How is a Longship different?

This is mainly excerpts from an email conversation answering questions about ship parts, terminology, and rigging. Some clarifications have been added.

You forgot the most important part, the bilge, where everything seems to land sooner or later. Note that the "steerboard" is always on the "starboard" side (right, as you're facing the front of the ship) of the ship, which is how it got that name. The other side is "port", 'cause that's where you dock, so you don't damage the steerboard on the pilings. Note that, boarding a modern airliner, the enclosed docking arm that you walk through and the doors to the plane are on the "port" side. Tradition creeps into some odd places.

February 1998 issue:

The center rudder came in sometime in the medieval period. The center rudder is MUCH stronger than the lashed-on steerboard, but being able to quickly swing up the steerboard in shallow water does have some advantages.

Another significant, though not very visible, difference is that Viking ships were built from the outside-in. The outer lap-strake hull was built, and the frame added later. Modern boats have the frame built, then planking put over the frame. The result is that a Longship flexes more than a modern ship.

Well, rectangular actually, though it's called "square" to distinguish it from a modern triangular sail. Note that, the difference between a square and a triangular sail is much more than the shape. A triangular sail is fastened directly to the mast, which is always the leading edge of the sail, which allows it to billow out into an airfoil shape, somewhat like an airplane wing, which allows it to generate lift, so it pushes the ship at a right-angle to the direction of the wind. A square sail merely pulls the ship whichever way the wind is blowing. It can sail only a little bit into the wind, and even at two points (23 degrees) into the wind, a lot of progress is lost to leeway (sideslip of the hull downwind). If it's not blowing the way you want to go, you're out of luck. A triangular sail gives you a lot more flexibility as to where you can sail, and though you can't sail directly into the wind, you can sail close enough to it that by tacking -- that is zigzagging -- you can make headway into the wind.

"brace" and "sheet" are nautical jargon for the lines that control the sail. "line" is nautical jargon for "rope".

The rigging blocks we use are copied from those found on the Gokstad ship. With only one example to work from, we don't know how representative they are. The are effectively, two cleats back-to-back, with a hole in the middle, and would probably look at home in a native hut on a south-sea island, as some sort of fertility-symbol. Then again, maybe the Gokstad ship was carrying a load of carved wooden fertility symbols that had nothing to do with the rigging of the ship.

This page written by Atli & Fred.