Summer has come to Ramsgate – and seems to be following the Sea Stallion at last. Right now the Aftership hands are resting in the sun after a sumptuous lunch of rye bread that can keep a long time and cod roe with mayonnaise, while the town’s inhabitants watch with curiosity from the quay. The easily recognisable blue T-shirts can be seen all over town – at the Maritime Museum, at the camping site where we have pitched our tents, in the coffee bars, and outside the fish & chips shop.
Some of the crew have gone to see the Viking ship Hugin. Hugin was the first Viking ship in recent times to sail across the North Sea; that was in 1949. However, that was a rather different project than the voyages of the Sea Stallion. After the Second World War, the Danish Tourist Association chose to send Hugin to England to market Denmark as a tourist destination. These days, Hugin is on display in Ramsgate and is a 24-metre-long copy of the Gokstad ship from Norway. The ship was built by Frederikssund shipyard and has 32 oars and an oversize dragon’s head. Construction started in May and the ship was able to sail to England as early as July with a crew of 51 blonde, blue-eyed men who were all more than 1.85 metres tall and had grown beards on the orders of the project’s leaders. The ship proved to be sea-worthy and arrived sooner than expected at its destination, Ramsgate. However, it has not sailed since then and its many years on land mean that large sums are spent on maintenance.
On the Sea Stallion, beards are natural after a couple of days at sea and there are no requirements regarding gender or hair colour. But we are taking longer than the ten days that Hugin spent because we are including sailing and rowing experiments en route. The testing and documentation of sailing properties will hopefully be able to give us greater insight into the longship’s abilities, function and organisation and will allow us to put the maritime culture of the Viking Age into perspective.
We arrived at Ramsgate yesterday morning after 120 nautical miles and 20 hours of good wind, sun and a reasonable and starry night. On such quiet night watches, when there is no constant need to concentrate on keeping warm, the ‘night box’ is the centre of attention. This ‘night box’ is actually two green, watertight boxes containing goodies and hot drinks. From the box, the crew can help themselves to coffee, tea, soup powder, cocoa, peanuts, biscuits, liquorice, etc. The original idea was that the ‘night box’ was for the night watch, who often need energy and something warm to drink on long stints. For the same reason there is also ginger in the boxes, since this gives warmth and counteracts seasickness.
However, the cold and wet days of last year’s voyage led to a change of mind and the ‘night box’ is now in use 24 hours a day.
And although we are now lying in the sun on the afterdeck, the ‘night box’ has become an indispensable part of our quality time.
Hopefully well rested, we sail tomorrow for Lowestoft further north – the last stop before the North Sea and Denmark.