The rudder is shaped like an airplane wing.
Viking Sailing new Ideas by Peter Sjolander
Table of contents.
256 Diamond sails
Winterize a Viking ship
I was delighted to learn that a modern Viking ship had
sunk while sailing at ten knots. The skipper said the
ship seemed to trip over it's own bow wake. This was
great news for me because I have held the firm
conviction for many years that we don't know how to rig
and sail a Viking ship. The fact that this ship sunk
meant to me that the skipper might be having those
The Viking rudder started me down the path of my current
theory. The key element about the Viking rudder is
that it is shaped like an airplane wing. This means
that the lift and drag just balance where it is placed
on the ship. This was important because this allowed
me to assume that the Vikings understood the concept of
lift and drag. With this assumption I went looking for
other possible uses of lift in the design of the Viking
rigging. What I came up with I discovered while
paddling my canoe. If you hit the water fast and hard
at a glancing angle with a canoe paddle you can get a
lift imparted from the paddle to the canoe. Of course
with only one paddle in my canoe all I get is the canoe
rocking. However it made me think that if the Vikings
had the oars braced out thru the oar holes at just the
right angle the oars would act just like my paddle.
That is the forward motion of the ship would push up
against the oar paddles and cause the whole ship to lift
out of the water just a little bit. I liked this idea.
My next task was to find some artifact with which to
brace the oars with so as to keep them at just the
right angle. I figured they had to be strong and there
had to be lots of them, that is one for each oar. What
filled the bill was the shields with the holes in the
center. I had never been comfortable with shields with
holes in the center. It had always seemed silly for a
shield to have a hole in the center. However if the
shields were used as oar braces while under sail then
it made perfect sense to
have shields with a hole in the
I saw some Viking shields with holes in the center.
These holes looked the same size as the oar holes. My
theory has these shields with holes in the center being
used as the brace for the oars-as-outrigger.
The thing we have today that will give you some idea of
the force generated by the oars-as-outriggers is a
water ski. A good way to think of the lift generated by
each oar is each oar is like a man out on the end of
the oar lifting with all his might. Since this lift is
leveraged three man's height from the keel it makes a
very effective righting force.
Skipping down the face of a wave.. I have been looking
for additional sources of power for the Viking Ships
for some time. The Sagas said the Vikings could make
their own wind. One possibility of this statement is
that it was a joke about farts. The other possibility is
that the Vikings could make their own wind because
their ships were designed to use other sources of power
on the open sea.
Wave power is a great source of additional power for the
Vikings to use. The up and down motion that causes
people to get sea sick has so much power it can raise a
100,000 pound ship up 20 feet in a mater of seconds.
The trick off course is to design a ship that can make
use of this fantastic source of power. My theory is
that the Vikings figured out a way to turn this
tremendous source of up and down motion into forward
motion. Surfers are one example that we have today of
turning the upward motion of a wave into forward
motion. My theory is that the Vikings used this same
idea, that is they surfed down the face of the waves.
The trick from surfing is to get enough speed so that
the surf board will plane down the face of the wave.
Modern sailing ships under certain conditions surf down
the face of waves. My theory is that the Vikings used
the oars as sailing outriggers to make the ship plane
My theory then uses these same oars as tie down points
for oar sails.
These oar sails function
would be to
catch air on the downward motion and thus cause the ship
to have even less wetted surface. This would further
help the surfing action of the Viking ship. I believe
that in this way the Viking ship could be made to skip
down the face of the wave with only it's oars and keel
touching the water.
Waves have another power in addition to the up and down
motion. This is a current towards the crest of the
wave. It seams that water in a wave has a current
towards the crest. This is due to the nature of waves.
The water circulated down and then up again as a wave
passes by. With ingenious design a ship could also
use this current as a source of power. In general to
use this source of power, the ship needs to be in
contact with the water on the way up the back of the
wave. Then lift out of the water coming down the face
of the wave.
The wind can be made to seem to blow stronger if it is
concentrated. I don't have any ideas how to do that
The size of the sails on the rune stones of Viking ships
seems very small. The mast found with the Oseberg also
seems very short by modern standards.
I have always wondered at the fact that the Viking ship
had no cabin. It is shown as just an open boat. When
the Oseberg was found there were three other boats
found with it. I believe these boats were lashed on
the deck upside down and provided a cabin roof.
A person from Minnesota built a Viking ship just like
the Vikings used, but when he tried to get a Norwegian
captain to sail the ship to Norway the captain said it
needed three changes before he was willing to sail it
to Norway. He said it needed more keel, more ballast and
more mast. From my point of view this was very
important information. This captain told us that we
were missing some very important parts of a safe
sailing ship. He came up with his solutions and now I
am going to tell you other ways to get the same three
effects without changing the design of the Viking ship.
The first problem was not enough keel. My solution to
this problem is the oars as outriggers. This will act
just like extra keel but will not change the design of
the Viking ship keel.
The second problem was not enough ballast. My solution
to this problem is the other three boats found with the
Oseberg. I turn them upside down and lash them to the
deck. They are just the right size for the biggest one
to fit between the mast and the back, the second
biggest to fit between the mast and the front the
smallest would fit on either side on the oar racks.
Another reason for ballast is to keep the ship from
heeling so much, on my design the oars as outriggers
would help this problem also.
The third problem is not enough mast. My solution to
this problem is more and different sail. Let me explain
in detail. One design aspect of the Viking ships
depicted on the rune stones was the cross hatching
marks on the sails. I believe these cross hatching to
be a design element. Each of these cross hatches is a
little self contained sail. The only thing we have
today in the modern world that will give you some idea
of what I am talking about is modern stunt kites.
On the Oseberg was found two cross booms.
On my design I use these two booms mounted one below
the other from the mast to hold four sails.
The sails are mounted in such a way that from the front
the sails look
like two "A"s one inside the other.
The top "A" is tied at the bottom to the neck of the
The lower "A" is tied to the oar holes.
Each one of these four large sails is made up of many
smaller sails that are similar to modern stunt kites.
There is an added advantage to this design.
When there many small sails the
ship can tack very
quickly with just the rudder.
This design also gets rid of a nagging problem which is
that there has never been found where the sails were
This design gets around that problem.
When sailing in bad visibility the smaller ships were
put out in front tied to a long rope.
These smaller sailing ships would be used the way a
blind man uses a cane.
The smallest one would sail out in front.
If this little boat ran into anything it's captain
could make the rope go slack.
The next biggest boat would notice the slack rope and
turn away from the danger.
On the Oseberg was found two round stone grinding
On my design these two stone wheels are gyroscopes and
use for navigation.
The first stone would be free mounted in such a way that
it's center hole would always point at the north star.
The second stone would be free mounted in such a way
that it's center hole would point at the sun.
Even when the sun was on the other side of the earth.
The first stone would be used like a compass always
The second stone would be used to tell both the local
time of day but also the latitude.
The Vikings also keep an Oslo time with a meter stick to
mark the seconds so that with these three devices the
Vikings could know which way was north even with no
They could know latitude by seeing the angle of the sun
They could calculate longitude by the difference
between the local time read from the sun stone and the
Oslo time counted on the watch by the meter stick.
Sunstone an article in Sky & Telescope.
The Viking time keeper
One of the ways that the Vikings could have been such
good navigators is if they had a way to keep time. I
have spent much thought on this issue and have come up
with the conclusion that the pieces would have to be so
simple that we of the modern age would not be able to
tell it was a time keeper.
Following this idea I have devised a person powered time
keeper. It has one basic part, a pendulum. In this
case a stick about as long as my arm from elbow to
finger tip. This pendulum would have a pivot point a
short way down from the top. The power for the swing
would be provided by the person holding the pendulum.
This pendulum would be cut and tested to give a very
regular modern day second.
I tried making this pendulum and within a few hours had
a fair time keeper. I used a metal screw in the bottom
to adjust the length of the swing. I also wrote a ten
line basic program to help me tune the swing to a
second. I will Email this program to anyone who
wants to build a Viking Watch.
The next part of the time keeper I had to devise was the
Second counter. Sixty seconds was the number I was
looking for. I came up with thirty seconds in the
following manner. Lets say the fingers of one hand count
for one each. Then say that the fingers of the other
hand count for one hand of the other hand. Both hand
full gives a count of thirty. For me that was close to
sixty. To get to sixty I added another person to aid in
the time keeping. This person helped the first person by adding an additional thirty to the count.
So now I could time the seconds with a person powered
pendulum. I could count to a sixty second minute with
two people and their twenty fingers. I had yet to
figure the rest of the counting. A clock face would
work. The time keeper would move the hand one minute
each time all four hands got full.
Where did the clock face come from. Or for that matter
where did the modern second come from. Here is my idea.
The Vikings knew that in one year the moon was full
twelve times. Thus any thing that went in a circle
could be divided into twelve parts. The Vikings knew
that the year was divided into 360+ days. Thus anything
that went in a circle could be divided into 360 parts.
In this case there seemed to be a magic connection
between the two ways of counting. That is thirty. Now
thirty is the number you get with your two full hands
when counting fives on one hand and ones on the other.
It is also what you get when you divide 360 by 12.
Now I felt that the Vikings would want a pendulum that
was a convenient size. Something you could attach to
you belt like a sword. I had thought at first that the
length might turn out to be a meter or yard, but it did
not. I also thought that the Viking second would be
gotten by taking 12 times 30 times 30. That seemed like
the most straight forward result. The resulting
pendulum was much too long. About 8 times too long.
That is 8 as in 2 times 2 times 2. Now I had always
wondered about the word second meaning time and the word
second meaning 2nd. And here I was with all these twos.
So I gave each two to a different factor and got 12
times 2 times 30 times 2 times 30 times 2 or 24 * 60 *
60 that we have today.
When I started building time pendulums, my first one
was a meter long. Its period was a second and a half.
Then I built one that was two seconds long, but it was
taller than me. Not easy to carry around. I finally
gave in and built a pendulum a second long. It was a
very convenient size and could be carried on the belt. I
still like the meter long one the best but I couldn't
make the numbers come together.
I read an article in Scientific American written
in 1972. About Viking Trade routes in Europe. One
line in that article has stuck with me. It goes
something like this. "The Vikings moved about the
frozen snow covered lakes and meadows of Europe as
if on the open sea."
Many years latter I was reading about a new sport
of wind surfing on snow. The author claimed he had
never experienced such freedom in the snow. Because
for the first time he had two sources of power
instead of only one. These two sources of power
were wind and gravity. He had always had gravity.
Now my idea is that the Vikings had three sources of
power. Gravity, wind, and reindeer. With their
oars braced out like outriggers, they would be able
to be pulled by reindeer up frozen rivers and snow
covered meadows. Then when the reindeer had
pulled them to the top of a mountain pass they
would have the biggest toboggan in history. They
could steer to a certain extent by weight shift.
Here is what I think the Viking did with their ship for the winter. First in the fall I think they made them have neutral buoyancy
and then let them down a rope to 300 meters of sea water. Then let them hang there over night. This would serve to give the
boats a high salt water content and kill and loosen all critters big and small.
Next they would pull them out of the water and turn them over so as to make a roof over their winter barracks. There are rock
walls, just the right height and shaped like ships, all over scandinavia. And the formations suggest modern military barracks
layout. Often in river deltas.
Next you keep a warm wet fire burning all winter long to keep the wood moist. This would also serve to "smoke" the wood on
the inside of the ship. The outside of the ship may then have been covered with moist salt sand to keep the outside of the ship
moist. And on top of that a nice thick layer of sod to keep the sand from getting blown away.
I have come up with an oar harness that will allow Viking sailors to be more efficient rowers. It will allow a rower to leave his post without taking out his oar. Thus a rower can take a break or change sides of the boat without any danger of his oar fowling other oars. A skipper can move a rower from one side of the ship to the other to balance the total strength of each side of rowers. The oar harness makes a very simple way to use very inexperienced people as rowers and get good work out of them.
The design of the oar harness is as follows. Each oar on a side is lashed to the one in front of it and lashed to the one in back of it. This lashing is very specific. Here is how it is taught. Using two people. One just stands with his arms straight out in front of him. He is two oars. The other person takes a piece of rope as long as he is tall and makes a loop in one end. He then lays this rope over the two arm of his partner. The center of the rope is at the nose of the partner. Now loop the rope around each arm two times. Now tie the two ends of the rope together. The knot should end up right in the center between the two arms. The rope allows the arms to turn and move together. This same technique is used with the oars. The difference is that there are more than two oars. The rope from the third oar is interwoven with the rope from the first oar just like folded hands. This keeps the rope from moving up or down the oar. The purpose of the harness is to keep all the oars moving in unison. Thus an oar with no one tending it will go thru the motions just like it had a rower pulling it. This harness allows all rowers to pull just as hard as they can and still not overtake the person in front or in back of them. Without the oar harness the rowers can only pull as fast as the weakest rower. With the harness the rowers have no limit on how hard they can pull. One very strong rower and two empty oars on one side can be complimented by three weak rowers on the other.
The ends need to be spring loaded in such a way that the oars can move through their normal stroke and feather on the back stroke. The spring I have chosen is the longbow. One for each end. The longbow has about the right weight and pull length for the draw and tightness needed. Two sixty pound longbows will make the oar harness taught and suspend all the oars just above the surface of the water when the oars are left untended.
A pulley would be lashed to the center of the bow string. This pulley would have the rope from the last oar go though it. This pulley is necessary so that the oars may feather while out of the water on the backstroke. The rope from the pulley to the bow string may be of any length. This is determined by where the bow is placed so as not to be in the way of other activity.
This harness may also explain why the Viking oars are so much fatter near the handle than modern oars. The fatness is to make the oars balance right at the oar hole. Using this oar harness a single man may row all the oars of a Viking ship from a spot near the front or back of the ship where the oar handles are near each other. Needless to say the wind would have to be dead calm or it would blow the underpowered boat at it's whim. In the same fashion, any number of men may row at a time. Making the continuous rowing of a Viking ship not such a drudgery as we have always thought. The Viking ship would always look like it was fully maned even when it only had a crew of five or ten.