Skuldelev 5

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Just like Skuldelev 1 and 3 this wreck was part of the first phase of the Skuldelev blockage in the Roskilde Fjord in Eastern Denmark. It was a small warship that by the time of scuttling had been repaired far beyond normal for known wrecks of the period. Both under oars and sail it had been a swift personnel carrier for a crew of about 30 warriors. A replica of the ship - the "Helge Ask" - has been built by the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde.

Constructional features of the Skuldelev 5 ship

At some point the ship had heeled over in the Peberrenden passage after it had been sunk. This is very fortunate because it means that almost the entire port side was preserved. In this way only the sternpost and a little of the planking aft were missing. The keel was T-shaped in section amidships but became more rectangular towards stem and stern. A length of 11.87 m was scarved to intermediate pieces in either end. Forward this was 2.71 m and aft 0.78 m, and they both connected to the main keel by means of vertical scarves making up a total length of 14.92 m. The preserved stempost was V-shaped in section with carved out continuations of the strakes on the sides, as also was the case in Skuldelev 3.

In contrast to the fully oak built Skuldelev 3, this ship's gunwale strake was of ash and parts of the fifth and sixth of pine. The ship had seven strakes in all, the first four of oak. Apart from the third strake which was 36-38 cm wide, all the planks were of equal width of about 30 cm. The planks were very thin: 2-2.5 cm at the centre and 1.5-2 cm at the edges, thus showing the characteristic slightly elliptical section of radially split planks. As reconstructed the first three strakes show very little deadrise for a long stretch, while the seam between third and fourth marks the turn of the bilge. After that the sides continue almost vertically.

The longitudinal reinforcement was mainly made up by two stringers, one near the turn of the bilge on strake 5, and one wide stringer on the top of strake 6. Only about 2 m of the keelson was preserved, but could be reconstructed. The keelson must have covered the mast frame and ended on frames 2 A and 2 F with a total length of 3.7 m. A spectacular feature on this warship was the shield ledge that ran on the outside of the gunwale.

Framing was very regular in Skuldelev 5. The floor timbers resembled the ones in Skuldelev 3 and were thus narrow above the keel, widened as they continued over strake 1 and 2 and narrowed towards the top of strake 3. The regularity was even more obvious because of the long straight hull which means that the cross section of the hull changes little from frame 5 A to 5 F - 10 frame stations of the total number of 17. The bites rested on top of the floors that terminated at the edge of third strake. These had carried a deck of loose floorboards which - as also was the case in the large warship Skuldelev 2 - covered the entire length of the ship. The bite-knees covered fourth strake and terminated under the stringer on the centre of strake five. This stringer carried a cross beam at every frame station whose standing knees were nailed to the wide stringer on sixth strake.

During the excavation it was noted that some of the oarports in the ash gunwale strake had been sealed off with patches of oak, and that some of these were square while others round. The distances between the round oarports were 80 cm, while the square ones were 91 cm apart. This led to the conclusion that this plank had been re-used from an older ship with another spacing between the thwarts and oarports. Later analyses have shown that the pine strakes five and six also had been re-used. Earlier holes from trenail fastenings had been plugged and new ones drilled for this new ship. The ship had been extensively repaired, especially in the bow where even a length of the keel had been replaced.

As reconstructed in drawing Skuldelev 5 is 17.5 m long, 2.5 m in beam, and has a draught of 0.6 m. The area of the single square sail is 46 square metres.

Dating and interpretation of the Skuldelev 5 ship

Dendrochronolgy has shown that the building took place in the years 1030-1050 AD while the extensive repair of the bow dates from the interval 1060-1080 AD. No conclusive evidence of where the ship was built has been reached, but much points to the immediate surroundings of the Skuldelev blockage.

The amount of repair and the frequent re-use of planks in Skuldelev 5 has been interpreted as the ship as an example of a Leidang-ship. In Scandinavia the Leidang was at least from early medieval times the king's naval organisation, based on obligations in kind from farmers and peasants. How far back this organisation reaches is not certain, but the cheap solutions found in this wreck could be a result of services unwillingly rendered.

This small warship had a single square sail rig of which only a small part of the keelson bear witness. Moreover it could be rowed and probably had 26 oars. Trials with the Viking Ship Museums replica "Helge Ask" have shown that the ship is fast and seaworthy as well under sail as rowed. Against a fair wind "Helge Ask" could be rowed with 24 oars at a speed of 4.5 knots. If only 12 rowers were at it, speed dropped to 3.6-4 knots, but in this way very long journeys can be made.

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Text: Otto Uldum
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