In Honor of Maritime Day: Across the Sea in an Open Boat

Many people know that Vikings sailed extensively throughout northern Europe (and parts of southern Europe, too) during the Viking Age (roughly AD 793-1066). Viking settlements dating from the tenth century have been found in Greenland and North America.

What many people don’t know is that the Vikings sailed all that way in open boats that measured, on average, less than 100 feet long.  The drakkar (alt: drekar) or dragon-ships are the most famous, but merchant ships, known as knarr, also braved the Atlantic ocean and various northern seas.  Although knarr sometimes had multiple decks (or at least a layer of decking laid over the goods in the hull), most drakkar had no lower decks and all were propelled by a combination of wind power and oarsmen (usually the Viking warriors themselves, sometimes supplemented by slaves).

The average Viking ship could carry approximately 20-50 tons.  By comparison, today’s smallest cargo ships, known as “small handy size,” carry 20,000 tons deadweight.

In honor of maritime day, take a minute and think that one over.  Sailing from Denmark to the United Kingdom, a distance of almost 600 miles, in an open ship 75 feet long – 1/1000th the size of a small modern cargo vessel.  Now ponder the fact that 50 foot waves are common in Atlantic storms, with rogue waves measuring up to 100 feet (and more) – enough to sink the longest of longships.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but that alone is enough to make me glad that despite my Viking heritage, I was born in a century that lets me keep my feet a little more dry.

Have you got a maritime fact to share? Post it in the comments!

2 thoughts on “In Honor of Maritime Day: Across the Sea in an Open Boat

  • September 28, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I know nothing about maritime anything, but it occurs to me while reading this that they would have been really happy to have sunscreen. Thanks for the interesting post.

    • September 28, 2010 at 6:40 pm

      Good point. Probably why they all ended up aging so fast!

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