Five Ships, 1000 Years of History | West Wind Hardwood

“To provide a gathering place where maritime history comes alive through direct experience and our small craft heritage is enjoyed, preserved, and passed along to future generations”

So reads the Mission Statement of The Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle. What a unique idea — or is it? Sharing maritime culture and skills while preserving the history of a local culture is such a great idea that others seem to have had a similar vision.

Segments of this article were written for The Center for Wooden Boats – July 1, 2012.

For the entire article visit:

By Noah S. Seixas, Ph.D., MS – Professor, Env. and Occ. Health Sciences

Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark – September 2004

On the shore of the Roskilde Fjord, about a half-hour train ride from Copenhagen stands the Viking Ship Museum (VSM) – Vikingeskibsmuseet.

VSM was started when the remains of several Viking ships were identified and recovered from the fjord’s bottom in 1962.


Five Ships ~~ 1,000 Years of History

Reconstruction of the long-ship, Sea Stallion from Glendalough (in Danish Havhingsten fra Glendalough),

With a length of 30 m, this is the largest vessel the VSM has built so far.


Around the year 1070, five Viking ships were deliberately sunk at Skuldelev in Roskilde Fjord in order to block the most important fairway and to protect Roskilde from an enemy attack from the sea.  VSM was built with the main purpose of exhibiting the five newly discovered Skuldelev ships; five different types of ships ranging from cargo ships to ships of war.

Inside the VSM – September 2004


In the late 1990s, excavations for the shipyard expansion of the museum uncovered a further 9 ships from the Viking Age and early medieval period. It is the largest discovery of prehistoric ships in Northern Europe and includes the longest Viking warship ever found; the Roskilde 6 at 36 metres. The excavations are not yet completed.

In addition to preserving and documenting these historic crafts, and constructing a museum building to house the remains, the museum also undertook the development of a skills preservation program, embarking on the construction of replicas of the recovered historic craft. In the process, they had to re-create some of the special tools and skills that make the Viking ships unique; in doing so they have acted to preserve their ancient Danish heritage; training apprentices in wooden boat building skills.

Traditional Wooden Boatbuilding Skills in Action (VSM) – September 2004


The VSM also conducts research and educates researchers in the fields of maritime history, marine archaeology and experimental archaeology; running an archaeological laboratory that documents and researches Viking culture and technologies.

Jan and I first visited Denmark, as a couple, in 2004.  We stayed with Jan’s cousins; renewing family ties.  They toured us on the island of Sjælland; home of the Nielsen Family.  For many reasons, we were brought to the City of Roskilde.  Beyond the obvious of visiting the world-renowned Viking Ship Museum, we hoped to view the Roskilde Cathedral; Jan’s parents Ove and Else were married here in 1957.

Old Town Hall, Roskilde – Else and Ove (Parents to Jan and Lars)
Wedding Date June 15, 1957 – Roskilde, Denmark


Roskilde was named the new capital of Denmark by King Harald Bluetooth** around the year 960. ** The same Bluetooth name was given to today’s Bluetooth technology.  The cathedral has been the main burial site for Danish monarchs since the 15th century.

Roskilde Cathedral, Roskilde – September 2004


For so many obvious reasons, the VSM was important to Jan.  And we spent the day here watching modern day people apply their skills and innate understanding of materials and craft processes to the reconstruction of boats and ships.  This was maritime craftsmanship in practice.  The work that is carried out at the boatyard can be seen as existing on two levels. On the one hand, the efforts of the craftsmen have a tangible result: wood is cleaved, cut and shaped, a rope is laid, iron is smelted and forged, wool is spun and woven, and piece by piece, a vessel comes into being. But this work also contains an intangible dimension: the actions carried out by the craftsmen and women echo practice that has continued down through the centuries and represents something essential: an intangible cultural heritage.  The concern here is with the things you cannot put on display in an exhibition case — the traditions, techniques, social customs and languages specific to each culture.

Cousins by Birth; Vikings at Heart – September 2004


Preserving the unique local maritime culture and skills and craft, passing the knowledge down, mentoring younger folk and enjoying the experience of working with wood and travelling by water, sounds a lot like CWB. Sounds like the joie de vivre experienced by the Nielsen clan when wood and water come together.

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