Doing Maintenance on a Viking Boat and ‘Fika’

The Viking longship Draken Harald Hårfagre and one of the prototype vessels.

12 May 2017

Göran R Buckhorn writes:

The 115-foot, wooden, clinker-built Viking longship Draken Harald Hårfagre – the largest Viking ship that has sailed in modern times – which I wrote about on HTBS in October last year, is still docked at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. When the ship ended her “Expedition America 2016” on 2 October, after a 23-week voyage of nearly 7,000 nautical miles, which took the boat from Haugesund, Norway, across a rough North Atlantic Ocean to St. Anthony, Newfoundland, Draken found shelter over the winter at the maritime museum, which was founded in the little village of Mystic in 1929.

Now when spring has arrived, at least on the calendar but maybe not weather wise, a small group of volunteers, led by the Swedish crew member Karolina who was on the whole Atlantic voyage, is doing maintenance work aboard the longship. There is also a smaller boat nearby Draken.

When I passed Draken the other day, I noticed this smaller demasted vessel, which has four rowlocks, or thole pins on each side of the gunwale. At first, I thought it might be a so-called færing, a traditional wooden Norwegian open boat, but as a færing has two pairs of oars, and the smaller vessel by Draken had four pairs of oars, so it could not be a færing.

Four pair of oars and the mast, making this not a ‘færing’.

I asked a young woman, who was putting on a coat of dark-coloured, almost tar-like, varnish inside the vessel with a large brush, what kind of vessel it was? She introduced herself as Liz, and was happy to talk about the vessel. It was not a færing obviously, but instead it was a prototype that the shipwrights in Norway had built to see how a construction like that would handle being out on the water. They had built several prototype boats – the first one actually sank – before they started to build the reconstructed full-scaled Draken Harald Hårfagre. The prototype was not aboard the Viking ship on her crossing, but instead on the escort vessel that followed Draken.

Volunteer Pat freshens up the inside of the prototype vessel the Norwegian shipwrights built before they lay the keel of Draken.
Liz and Pat working side by side.

Liz, who otherwise lives in Boston, is working side by side with another volunteer, Pat, who is from Long Island. Both Liz and Pat have previously worked at Mystic Seaport. They read on Draken’s website that the vessel needed volunteers for maintenance work, so there they were, brush in hand and everything. I asked if Liz had any idea how long this prototype was, but she had no idea. Pat, on the other hand, was willing to give it a guess and said 23.5 feet (7.16 metres). Though, a most qualified guess, I thought, Pat himself was not really satisfied. He put down his brush and began measuring up the vessel with his feet: one, two, three, four… up to 26.5 feet (8.07 metres).

When I felt that I had disturbed Liz and Pat enough, I wandered over to Karolina to have a nice chat in our Mother tongue. She was very impressed by what Mystic Seaport has to offer of old American maritime life on a 19-acre area, which, to a Swede, can be best compared to Skansen, an open-air museum in Stockholm which opened in 1891.

The most important treasure chest onboard Draken.

However, Karolina and I had to cut our chat short as it was getting to time for fika for the crew. This traditional Swedish culture phenomena is so important to every Swede wherever he or she is in the world.

A spectacular view of the 115-foot Draken Harald Hårfagre and the 26.5-foot prototype boat from the mainmast from Mystic Seaport’s 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan. Photo courtesy museum rigger Sarah Clement.

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