Shipwright’s report – Tim Kirk

12 foot midships model

Since we returned to operations in the Longshed at the beginning of August we have continued training and preparation to begin the actual build of the ship.  Covid has restricted numbers working but we have been able to plank the lower half of the midships model on the port side, using oak from the ‘twisted’ log that we took delivery of in autumn 2019.  Jo Wood, David Turner and Dave Rowley completed the work, including testing two caulking methods – both known to have been used in Anglo-Saxon and Viking period ships. Both methods worked equally well, providing us with something of a conundrum as to which to apply in the ship.

A different team will complete the planking in order to broaden the skill-base within the Ship’s Crew.

The starboard side has been completed in mock-up by Mike Pratt and David Steptoe, using plywood and softwoods.  We are getting on with that so that we can begin the experimental part of the project – investigating the bio-mechanics of rowing the ship. Nothing is known of the internal structure and the rowing positions will have to be derived from various technical procedures.  Jacq Barnard is involving specialists from British Rowing to advise on this aspect of the build.

Oars

We now have one (prototype) oar, made using modern techniques from the ash received last spring from Suffolk Wildlife Trust.  We had to use power tools to shape this oar because the wood had seasoned, and hardened, during the lockdown.   Still, it is a work of art – thank you Simon Charlesworth.  Brian Hunt is constructing a second oar.

Keel and strakes

We have laid a false floor in the Longshed to rest the 12 metre keel log on, in preparation for working it and subsequent cleaving of the garboard strakes (the first planks of the hull).  We will work on the second, curved, log for the stem and stern and keel ends at a new site located at Hoo House Farm (a few miles from Woodbridge).  We have temporary use of a barn similar in size to the Longshed and much of the initial cutting and cleaving of logs will be done there.  We will bring the semi-finished components into to the Longshed for final finishing and assembly.

The supports and false floor ready for the keel log
1:5 model

This model is really important as a source of practical information for the full-size build.  John Cannon and Clive Cartmel have completed battening-out of the planking.  Doing so has raised issues with the layout of the planking – that’s one of the next problems to be solved.  But its much better to identify issues like that now than when we are working on the shipbuild with hefty full-size planks five times as big.

The 1:5 model battened up for planking

Next…

Research continues; very little information exists about Saxon-era anchors and mooring systems.  Vicky Fleming has written a very stimulating research paper on the subject.  Joe Startin continues to lead on our research and has gleaned nuggets of information from the folk at Nydam in Denmark.  I am excited to be writing the dissertation for my degree on the development of the side-rudder, with particular reference of the Sutton Hoo Ship.

The next stages of the build will focus on the conversion of the keel and its extensions (the ‘underlouts’), lofting of the sections of the ship and making the moulds to check the accuracy of the shape as we build.

Many thanks to all those involved and we hope that as we go forward we will again be able to involve more people in the build team. Apologies to anyone whose contribution has not been acknowledged – I really value all the contributions that you make.

Tim Kirk, Shipwright 5:11:20

 

Joe Startin speculates – did the Sutton Hoo ship sail?

Did the Sutton Hoo Ship buried in Mound 1 use a sail?  The conventional wisdom is reflected on the British Museum website. “….it is just not possible to tell if the ship had a mast and was sailed in the open sea, or if it just had oars for rowing along the coast and rivers.”

But the romance of sail is strong.  Edwin Gifford built a half-length replica, Sae Wylfing, to test some of his theories about sailing.  There is a famous (infamous?) picture of her creaming down the Deben taken by Cliff Hoppitt in 1994

Photo of Sae Wylfing on the Deben taken in 1994 (courtesy of Cliff Hoppitt)

Who would want to imagine things otherwise?  It seems unthinkable that the Anglo-Saxons would have been such spoilsports as to forego a mast.

The ‘sailing’ I am thinking of uses a sizeable mast and a big sail.  And it is more than allowing the wind to puff you along from behind.  To be a regular, practical option, you must be able to sail when the wind comes from the side too – you must be able to ‘reach’.There is nothing convincing in the written record to say whether the early Anglo-Saxons were sailing or not, let alone what our particular ship was doing. Scandinavians have plenty of evidence to show that they made brilliant use of sail from about 800CE onwards.  How and when they got to that state is the subject of endless debate.  There is some indication of earlier prowess in pictures carved on standing stones on the Baltic island of Gotland.

Fragment of a standing stone from Gotland

A simple sail, using sheets (ropes) at the corners, starts to appear around 500 or 600, depending on who you believe. The sea-faring kingdom of Dál Riata, covering the NE tip of Ireland, the Inner Hebrides, and the adjacent Scottish coast, was flourishing around 600CE.  Their naval ships were ‘seven benchers’, with two men to each oar.  But they are also said to have had a mast and a single sail as well with 28 rowers.  Alas, Dál Riatans would not have had the slightest contact with East Anglia until Irish missionaries started arriving in the 630s.

There is a strong motivation for merchants to use sail.  If they can turn up somewhere with rare and attractive goods, they might make a killing.  They cannot afford to pay and feed lots of rowers, but they are prepared to hang around waiting for a fair wind.  A shortish, tough, beamy old tub would do for a ship, so long as it could get there.

In the middle of the 6th century, the overland trade route from Byzantium to Scandinavia was interrupted.  Goods went instead via the mouth of the Rhine, and along the coast, through the Wadden Sea, to Jutland and onwards.  The trade grew, becoming dominated by the Frisians.  Emporia (trading settlements) sprouted on the continental side, and had counterparts on the English side too, not least in Ipswich – “England’s oldest  continuously inhabited town” – from about 600CE.

I think sailing would have been around in Raedwald’s time, if only for trade.  And anyway, it would be odd if it had been completely forgotten since the Romans left for good in 410CE.

To be continued…..

Joe Startin