If you came across the rudder of a Viking ship, you would be surprised that such a small rudder could steer a ship with any degree of effectiveness.
Modern rudders are much larger and that’s just the beginning of the differences between old and new !
The rudder of a Viking ship is beside the hull, extends below it, and is the lowest part of the ship.
Modern rudders are placed behind the stern and are not the deepest part of the ship, yet Viking rudders were just as effective, or more.
The rudder was fastened to the ship in two places, at a wooden ball just above the waterline and at the gangway.
The wooden ball has a rope through it that holds the rudder and yet still allows it to turn.
At the gangway, it is held fast by a wide leather band.
The band can be loosened so that the rudder can be overturned in the direction of the ship.
This reduces the draught of the ship so that the ship could be sailed in water as little as one meter deep.
What modern sailing ship of a similar size can do that ?
The Vikings have taught modern sailors a lot about ship construction and navigation, and they have even contributed to modern ship nomenclature.
The rudder of a Viking ship is on the right side.
The left side of the ship is moored so that the rudder is kept in deeper water, and so the left side is still called the port side ( at least in English ), and the right side is called the starboard side.
A Viking ship has a concave hull : you can visualize it as a triangle floating more on the water than in the water, unlike modern ships.
Its shape, and the fact that it is made of wood, means that the ship has less draught, and that can lead to instability in the water.
The Vikings placed ballast stones around the foot of the mast to compensate for the ship’s lightness and to increase its stability.
Round stones worked best and these were probably found at the mouth of rivers where erosion would smooth the edges.
The shape of the stones was important.
Round stones piled easily, and in bad weather, any rolling stones would do less damage to the fragile hull than stones with sharp edges.
There was another advantage, too.
If the ship were to flip over in bad weather, the stones would roll to the side and ensure that it turned over quickly.
This meant than anyone sleeping under the deck would find himself in an air bubble, and his life would be saved.
It also meant that the ship would be saved because it wouldn’t sink.
The Vikings would get to the nearest shore, turn the ship over, find some new stones, and be on their way once more.