The Ship They Said Did Not Exist.
By: Gary Anderson
Historians have made fun of, and said it was all myth, the idea that very large Viking Ships were real. Many are still eating there words today, because there is one of those ships. It was found back in 1997, at Roskilde harbor. This was not one of the original finds. The original finds were sunk to make a blockade of the harbor. This very large ship met its fate by sinking, probably from a storm. The Gokstad and Oseberg ships are only about 80 feet long, and the base of the belief that there were no ships longer than that. Finds of Viking ships after that did nothing to change the idea that the 80 - 90 feet length was the largest that Viking ships got. The 1997 find comes in at a 117 feet long. This ship is now called Skuldelev 6.
It may not seem like much, after all its only 37 feet more than the Gokstad and Oseberg ships. The longest of the original Skuldelev ships has a length of 90 feet. Skuldelev 6 is still 27 feet longer than the largest of the original ships at Roskilde harbor. If you have little, or no knowledge, of ships none of this has any impact on you. To help you out, the W.W.II. Destroyer Escort USS Evarts had a length of 289 feet. Fishing Trawlers have a length of about 100 feet. Many personal fishing boats, like Ranger and Lund, have a length of 17 feet. Each 10 feet of boat length makes a big difference in its size. The hold, the area below the deck, of many long ships is so big that it will take everything you have in your house, and it will also take your house disassembled. Now add in your neighbors house too, and it will still have room left over! I hope this gives you an idea of how large normal long ships can be. Ive been in the hold of two Vikings ships, and they are huge.
Most people dont have a lot of knowledge of ship terms. They also dont have a good idea of what makes a fast ship, a versatile ship, or a cargo ship. Ill try to give you some of the important terms, what they mean, and how they apply to Skuldelev 6. Those of you that know ships may still find some of the data of interest.
Width of a ship, at its widest point, is called the Beam. Ships can be Double Ended, or the back end (stern) looks like the front end (bow or stem), as Viking Ships are. The beam, if to big, can slow the ships speed dramatically. There is a relationship between its length and its beam. In checking this relationship out I have found that the ratio of length to width can vary quite a bit on Viking ships. The ratio went from very wide 2.6:1 to and thin, almost knife like, 11:1. What this means is that a 26 foot ship could be 10 feet wide, and a 110 foot ship could also be only 10 feet wide. Actually the ratio 2.6:1 would be more realistic if the ship was 80 long, then the width would be 30 feet wide. Why the beam is so important is this, the wider the ship the more the drag. The more the drag, the slower the ship. Skuldelev 6 is only 11.5 feet wide. Beam drag has been kept to a minimum.
Draft, or depth, is another big factor. Draft is the distance from the water line to bottom of the ship. The more the draft, the more the drag. Draft also limits where you can go. Deep draft may limit the ports you can go to, or rivers you can travel. Having a very flat bottom can open vast new areas to sail to. The flat bottom also gives the ship a larger cargo hold. By adding a keel to the ship deep sea travel is now possible. The draft of Skuldelev 6 is only 3 feet and 1/4 inch, and much less than other Viking ships.
Weight is also very important to the speed of the ship. Big and heavy equals slow. Big and light equals fast. The weight of the ship is the wood hull. Thick wood makes for a heavy ship. You really have only one way to make a wood ship lighter, reduce wood thickness. You can also reduce the thickness of the ribs! The ribs are the things that keep the hull in place. Long ships have had the hull thickness taken down to about 3/4 of one inch! The ribs have been shaved to a point where you wonder if they have any strength left. They did!
Power for any Viking ship is from two sources, sail and ore. Skuldelev 6 is thought to carry 2,150 square feet of sail. She is also thought to have 78 rowing benches! No mater how you figure your power to weight ratio this ship can move.
The data on this ship come down to this:
Length: 117 feet
Width: 11 feet 6 inches
Sail: 2,150 square feet
Launched: About 1025 AD.
Now Named: Skuldelev 6
For all the size of this ship she had a small hold. With a draft of only a little more than 3 feet, and the deck starting at the fifth strake there is little room in the hold. Skuldelev 6 was a war ship, and the hold would be for the weapons, not cargo. The need for support craft on long voyages, to carry food and other supplies, is very evident. She is not a ship to think of when we think of a Dragon Ship. Her shallow draft made her very tipsy in any kind of deep water. Under sail she would have to run with the wind at her back, as her ability to run at any angle to the wind would cause her to tip. In many ways she is a mystery in how she could have been an effective war ship. There are some theories as to how this could be done, but will not be addressed here. Still, there is no doubt that she stands as one of the great ship finds of the Viking age.
Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark
Vikingskipshuset, Oslo, Norway
US Coast Guard
Additional source material listed in Viking Age Club and Society Book References