I WAS WRITING SOMETHING for a magazine the other day and I mentioned the ancient Viking ship discovered in Gokstad, Norway, in 1880. I referred to her as “slim and slippery.” Someone objected to that description, saying the Viking ships were squat and fat and not very far advanced in the art of design.
Not so, I’m afraid. If you look at her lines you’ll see that she is, in fact, extraordinary in her beauty and fineness. She was light and fast and hardly disturbed the water she moved through.
Frederick K. Lord wrote an article about the Gokstad ship in The Rudder magazine in which he said that, considering the forms of contemporaneous ships, “it seems incredible that a vessel so far ahead of its time could be produced.” Contemporaneous, in this instance, means somewhere between the 8th and 11th centuries A.D.
She was a skuta, a type of small warship mentioned in the Sagas. She was designed mainly to be rowed but she did carry a squaresail for use when conditions were suitable. “She was built for speed,” said Lord. “Such a craft must have been very much used, being light, swift, and handy for short voyages and general purposes.” Her length was close to 80 feet and her beam was 16 foot 8 inches. She displaced 63,700 pounds and drew only 3 foot 8 inches of water. She carried about 80 men.
Colin Archer took the lines off her and no doubt marveled, as many others have done after him, at the advanced design and construction. “The boats of Norway are today almost exactly like this old ship,” said Lord, “and such an instance of persistence of type is without parallel in the history of shipbuilding and affords indisputable proof of the skill and knowledge of the Norsemen in designing and building ships. Considering the leading dimensions and type, what designer today would undertake to improve the lines of this boat? Could he produce a fairer set of waterlines, buttocks and diagonals?
“Many parts are decorated with ornamental tracings and carvings and the whole bespeaks the conscientious care with which these Viking boats were built. Driving down the wind with swelling sail, shields on gunwale, and crowded with a crew of lion-hearted men dressed in barbaric splendor, the whole a mass of color — what a sight it must have been!”
A sight to make a stout-hearted man quake in his boots and run to lock up his wife and daughters, I should think.
Never slay more than one man in the same stock, and never break the peace which good men and true make between thee and others.
— The Icelandic Sagas
An Italian immigrant was having trouble with English irregular verbs.
“I can’ta weara my wool skirt any more,” she said. “I have send it to the cleaners and they shrinked ... shrank ... shrunk ... Oh!” she broke off in desperation. “I putted on weight.”
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