Monday, August 3, 2015

Roskilde Viking Museum

In July I travelled through Copenhagen on my way to Greenland and spent a wonderful day at the Viking Museum in Roskilde.

The indoor museum contains the Skuldelev ships which had been sunk in the late 11th century to form part of a defence system for the Roskilde Fjord. The ships have been used as models to construct new Viking ships...some of which are in the Museum's harbour and used for harbour tours.  

The Museum is a "working museum" in the sense that ships are built in the museum's workshops, using materials and tools appropriate to the 11th century. Sailing the reconstructed ships provides feedback on the ships' designs, sailing and rigging techniques.  This information is then used in future reconstruction projects. 

Note the elegantly shaped reconstructed stem in the photo below...

The model, below, shows how one of the ships might have been rigged...

I was particularly struck by the simple fastening system used to connect the mast peak to the bow and stern of the ship. A small stick of wood is used to twist a loop in the shroud and then is passed through a loop of rope fastened to the stem. The stick is kept in place by a simple rope "keeper" around the shroud.  Note also the "steering board" on the starboard side of the ship.  It is attached by a piece of rope, knotted at its ends and passed through the ship's side and through and around the steering board.

In the photo below, the same fastening technique is used in one of the reconstructed boats...

The Museum's current project is the Gislinge Boat. Photos are being posted on-line as the project progresses (

The project is taking place out of doors, using only 11th century tools. At the time I visited, the keel and the stems had been created, fashioned out of an oak tree that had been split into planks.

The "squared" edges of the stem have been shaped to accept the ends of the planking which will then fit seamlessly against the stem creating the visually appealing lines which are the signature of Viking ship design.  

The 11th century style tools are stored on the wall of the indoor boat building shed...and are themselves part of the museum's display

This worker below is using an 11th century style axe to shape some wedges which will later be used in a log-splitting demonstration. Note the tool chest behind him to his right.

The chest is shaped so that it would fit between the rowing benches on a ship and, in some instances, the chest itself might be used as seating for the rowers...

Thursday, July 23, 2015


The Earth’s largest island, Greenland, is almost completely covered by an ice sheet with a few places around the edges where the land is bare.  From time immemorial, people have made their way from the West, across arctic Canada, to live in these bare spaces – and hunt in the fish-abundant waters and on the ice. In more recent times (around the year 985), people from Iceland migrated to the southern shores of Greenland.  After some time their colonies failed.  In the sixteenth century whalers from the Netherlands and Denmark visited the waters between Greenland and Canada and began to bring trade goods to Greenlanders – including iron needles and knives and, perhaps, mast hoops useful in making coamings for kayaks. 

Settlements were reestablished by the Danes in the 18th century and, overtime, Denmark successfully claimed title to all of Greenland. Since 2009 Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.  The national language is Greenlandic.  Many people also speak Danish and English.

There were six of us – an academic dean, an iron worker, a dentist and his son - a goat-herder/farmer, a retired lawyer (me), and a Greenlandic kayaker/roller/rope gymnast.  We joined Michael Gray (Uncommon Adventures) to visit the iceberg-rich portion of Greenland's coast north of Illulisat and Disko bay. It was an eight day  journey of some 125 miles, with a longest day’s paddle of some 23 miles.  Being north of the Arctic circle and near the summer solstice, the sun did not set - it was due south at local apparent noon and due north at midnight.

Travelling to Illulisat is not straightforward.  The most cost-effective route led us to Copenhagen and thence to the Greenlandic international airport at Kangerlussuaq (a former US airforce base) and finally, with a smaller aircraft, to Illulisat.  The unanticipated pleasure of this flight was the view of the Illulisat Isefjord and the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier to the south of Illulisat.  Helicopter flights from Illulisat to the glacier are one of the prime tourist attractions of Illulisat.  The Kujalleq glacier spawns about 10 percent of all of Greenland's icebergs.

Illulisat Isefjord from the plane

We flew over the tiny, boat-packed, Illuliasat harbour from which we would be ferried north to pick up our kayaks for our trip to the Eqi Glacier.  With a population of about 4500, Illulisat is the third largest city in Greenland (after Nuuk, the capital, and Sisimiut).

Illulisat Harbour

Illulisat buildings are perched on the bare rock and connected by roads and many stairways and wooden walkways. 


Our accommodation in Illulisat was modern and Danish in style –

Our accommodation in Illulisat
From our apartment, we had a view of icebergs which, all by itself, seemed worth the whole trip!

View from our Illulisat apartment

After spending a day purchasing food and accommodating to the time changes, we made our way to the harbour.  Queen Margarethe was visiting Greenland and her yacht was there in anticipation of picking her up at a more northerly community.

Queen Margarethe's yacht
The dock from which we were to be picked up was next to the Halibut Factory.   On the hard behind the dock were various fishing boats awaiting repair.

Boats at the Halibut Factory
From the Halibut Factory dock, a small boat ferried us 21 miles north through the icebergs

To Oqaatsut
to Oqaatsut (formerly Rodebay), a small fishing community with a year-round population of 42. 


There we picked up brand new plastic Dagger kayaks with rudders and new Kokatat MsFit Tour pfds and spray skirts. The equipment was of good quality and suitable for multi-day expeditions with rocky landings.

Our route was north, along the coastline, between the mainland of Greenland and Arve Prinsens Island towards Eqi Glacier.  (Look up Rodebay and Ataa on GoogleEarth to see the area in which we travelled.  The Eqi Glacier is around the headland across the sound to the NE of Ataa.)

Some landings were rocky

One landing was actually a beach where we obeyed everyone's warning to bring the boats "well up" in case a large iceberg calved and created an unexpectedly large wave which might wash out boats away.

Moving boats in the morning

Our campsites seemed from a distance like wide, open, meadows

First night's campsite

 which were, in fact, covered with springy woody foliage

Flowers everywhere

which, when the right size and shape of hummock was discovered, was very comfortable for sleeping.

Low shrubby flowers were everywhere, and our Greenlandic companion, Jenna Padilla, made us tea from mixtures of flowers.

Jenna's flower tea - photo by Lisa Deziel
Jenna also demonstrated making a fire with dry moss

Jenna tending fire
and cooked fish on a flat stone over a moss fire

Jenna's menhaden

Somewhere along our way, Jenna found an old Norsaq (harpoon throwing stick) here shown on the picnic table at Oqaatsut.

Norsaq found on the way

Michael made us wonderful meals, here using a fish box we had found on the beach as shelter for the stoves.

Michael Gray cooking

Food was enjoyed....

Lunch on the meadow

Water was everywhere....

High waterfalls
High falls

Broad waterfalls

Broad falls
 Waterfalls which supplied convenient drinking water

Falls to collect drinking water
 Water in streams

Water in streams running through our campsite and convenient for filling our water bottles and cooking pots...

Stream in campsite

And, of course, there was rock....some, I learn, very, very old...

Rock near Eqi Glacier

and some rock was overpoweringly large and confused

Rock near Sissarissut

We paddled through fields of icebergs - each seemingly completely different.  Some with inexplicable holes...

Others, enormous slabs...

One day (our last) the water was still and calm and the icebergs seemed mystical

as though we were paddling in a happy fairy tale

Paddling in a fairy tale

Eqi Glacier
Our goal was  Eqi Glacier and as we rounded a headland an improbable amount of white filled the horizon. In the photo below, one segment of the glacier is on the left and another on the right...

Eqi Glacier - two arms

A closer view shows the face of the glacier which was calving icebergs....we heard constant booming as they broke off.  

Eqi Glacier

The glacier face was a considerable distance away and we didn't paddle up to the face itself as this would have required moving our camp and adding another day or two to our journey.

From the Glacier we retraced our route until we came to a convenient place to cross the Ataa Sound to Arve Prinsens Island. The east side of the island is, for the most part, a formidable wall of rock.

Arve Prinsens Island across the Ataa Sound

We camped at the semi-abandoned settlement of Atta, on the outlet of a large lake in the interior of the island. There is a small tourist operation which currently houses a summer restaurant and rents kayaks for local exploration. 

Ataa and its very blue outhouse!
Much to Jenna's delight, she found that one of the managers was a cousin from the far north of Greenland - they had not previously met. Also staying on the island were several people whose families had previously lived on the island.  They were staying in the white building and in the white tent in the photo below.  

Camping at Ataa

The next morning at Ataa was grey with fog.  A couple of young Greenlandic men  were wearing survival suits and played around in the bay, jumping off small icebergs.

Fooling around in a survival suit

On the eighth day, we paddled through an iceberg wonderland.

Lisa Deziel in the iceberg wonderland
And reluctantly returned our boats to Oqaatsut

where we enjoyed a view of the village

while waiting for the boat to pick us up for the return journey to Illulisat.

I think I can speak for all of us that we fell in love with Greenland and want to return!