The ships of the Vikings were lighter, slimmer and faster than the heavier boats used by the English and French of their times. The earliest boats were about twenty meters long and had stitched planks in the clinker style. There were more than 20 paddlers. Most of the ribs and cleats were sewn or lashed. Later clinker boats were fastened with iron rivets, propelled by oars instead of paddles and had a single side rudder replacing the earlier steering oar.
Some Viking ships may had had sails by about AD 473. But in Gotland they were still using rowing boats up to the 7th Century. The Oseberg ship, from around AD 820, was 21.5 meters long, 5.1 meters wide and had a mast mounted on a keelson just forward of midships. The use of sails caused a design rethink among Viking shipbuilders. The Viking sailing ship became broader, deeper, with high stems. The keelson was also lengthened, sometimes to four frames, to carry the stress of the sail on the mast. Oarports are placed in the second strake to accommodate the deeper hulls.
Cargo ships started to be used in the growing trade of iron, soapstone and whetstones around the end of the 10th Century. Viking sailing ships that made voyages out into the Atlantic Ocean were called "knarr". They were about 16 meters in length, 4.5 meters wide and 2 meters deep. They had a cargo capacity of about 24 tons. These knarrs had broad prows, were strongly constructed and had a high freeboard by the 11th Century. Viking shipbuilders made planks not by sawing, but by splitting tree trunks. Frames, stems and ribs were made from naturally bent bits of wood. The keels and stems were laid first, the hull planks were built up one by one. When the sides were at a suitable height, frames, bites and cross-beams were constructed.
The first Viking raids were reported on the British Isles around the 8th Century. They raided places like Lindisfarne, Skye, Iona, Portland and Kent. Charlemagne defended north of the Seine estuary against the Viking raiders in the early parts of the 9th Century. The Vikings were highly skilled ship-builders and produced some of the best ships that ever sailed on the ocean. They wrote poems about their ships and carved pictures of them on stone. The Viking warships and trading vessels allowed them to raid Western European settlements and participate in trade and colonisation or emmigration. Vikings were very skillful navigators and could sail out of sight of land and still maintain their course by reading the weather elements, the flights of birds and whale sightings.
Source: "Ships and Seamanship" by Jan Bill.
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