Her fore and aft decks were planked with a spacious open deck amidships that could be loaded with cargo or livestock. The crew and passengers suffered in the open, protected only by ox hides. There were no special quarters for chieftains such as Sigvatson; Vikings sailed as ordinary seamen, all equal to one another, their leader assuming command for important decisions. The knarr was at home in rough seas. Under gale winds and towering swells, she could barrel through the worst the gods could throw at her and still plunge ahead at five to seven knots, covering over 150 miles a day.
Built of sturdy oak by superb Viking shipwrights who shaped by hand and eye and used only axes to work the wood, the keel was cut from a single piece of oak into a T-shaped beam that increased stabilization in heavy seas. Next came oak planks that were hewn into thin strakes running with the grain and which curved gracefully before being joined at the stern and stem posts. Known as a clinker-type hull, the planks above overlapped the ones below. Then they were caulked with tarred hair from the animals. Except for the crossbeams that braced the hull and supported the decks, there wasn't another piece of wood on the ship that lay in a straight line. The whole thing looked too fragile for the storms that swept the North Atlantic, but there was a method to the seeming madness. The keel could flex and the hull warp, enabling the ship to glide effortlessly with less resistance from the water, making her the most stable ship of the middle centuries. And her shallow draft allowed her to slip over huge waves like a shingle.
The rudder was also a masterwork of engineering. A stout steering oar attached to the starboard quarter, its vertical shaft was turned by the helmsman using a horizontal tiller. The rudder was always mounted on the right side of the hull and was called a stjornbordithe word came to mean starboard. The helmsman kept one eye on the sea and the other on a bronze, intricately designed weathervane that was mounted on either the stem post or mast. By studying the whims of the wind, he could steer the most favorable tack.
A large oak block served as the keelson where the foot of the mast was set. The mast measured thirty feet tall and held a sail that spread nearly twelve hundred square feet cut in a rectangle only slightly wider than a square. The sails were woven from coarse wool in two layers for added strength. Then they were dyed in shades of red and white, usually in designs of simple stripes or diamonds.
Not only were the Vikings master shipbuilders and sailors; they were exceptional navigators as well. They were born with a genius for seamanship. A Viking could read the currents, the clouds, the water temperature, wind and waves. He studied the migrations of fish and birds. At night he steered by the stars. During the day he used a sun shadow board, a disklike sundial with a center shaft that was slipped up and down to measure the sun's declination by tracing its shadow on notched lines on the board's surface. Viking latitude calculations were amazingly accurate. It wasn't often that a Viking ship became hopelessly lost. Their mastery of the sea was complete and never challenged.
In the following months the colonists built thick wooden longhouses with massive beams to support a sod roof. They raised a great communal hall with a huge hearth for cooking and socializing that also served for storage and as a livestock shelter. Hungry for rich land, the Norsemen wasted no time in planting crops. They harvested berries and netted fish in great abundance from the fjord. The Skraelings proved curious yet reasonably friendly. Trinkets, cloth and cows' milk were traded for valuable furs and game. Sigvatson wisely ordered his men to keep their metal swords, axes and spears out of sight. The Skraelings possessed the bow and arrow, but their hand weapons were still crudely made of stone. Sigvatson correctly took it for granted that before long the Norseman's superior weapons would either be stolen or demanded in trade.
Excerpted from Valhalla Rising by Clive Cussler. Copyright © 2001 by Sandecker, RLLLP. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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