lifting from the water. Then, one of the villagers spots the unmistakable sign of trouble ahead — the dark wooden head of an intricately carved beast at the head of a warship. This is the end of the 8th century — the Vikings have arrived.
I had a chance to play Viking for a day aboard the Sebbe Als. Built between 1967 and 1969 by the local club using copies of original Viking tools, the Sebbe Als is a copy of the No. 5 ship from the Skulderslev finds at Roskilde Fjord. This ship was a fast Viking warship, a long and slim ship with many oars and a relatively large sail. The Sebbe Als has been around the world acting as ambassador for both Denmark and the club which is located in Augustenborg.
My day aboard ship was organized by the local members of AFS (American Field Services) with whom I went on exchange to Denmark. The plan was to have all the local exchange students sail from the harbour out to the boathouse where our host families were waiting with a picnic lunch. The students, from Canada, the United States, Brazil, New Zealand, and Latvia, hopped on board with ‘the Vikings', i.e. club members and a few members of our host families, minus the Viking costumes. Somehow, these Vikings didn't seem quite so intimidating wearing T-shirts and running shoes!
But these ships definitely instilled fear in those who saw them land on the coast. These dark, sleek, lightning-fast ships with the head of a beast brought terror with them everywhere they went. Well, except the people on shore that day — these were members of our host families taking pictures of us in the boat!
The plan was to unfurl the majestic red-and-white square sail and with a little help from the wind, we would be magically transported across the fjord to the boat house. Well, nature didn't want to co-operate with us that day. There was absolutely no wind whatsoever! The sail just sat there like a bad tablecloth. Even Viking technology fails to work from time to time. So, we had to break out the oars! We rowed both directions and it made me realize that I definitely would not have wanted to be a Viking rowing across the great Atlantic in bad weather! I have no idea where they stored their supplies for long journeys — once we piled onto the boat and took our seats, there wasn't much room for anything extra. Hmmm, come to think of it, there is also no deck below in which to take shelter during bad weather. I definitely prefer the comforts of an airplane for my Atlantic crossings.
After a lot of hard work, we arrived at the boat house to eat our picnic lunch. Much needed nourishment for these hardy Vikings! We had a chance to tour the boat house to see where the Sebbe Als is stored in the winter and where they work on her when she needs repairs. There are also a few Viking artifacts in the boat house, although I didn't see any horn-bearing helmets (another myth). I picked up one of the small swords and almost dropped it right on the ground! This thing was heavy! It was one thing to pick it up and handle it like a tourist but how would a person ever have wielded this thing as a weapon of war, swinging it around fending off the enemy? Clearly I was in desperate need of some weight-training! And this was just a small sword!
Even though the Vikings have a difficult time overcoming the image that they were simply blood-thirsty warriors looking for a good place to invade, they were much more than that. They were farmers, traders, skilled craftspeople, and expert boat builders. The diverse number of traded artifacts found across Scandinavia is a testament to their extensive trading network. Their boats carried them from Russia all the way to North Africa. They settled in Iceland and in Canada. The Canadian Viking settlement is located at L'Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland and Labrador) in the land the Vikings called Vinland. All of this was accomplished with boats like the Sebbe Als. I often wonder what the world would be like now if the Viking settlement in Vinland had been successfully followed by many more along the east coast of North America. The Europeans who ‘discovered' North America would certainly have been surprised to find blonde-haired, blue-eyed descendants of the Vikings!
Denmark is littered with remnants of old Viking settlements and towns; museums are full of Viking items from clothing pins to fancy jewelry, from weapons to boats. Every display and recreation brings the Vikings to life but nothing more so than a trip upon a replica Viking ship. The Sebbe Als sits, waiting to be discovered, in Augustenborg Harbour during the summer months.