Skuldelev 3

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This wreck was the best preserved of all five in the blockage in Roskilde Fjord in eastern Denmark. Only the sternpost and the aftermost 3.5 m of planking was missing. Thorough research has been put into this ship, which was the first Skuldelev ship to be reconstructed in detail. Several full-scale replicas of it have been built, most notably the Viking Ship Museum's own, the "Roar Ege". It was a small cargo ship, probably built locally for plying the waters of the Danish sounds and straits.

Constructional features of the Skuldelev 3 ship

The keel was like almost all of this ship built of oak. It was unrabbeted but was flanged amidships for riveting the garboard strakes. Closer to the preserved stem these were fastened with nails. As preserved it was 8.6 m long, but has originally been a little longer. It was connected to the stem with a vertical diagonal scarf and fastened with both trenails and iron nails.

Beautifully preserved in its entirety the stempost had steps for seven strakes. It was V-shaped in section and the plank runs were continued on its sides. The hood ends of the planks had been riveted to the steps.

The planking consisted of eight strakes where the fifth to port was a drop strake and fitted into strake four. To starboard the fourth and fifth shared the same step on the stem post. The strakes were made up by two or three individual planks and the scarves were distinctively distributed so that no strake was scarved close to another. In this way plank lengths from 1.8 to 8.85 m were found. The scarves were as usual for the Skuldelev ships of the smooth diagonal type, with the exemption of a long scarf in seventh strake amidships. The planks are all very thin 2.5-3.5 cm. Plank widths vary according to their position in the hull. The first four strakes were 27-30 cm wide, strake 5 (the dropstrake) was only 25 cm wide and then strake 6 is 36 cm wide amidships. Seventh and eighth (the gunwale) were both 42 cm wide.

The longitudinal reinforcement was very regular in that stringers of almost equal dimensions were fitted on the four upper strakes. These ran in single pieces on the inside top edge of the planks where they were fastened with trenails. The keelson though did not provide much longitudinal reinforcement. The notches cut for the floortimbers were so deep that only 5-7 cm remained over these. It was 3.7 m long and covered the three midship frames while its ends rested on frames 2 A and 2 F. Immediately forward of the mast step the mast support rose 56 cm - cut from a natural grown branch of the log

The framing system was very regular and as reconstructed the ship had 11 frames. In addition to these the stem area had a small bulkhead and within all probability the stern had the rudder frame cut from a single piece of wood. The individual frame stations were made up by a floor timber of the characteristic Nordic shape. Seen from above they were narrow over the keel and widened as they continued over the planking. Seen towards stem or stern they were tall over the keel and flattened as they continued upwards - this tall thin design were more marked towards the stem and stern areas while the floors amidships were more flat. As in all the Skuldelev ships the frame elements were trenailed through the planking and wedged on the inside.

The floor timbers covered the first four strakes and ended halfway up the fifth, where they supported the first stringer, the upper edge of which lay flush with the edge of strake five. This stringer supported the bites, the lower cross beams. Standing knees on the bites in turn supported the second stringer on the inside upper edge of strake 6 on which the upper cross beams rested. This beam amidships was the mast beam and thus of bigger dimensions. Large lodging knees connected it to the planking, and the mast support from the keelson was mortised into it.

Apart from the mast supporting arrangements the Skuldelev 3 ship features quite a few clues to its rigging, and this wreck in particular, combined with ethnographical evidence from Norway, formed the basis of the present knowledge of Viking age and early medieval square sail rigging. These features are mostly found in the eighth strake - the gunwale- in that several holes were cut to accommodate the running and standing rigging. A number of cleats were also found here. Similar arrangements could be found on traditional Norwegian boats, and in this way it was possible to suggest a rig for the replica "Roar Ege" that could be tested by means of sailing trials. "Roar Ege" performs well under the 46 square m sail; with a course 66 degrees to the wind it has made 4.8 knots through water and 2 knots made good (VMG) in a windspeed of 9 m pr. second. This is about the performance of small sailing ships right up to the introduction of engines.

The ship could also be rowed as the presence of seven oarports demonstrates, but these have probably only been used over short distances in case of sudden calm or harbour manoeuvres. In fair weather the "Roar Ege" has been rowed at a speed of only 2 knots over some distance.

Dating and interpretation of the Skuldelev 3 ship

Skuldelev 3 has not yet been dated by dendro-chronology, which makes the dating of the first phase of the blockage the best clue as to the date of the ship. This was constructed in the interval 1070-1090 AD, but by this time the ship was old and had seen a bit of repair.

Having stated that the ship was a small cargo ship that sailed well in the Danish waters, it is still uncertain who owned it. Did the late Viking age farmer produce enough to bring to market ? - and if he did would he be in a position to build a ship and freely sail where he wished ? Recent research has shown that in the 13th century more feudal structures prevailed in Denmark, obliging peasants to transport the Kings goods according to law. Anyway a small community would be able to build, load and sail this vessel with a crew of 4-5 men and a cargo of 4-5 tons.

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Text: Otto Uldum
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