A Danish CWB
by Noah Seixas
To provide a gathering place where maritime history comes alive through direct experience and our small craft heritage is enjoyed, preserved, and passed along to future generations.
So reads the Mission Statement of The Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle. What a unique idea – or is it? Sharing maritime culture and skills while preserving the history of a local culture is such a great idea that others seem to have had a similar vision. On a recent trip to visit my daughter in Denmark, I was thrilled to find the Vikingeskibsmuseet (Viking Ships Museum) in Roskilde, Denmark.
On the shore of the Roskilde Fjord, about a half-hour train ride from Copenhagen, I spoke with Birger, the chief boatwright and one of the founders of the museum, and his current apprentice, Malthe, about their organization. The museum was started when the remains of several Viking ships were identified and recovered from the fjord’s bottom in 1962.
In addition to preserving and documenting these historic craft, and constructing a museum building to house the remains, the museum also undertook the development of a skills preservation program, embarking on the construction of replicas of the recovered historic craft. In the process, they had to re-create some of the special tools and skills that make the Viking ships unique; in doing so they have acted to preserve their ancient Danish heritage. Malthe explained that the boats of most interest to the center are double-ended lapstrake craft – inspired by the Viking designs and construction techniques – but also include the local craft that have developed as “traditional” Danish boats in the post-Viking generations.
In addition to displaying the recovered Viking boats, the center trains apprentices like Malthe in wooden boat building skills, which are rapidly being lost in Denmark as they are in the U.S. They also run an archaeological laboratory that documents and researches Viking culture and technologies.
The program includes skills programs for both youth and adults. I met two women volunteers who were preparing a Viking warship replica for a journey to Germany this summer. The boat, with 80 rowing stations, will take several weeks to make the journey, stopping at numerous ports along the way. The replica boats take visitors to the museum on excursions to provide the experience of rowing an authentic ancient craft.
Preserving the unique local maritime culture and skills and craft, passing the knowledge down, and enjoying the experience of working with wood and traveling by water under natural power, s ounds a lot like CWB. The only difference in Denmark is that the boats being researched, preserved, replicated and shared were first built more than 1,000 years ago. If you have a chance to go to Denmark, don’t miss visiting the Roslkilde Vikingeskibsmuseet. In the meantime, check it out at: