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Medieval long-ship by bolin - 1:30 - based on reconstruction Helga Holm - Finished

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This will start the build log for the model I have been planning to build since I decided to start model ship building. However, I realized that I needed to acquire some skill and get experience before I could attempt it. With some models under my west I now feel ready to start.


The subject is medieval long-ship from around 1325 that was found in Stockholm in 1979. The ships size and unusual form caught the attention by marine archeologists and the public, so a reconstruction was built. The reconstruction was launched in 1983, and was named Helga Holm (literally "holy islet" which is a word play of the island where the wreck was found "helgeandsholmen" = "the islet of the Holy spirit") . The first years it was the Maritime History Museum (Sjöhistoriska museet) in Stockholm that owned and sailed the ship in order to perform "experimental archeology". Later on the ownership was transferred to an association that has sailed and maintained the ship since then, mostly for recreation. I have been participating and sailing the reconstruction for about 18 years.


Unfortunately the ship is now becoming so old, and requiring so large and costly renovations, that we can no longer maintain here as a sailing ship. The plan is to place her on land in the city of Sigtuna north of Stockholm.


The original reconstruction was documented in one archeological report and a more popularly written book. The report includes the reconstruction plans that I will use as the basis for my model. Both the report and the book documents the building of the reconstruction and will help with different detailed aspects. I will also (at least for a while longer) have access to the reconstruction for any specific measurements.


One question I have been asking myself, will I be building a model of the original ship based on the information gained by the reconstruction, or will I build model of the reconstruction? I have concluded that it will be the former. For the hull shape I will not be able to improve on the reconstructions results, but for the rig and some other details I plan to do a bit of my own research and might come up with other conclusions.



I plan to go slow on this build, and I will use my build of a Sloop from Roslagen as practice for certain aspects. In particular regarding building the clinker hull. On the other hand I would like to start the build while I still have access to the reconstruction for additional measurements etc.



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It's encouraging to see so many of you knowledgeable people joining to see my project. You are very welcome!


Yes this ship is rather odd in many aspects. There are not many longships found from this period, and that was one of the reasons that a reconstruction was made.


The archeological find consisted of a large part of the starboard side, from the keel to the railing. From the port side very little is preserved. Only pieces of the stem and stern where found, which makes the reconstruction of these parts more uncertain. In particular it has been discussed if the stem was straight och bent. From marks in the stern it could be concluded that there had been a stern rudder, but no pieces of it was found. The reconstruction has used other sources to construct one.


From the find it was concluded that there where 8 pairs of oars, and that the ship was rigged. The dimensions of the reconstruction is length 22.5 m, beam 3.4 m and draft about 0.5 m depending on load.


Regarding the original use of the ship, no clear answer has been found. She is clearly no cargo ship, there is not enough room for any relevant amount of cargo. She is not a dedicated rowing ship, the number of oarsmen are relatively few compared to the overall length of the ship. There is a rather big decked area in the fore and aft where no rowers sit. Many years of practical use of the reconstruction has shown that the ship is not particularly good in hard weather, so it is unlikely that it would be used outside the Stockholm archipelago and the Mälaren lake.


The most likely guess seem to be that the ship was built and used as transport ship for some important person, or on some official capacity such as watch ship.

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4 hours ago, bolin said:

Many years of practical use of the reconstruction has shown that the ship is not particularly good in hard weather


Yes, I would have thought that from looking at the cross-sections. It has a very low freeboard - looks like it would get swamped easily.


By the way, here is a picture of a longship with a stern rudder, from about 1300 AD.




It's from Skamstrup Church, near Kalundborg, Denmark. Note that the tiller is curved, to go around the sternpost.

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On 10/9/2020 at 12:20 PM, bolin said:

Unfortunately the ship is now becoming so old, and requiring so large and costly renovations, that we can no longer maintain here as a sailing ship.

Alas, the fate of many replicas and reproductions.  People are willing and energized to fund and build the shiny new ship, but maintaining it is boring and people lose interest.

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Interesting discussion on stern rudder. The conclusions in the reconstruction seem to me to be quite well founded. The markings left on the stern pieces, the lack of indications of a side rudder and existence of stern rudders on longships from the period. The report, among other sources, references the same picture from Skamstrup church that Louie includes. That picture seem to be less open for interpretation when seen up close. But as Chuck mentions, the angle of the rudder gives quite an arch to the tiller.


Another interesting observation in the picture that Louie showed is that it shows a parrel with beads.


For the actual building of my model I have started to prepare a building frame. I will build the hull up-side down and shell first. The method will be more or less the same as in my Sloop from Roslagen build.


First a sturdy build board (19 mm MDF).


Then I have printed the frames and side view in my chosen scale 1:30, and glued them to plywood.


In this scale the hull will be 75 cm long. Which is about as long as I can build in my ship yard. The table is only 80 cm wide.



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4 hours ago, bolin said:

it shows a parrel with beads.


It certainly looks like one. If so, it's the earliest representation I know of. The oldest I've previously come across were early 15th century.


This is a really interesting build, of a unique vessel. Keep up the good work.


By the way, I think you're right in using the reconstruction as a guide but making your own judgments about the original form of the ship for your model.

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Very interesting video. It looks like a lot of fun.


I wasn't sure about the reef points - how far back reef points go - I thought they didn't come in until later but on investigation I found this picture which is supposed to be late 13th century but judging by the armour (something I do know about) it dates to about the middle of the 14th - and it does have reef points.




But in fact the longship from  Skamstrup in my post above also has them, so you the problem I was concerned about didn't really exist. (Nonetheless, I think it was worth going to the trouble of checking.)

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I would think that reef points are more or less necessary to sail such a boat safely. You need a way to adjust the area of the sail if you have only one. You need a large sail in light winds to get the speed you need so that you don't drift sideways instead. In stronger winds you need a reduced sail to be able to sail safely at all, otherwise you would tip over.


I have been working on the build form. Seventeen "bulkheads" sawed out by hand with a coping saw. Slots cut for assembly, and some small slits on each side for holding rubber bands.





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15 hours ago, bolin said:

I would think that reef points are more or less necessary to sail such a boat safely.


Agreed. But they had to be invented at some time - Most contemporary pictorial representations of ships before the 14th century don't show them. Is this because they didn't exist, or did the artist just leave them out?

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Interesting point about reef points! Ships up until the 16th century at least had bonnets - extra strips of sail - that could be added or removed  from the foot of a square sail. If reefing had been invented and adopted much earlier, why were bonnets still used?

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Good point.  Plenty of 15th and 16th century pictures show ships with bonnets but no reef points. At least as many show neither - though in many cases I'm prepared to believe that's artist's error. I know of only a single one (a "great carrack" that doesn't have a date but looks to be early 16th century) that has reef points. Perhaps we're looking at lost technology, which was "rediscovered" later?

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Thanks for your input, I think that I need to do a bit more research before I start with the rigging and sail. However, there is still a long time time before I come to that...


At the moment I'm starting to doubt the reconstruction of the hull. When I sawed out the frames for the build form I observed that the first two are concave rather than convex.


Fitting a strip of wood shows the approximate shape that the bow will have. Note that I have not faired any frames yet, and that the keel part is to wide, which probably exaggerates the concave shape.



But when I look at some of the pictures from the reconstruction there is some indications of concave frames. (The frames are approximately at the positions of the stations in the body plan.)



I also remember that one of the members of the crew mentioned that the boat builder had problems trying to build the bow according to the reconstruction plans. I imagine that it would be really hard to create the concave shape in a shell first build method. I will now need to study my references again and see if I can find any mention that the boat builder deviated from the plans. If so I will need to find a way to adjust the shape in a similar way in the model. If all else fails I would need to go out to the ship and take measurements.

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After beveling the frames and checking again with a strip of wood I decided that I need to widen the first three frames and last two. I will start with 1 mm strips of wood on each frame. That should be enough in the aft, but may not be enough in the bow.


I have also started creating sawdust for the actual ship.


In my previous models I have only used soft wood (mostly Lime, Basswood and Obechi). For this model I wanted a harder wood that is not as easy to damage by clamps etc. I also want a darker wood. I have not decided on the finish I will give to the model in the end, but one option is to simply oil it. In that case I would still want a dark color that reminds of the tarred look of the reconstruction. So my choice for building material is walnut. I have not worked with that before, and still need to learn how it behaves.


The first pieces I started with are for the keel. The original has a T shaped keel, about twice as wide as it is tall on the widest part under the mast foot. The keel is also slightly curved upwards towards the ends, which means that it would be hard to cut from a single piece. And I don't have a mill, which would more or less be necessary. (In my other build of a Sloop from Roslagen I used soft wood and cut the keel from single piece using hand tools). For this build I have cut the keel in two pieces that will be glued (and plugged) together.




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The keel and the pieces for the stem and stern has been cut out and fitted on the inside (upside) to the build form. Unfortunately I think I need to redo the keel, the strip that I glued on top did not get fully centered.


Thus far I'm rather happy with walnut. Its easy enough to cut and sand, but gives much cleaner edges and more even surfaces than the lime and basswood which I have used before.



The next step is to figure out how bevel the edges for scarf joints. It would probably be easier with a disc sander, but I don´t have one. I will need to figure out some jig that gives exactly the same angle on all pieces. In the picture they are just overlapping and held together with the clamps.


The joins between the pieces in the keel, stem and stern where riveted in the original find. See the picture below of how it looks on the replica.


I have been thinking for some time on how to model the rivets. My current best idea looks like this:



Its made from bristles from a plastic brush which I have melted in a flame. The head was flattened before it cooled. The next step is to find a good way to model the other side of the rivet. Maybe black paper or card?




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It's very interesting following this build and seeing your ingenious solutions to problems. 


Walnut has a reputation of being easily broken and unwilling to bend without splintering. However, I'm using it on my Great Harry without much trouble, though my planks are pretty thin because the model is at 1:200 scale. What is the thickness of the planks on the Helga Holm?


Your rivets look very good. Yes, paper or card would probably be good for the other side.

Edited by Louie da fly
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