The Gokstad was a sturdy Viking ship. It was made to glide through the water. Layers of wood on the side of the ship helped make it water tight. The rudder was technologically evolved. Oar holes were specially designed for the person inside the boat. Storage on the deck was easy because of loose planking. The Gokstad was complicated from stem to stern.
The Gokstad was a burial ship. The main reason it was discovered was because the Vikings were Pagan. Pagans were either cremated or buried with things they would need in the next life. If they were rich enough, their ship would be buried with them.
The Gokstad was built around 900 A.D. and was discovered in Norway in the year 1880. The ship was buried underground. Its contents consisted of the owner of the ship, his livestock and belongings. The ship was complete except for the upper stem and stern which had rotted away and the mast which had been cut to prevent it from protruding through the dirt.
The ship was a little more than 76 feet long, had and a maximum width of 17 feet. The height from the keel to the gunwale amidship was 7 feet. It is estimated that the weight of the hull, fully equipped, was 20 tons. It had a strong mast support and 16 pairs of oars. It was a sturdy ship which was built from a straight oak tree that was at least 80 feet tall.
The ship’s backbone, or keel, was slightly curved so it would be thicker and deeper in the middle, which is where the largest amount of weight would be put. The tapering at the end of the ship allowed it to glide through the water.
Planks that made the bottom and side “skin” of a wooden ship were called strakes. Strakes overlap each other. Where they overlapped was called a clink. A clinker-made ship could have thin planking, while being water tight. Strakes at the bottom of the Gokstad were only 1 inch thick, and slightly tapered at the edges. A groove was cut along the lower edge of each strake and was packed with tarred wool before the planks were nailed together. The tarred wool made the planks water tight. The nails were hammered through the planks from the inside of the ship. In small, tight spaces like the stem and stern, the nails were put in on the outside.
Another feature in the ship was the Rudder. It was a large oar fixed to the side of the stern. The rudder had to be twisted in order to be able to change the direction of the ship. When the ship was beached, the rudder could not be lower than the keel because it would get caught in the sand.
The oar holes on the ship were very clever. The Vikings made the oar holes so you could push the oars through the holes from the inside of the ship. The oar holes could not be big because the oar would bang against the hole and waves would go right through it. They made it so the oar holes had small holes with a diagonal cut that allowed the oar holes to be pushed through.
The planking on the deck was not nailed down for there were no signs of nail holes. Loose planks were convenient for storing cargo beneath the deck. The ship could not carry very heavy items, but could store small objects. Each man could store his weapons under the deck at his rowing position.
Along the gunwale, there is a rack where shields would be put. They were easily available and made a colorful display to deter would be attackers. If the rack was used on the Gokstad, it would cover the oar holes. When they were sailing, there was a chance that the shields could be torn off by a wave. This suggests that if it were ever used, it was only in shallow waters.
When wind filled The Gokstad’s large sail, there was lots of strain on the mast, the stays, and the hull itself. Something strong had to support the mast, which holds the sail. This was the kerling, which was a heavy block of oak that was 12 feet 4 inches long, and 2 feet wide. There was a hole at the top of it to hold the mast from leaning too far forward or backward or leaning side to side. The main job of the Kerling was to use it as a base for the mast fish.
The Mast fish was the largest single piece of wood on the Gokstad. Named after its shape, it was 16 feet 6 inches long, 3 feet 3 inches wide, and 20 inches thick. It lay across four cross beams which have extra support from the kerling. It had an open slit in the top through which the mast could be slid through.
The Gokstad was a clear display of the ingenuity of the Vikings. It was beautifully designed and very complicated. It proved, without a doubt, that the Vikings were “masters of the sea”.
Gunwale: The upper edge of a side of a ship or boat.
Keel: The principal structural member of a ship, running lengthwise along the center line from stem to stern, to which the frames are attached.
Mast: A tall vertical spar that rises from the keel of a sailing vessel to support the sails and rigging.
Stem: The forward part of a ships hull.
Stern: The rear part of a ship or boat.
Rudder: A vertically hinged plate mounted at the stern of a vessel for steering.