Here you can see the mould for the fore stem of Gislinge II compared with that of Gislinge III ( on top). The forestem of Gislinge II was slightly broader and changes have also been made in terms of the angle of the ‘steps’ and the run of the lines into the upper edge of the stem. 

Once the excess material had been removed, the steps were cut into the blank for the stem. You can just see the difference in tone in the oak, caused by the presence of Ox. The stem is then hollowed out and the distinctive sweeping lines are carved into the sides. 

The after stem was produced the same way. 

Once the stems were complete, it was time to lay the keel in preparation for raising the stems. As we were building the same boat as last year, the stocks were already in position at the boatyard and didn’t require a huge amount of work to make ready. At the end of June, the keel was laid and weighted down, initially with metal weights and then later with stones, to press it back down into the desired lines. It needed to sink 3cm in all: 1.5cm of which was the result of the natural movement of the oak over the weeks the keel was being produced.  

Raising the stems

The stems are joined to the keel using scarf joints. Lining the stems and keel up correctly takes time, and they are therefore first set temporarily in position while the final adjustments are made. 

Once the boatbuilders are satisfied with the fit, a layer of tarred wool is placed between the two faces of the joint and it is sealed using three iron rivets and one treenail of willow. 

Once the stems were raised, the boatbuilders could begin focusing on the next phase: plank production. Until then, the keel was weighted down once again with stones.

The boat's backbone

While the Middle Ages would see a number of major advances in maritime technology, at the time the Gislinge Boat was built in 1130, Scandinavian boatbuilding was still very much rooted in the Viking Age tradition. The most iconic element of Viking Age ships is probably the stems: the image of the streamlined hull, tapering off into narrow and elegant fore and after stems seems to underpin the speed and sailing capabilities of these ships, which made the Vikings the rulers of the seas in the centuries before.

Stepped-stems – such as those on the Gislinge Boat – are also where we see the clearest expression of Viking Age boatbuilding aesthetic. Made from a single piece of timber, the stems are carved in such a way as to create the illusion that the strakes all run seamlessly into the stem-top. This practice is what creates the sleek lines that we typically associate with Viking ships and its presence on a humble working boat like the Gislinge Boat, underlines how central an element of the boatbuilding tradition this was. Together with the t-shaped keel, the stems form the backbone of the boat and are the first elements that are produced when building a clinker-built boat.

Stem and keel for Gislinge III

First, the log was squared off. As the research element of the Gislinge III project was focused on the reinterpretation of the hull, it was decided to allow the limited use of modern tools – the initial squaring off of the keel for example, was done with a chainsaw – for tasks which were not of specific research value. Axes were then taken into use, as the shaping of the keel began. 

The Gislinge Boat’s keel was 5.6m long and was T-shaped in section. First, the keel was worked down to its maximum width and the work of shaping the t-shaped ‘wings’ began.


The Gislinge Boat's stems

The fore and after stems were produced from the same log that provided material for the stems of Gislinge II in 2015. The half-log was cleaved down to the quarters and then eighths.