Historically there have been a few false starts with building a replica of the Anglo-Saxon ship found at Sutton hoo but one man did make some progress by scaling down the project and building a smaller ship known as Sae Wylfing.
Sae Wylfing is a ‘half-length’ replica of the Anglo-Saxon ship buried under Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, almost 1400 years ago. This is not to be confused with a ‘half-size’ replica which would have been somewhat bigger. The old English name, Sae Wylfing means Sea Wolf Cub which could give a clue as to what to call the full-size replica.
Sae Wylfing was built by Edwin Gifford from plans drawn in 1975 by Colin Mudie, a notable yacht designer. Gifford was a structural engineer who took up boatbuilding in retirement. For more about Edwin Gifford read his obituary – link
In 1989 the Sutton Hoo Research Trust heard of Gifford’s success with an Ottar, a 9th century Saxon longboat and wanted to know whether the famous Anglo-Saxon Longship found at Sutton Hoo, could have crossed the North Sea, as the buried remains showed no evidence of a keel or mast. The miniature ship, assisted by a loyal crew from the Colchester Re-enactment Society demonstrated that it could, if necessary, sail very fast.
Like many old clinker built wooden boats that are not kept in the water, which tightens the seams as the wood sets and swells, Sae Wylfing is prone to some leakage although surprisingly very little. Nonetheless she is well maintained by her loyal team of volunteers, who also take her on the road to many events in Suffolk, often accompanied by Anglo-Saxon re-enactors.
Sae Wylfing has a mast and sail, but no-one knows for sure whether or not the original Anglo-Saxon ship was sailed as well as rowed. The arguments for and against are often voiced with great feeling.
Sae Wylfing is mainly built with Columbian pine softwood (as opposed to the oak construction of the original Anglo-Saxon ship) which are cheaper and easier to work and replace than the oak. Good softwoods can have fair strength and also tend to be lighter.
To help make the perspective of Sae Wylfing relative to the scale of the full-size ship, the rowers would need to be only 52cm or 17 inches tall.