The voyage of the Sea Stallion seen by one, who sails with Viking ships himself

Published 08th Jul 2007

My interest in the voyage of the Sea Stallion from Glendalough is because I belong to the Viking-ship guild SIF EGE. I have belonged there since 1981, when we began work on a reconstruction of wreck 3 from Skuldelev. To sail in a reconstructed Viking ship is an astonishing experience, to sit in a ship that has sailed in the same waters 950 years ago. 

The exciting thing about the voyage of the Sea Stallion in my opinion is the understanding one gains of time and distance. For example, it must have been necessary to have had live animals on board in order to get fresh food when sailing to England. Imagine the bloodbath that might have taken place when slaughtering an animal on board and the panic that there might have arisen.

To sail with a Viking ship is to open a page in an unending history. Every time one turns a page, one comes to a new blank page that you have to help to fill in. The fine thing about the voyage of the Sea Stallion is the uncompromising attitude that has been taken to it. 

When we set out on a summer expedition with SIF EGE, we find that space is cramped, even though we have more than two square metres for each person. On board the Sea Stallion they have less than the half of that. How could there be any space for animals? And then there is the question of time on board, where the sail is up and you are live ballast. Even when you are off duty, you still have to be an active sailor and keep yourself fresh, ready for your turn on duty. The 65 men on board will have to be fantastically socially tolerant.

The voyage itself and the choice of route are historical. This raises a lot of questions. Did the Vikings sail in the same way that we do today? Was the same strain put on the gear in the same way as is done with modern pleasure craft or did the Vikings sail when the weather was suitable? Did they reduce the wear and tear on the ship to a minimum and yet were still able to cover almost as long a distance?

The voyage to Dublin is not for softies. Sailing north-about Scotland is an exploit in itself. All the experience that is gained on this experimental voyage will be of advantage to all of us who have got the awkward idea of sailing with a square sail. The more we learn, the greater respect I and others gain for the experience and the technology of the Vikings 950 years ago. Wouldn’t it be easy if it were sufficient to click on and get all the forgotten knowledge printed out so that we only had to translate the runes and not lie out in the middle of the North Sea and shiver?

What did it look like in the harbour when the longships went alongside in the Viking Age? Just imagine ten longships with crews of 60 to 100 men who have been blown in. And think about the hinterland and how much food the new arrivals would consume if they had to stay there for several days. 

It is an exciting project to follow on the website and TV. To all involved in the project I wish a fair wind and good luck!

Hans Peter Jelshøj Nielsen Holm

Created by Hans Peter Jelshøj Nielsen Holm, member of the Viking-ship guild Sif Ege