This month, we have completed the conversion of the first log received from the National Trust at Blickling Hall (near Norwich in Norfolk) into planking for the ship.
Each section cleaved from the log (there were twelve useable sections in all) has been hewn down to 1”/25mm thickness and then shaped to the required profile with the aid of a plywood pattern generated from the existing planking on the ship. The Saxons would not have done it this way as I’ve not yet seen any evidence of Anglo-Saxon plywood! but we are trying to replicate the lines of the plank runs as closely as possible to the original and so this is an expedient way for volunteers to capture the subtle curves of the planking.
As we begin to plank higher up the ship, we are noticing that some of the planking has an increased amount of curvature. This means that we either require a wider board to get the planking out of, or we need to put in shorter lengths to work with the widths available.
We had planned to cleave two more logs that are currently situated at Sutton Hoo, but the cold sleety weather in the middle of the month and an inaccurate weather forecast later prevented us from doing this.
This cleaving is now scheduled for 18 & 19 of April and will give visitors to Sutton Hoo an idea of what might have been going on locally in the area some fourteen centuries ago, as well as raise our profile to a wider audience.
We have also been oar-making or more correctly, this should be termed ‘spar-making’ as the same processes are used for making masts and other spars. We will need over forty oars to the correct specification and species of timber to row the ship when she is afloat.
Our first oars have been made from Ash but have proved to be rather flexible. When sitting and holding one of these in position in the Midship Model, it only takes a short while for them to start whipping up and down at the blade end. They are also incredibly heavy so something is not quite right but that is all part of our Experimental Archaeology project.
These Ash oars were scaled up from the Nydam Boat which is earlier than our ship and discovered in Denmark in the 1860s. The scaling up may account for the increase in flexibility so we will carry on experimenting. We are also about to start making a new set of oars for Sæ Wylfing, the half-length replica. These will be much shorter and more manageable!
No oars were found in the original excavation at Sutton Hoo in 1939 and so we must base our designs on what we know was available elsewhere in the period. Nydam is four metres shorter than Sutton Hoo with consequently shorter oars. We have begun to experiment with larger diameter oars made in Scots Pine that were donated by National Trust at Sutton Hoo. In the period, Scots Pine was retreating Northwards but it is believed from pollen records that there were still pockets of this species available to the Anglo-Saxons in East Anglia and so it is just viable that we can use it – certainly on an experimental basis.
The real benefit (if the Anglo- Saxons did have access to it) is that Scots Pine has roughly half the density of Oak or Ash, making the oars much lighter. The downside of this species is the regular rows of branches growing out from the trunk. Once removed these branches leave traces as knots that penetrate towards the centre of the tree or oar, which may cause weak spots likely to fracture in use. This is definitely not what we want to happen at sea, but the experiment is a worthwhile one.
To help us in this endeavour, we have the first cohort of volunteers from the 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment working with us. Ben, James, and Riley are currently based at Rock Barracks just outside of Woodbridge and have been with us for three weeks. They have shown themselves to be a great asset to both us and the Army and their energy and enthusiasm have been a joy to watch.
All three Paras are carpenters as well as soldiers and bring with them their technical skills and the benefits of youth, physical fitness, and strength. Hopefully, we can broaden their skills with both heavy and intricate axe work that they can call on later in their careers. We thank them for their hard work and their senior officers for arranging this placement. We hope this relationship can develop and grow in the future.
The 1:5 scale model continues to progress, with further framing being made and fitted. We can really begin to see how the frames fit in the ship and the strength they imply to the hull.