the best that Norwegian coastal culture has created
Both Scandinavian and international contemporary sources say that Viking ships had unique qualities when it comes to seaworthiness. No Viking ship reconstructions have fully managed to capture these properties, at least not to the extent that the ships could cross back and forth over large distances and arouse enthusiasm even in hostile chroniclers.
Can the riddle of the Viking ships' superb seaworthiness be solved by Norwegian boat building tradition?
Thousands of ships were built in the Viking Age, but only a few burial ships and shipwrecks have been found. This small sample hardly represents the best of the Viking ship technology. The original vessel material that is found is often fragmentary and poorly preserved. If important details are missing, one is dependent on the archaeologists' interpretation when the pieces of a ship are put together or drawings are made. This can be crucial for the seaworthiness of the ship.
Usually, replica of Viking ships are based on interpretations of archaeological material. We go the opposite way. We are based in a living Norwegian boat building tradition that has existed since the Viking Age. From here we work backward in time to recreate an ocean going Viking ship by using all available sources. This includes:
· Archaeological material
· The Saga literature and other sources from the Old Norse literature.
· Foreign contemporary sources from the Viking Age
· Visual representations of Viking ships
· Old sailing records, purchasing lists, reports, and more.
People from all over the world can be crew members
When the ship is finished it will spend most of the time at sea. The Dragon Harald Fairhair will sail in the wake of the Vikings; from the coast of America to the Black Sea. It will be used to recapture the maritime knowledge of the Vikings, and to disseminate this knowledge further. We will invite people from all countries in the world to apply to be crew members.
No one living today has experience in sailing or rowing Viking ships of this size. Therefore we will spend a lot of time experimenting with sailing, rigging, and rowing.
A Viking warship
The Dragon Harald Fairhair will have the same qualities as the great ships (Norwegian storskipene) of the "leiðangr" - the Norwegian war and defence fleet. According to the old Norse sagas these ships combined the good sailing characteristics of ocean going ships with the ordinary warship's usage of oars.
The Dragon will be what the Sagas call a "25-sesse"/a ship with 25 sections (Norwegian rom), which means a ship with 50 oars. Two men are needed for each oar. We therefore need 100 crew to row the ship, 12 crew to sail it.
The Dragon Harald Fairhair will be the largest ship built in modern times, but many such ships were built in the Viking Age. The old Norse laws say that both the county of Rogaland and the county of Hordaland had to contribute 24 ships at the size of a "25-sesse" when the Norwegian defense fleet, the "leiðangr", was called out.
The leiðangr was a system that organized a coastal fleet with the aim of defense, coerced trade, or aggressive wars. All free men were obliged to take part in or contribute to the leiðangr.
The entire leiðangr was called to arms when invading forces threatened the land.
The leiðangr system was regulated by the laws.
The Norwegian "Law of the Gulating" which dates to the 11th or 12th century require every man to arm himself, at a minimum, with an axe or a sword in addition to spear and shield, and for every rowing bench to have a bow and 24 arrows.
Number and size of ships that the Norwegian counties were obliged to contribute with in the leiðangr:
Vikverjene: 60 ships 20-sesser
Grenere: 1 ship
Egdene: 16 ships 25-sesser
Rygene: 24 ships 25-sesser
Hordene: 24 ships 25-sesser
Sygnene: 16 ships 25-sesser
Firdene: 20 ships 25-sesser
Mørene: 16 ships 25-sesser
Romsdølene: 10 ships 20-sesser
Nordmøringene:20 ships 20-sesser
Trønderne: 80 ships 20-sesser
Namdølene: 9 ships 20-sesser
Håløygene: 13 ships 20-sesser
+ 1 ships 30-sesse
Full mobilization of the leiðangr (= 310 ships) was never implemented.
Read more about the "leiðang" in the Law of Gulating" (only in Norwegian): Utgjerdsbolken i Gulatingsloven
Carving of a fleet with longships. Found in Bergen
Tekst: Marit Synnøve Vea
Foto: Arne-Terje Sæther
The name: Dragon Harald Fairhair
The dragon ship carries the name of King Harald Fairhair, who united Norway. Old skaldic poems describe Harald as a sea-king who flourished better on board his ships than home on his estates.
The ship is built right in the heart of Harald Fairhair's old kingdom, close to Harald's headquarter, the old royal manor Avaldsnes, and here by the strait Karmsund Harald I was buried around 930 A.D. - ”á Haugum við Karmtsund”.
The national monument Haraldshaugen was erected in 1872 during the millennial celebration of Norway’s unification into one kingdom under the rule of King Harald Fairhair. The monument was erected at the site where people believed Harald was buried in 933. (Photo. Terje Andreassen)
The ancient royal manor Avaldsnes (Foto AmS)
Progress of the project:
Autumn 2008 - March 2010.
The studies include examining archaeological material, building small models, building test boats, computer simulation with supercomputers etc.
Creating the Dragon
Start: March 2010
Lying the keel: 12. May 2010
Avbordardram: 13. Okt. 2011
(when all planks,
except one, are finished)
Innvedskål: 10. March 2012
(All the interrior parts
of the ship finished)
Skip taken out of the hall: 16. May 2012
Launching and naming: 5. June 2012
Taming the Dragon:
sailing, rigging, rowing: June- Sept 2012
Testsailing along the
Norwegian coast: May - Oct. 2013
The Dragon conquers oceans:
The assignment to build the ship is given by the businessman Sigurd Aase.
The "25-sesse" ships
"It looks like the medium-sized ships, the skips with "25-rooms" (halft þritugt ship) have been the most suitable and most effective. "(..)
(Prof. Brøgger: In Vikingeskipene, Dreyer, 1950)
According to the sagas it was the ships of the "25-sesse" class that became popular with those who truly had knowledge of ships and their seaworthiness. Some known " 25 sesse" ships:
Olavssuden and Skjeggen
Erling Skakke from Etne, near to Haugesund, built Olavssuden and Skjeggen, both ships of the class "25-sesse". After a battle between Erling’s son king Magnus and his opponent king Sverre in 1179, Sverre captured Olavssuden. The ship then became the largest ship in his fleet and came to play a major role in Sverre’s fleet. The saga tells that Sverre also built several more "25-sesse" ships during the winter 1183 – 84.
King Håkon Håkonson built several ships of the class "25-sesse". One of them he simply called Draken (the Dragon). This ship gained a great reputation as a very seaworthy vessel. When the king sailed it to eastern Norway in 1226, it was known as one of the best sailors in the king's fleet. It sailed away from all the other ships, and also had a reputation as a very beautiful ship.