Henri’s background goes a long way to explain why he became so
fascinated by the Oseberg ship.
Henri was a ship’s mate on merchant ships,
and his studies focussed on the principles of shipbuilding - design, construction,
strength and stability, and the characteristics of sailing ships.
In essence, his studies were about how to get the best out of a sailing ship.
A Visit to the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo
In 1975 Henri and his family were on vacation in Norway.
On one rainy day they decided to visit the
Viking Ship Museum
little knowing the extraordinary impact this simple visit would have on their family.
When Henri saw the
he was impressed with its graceful lines, just as so many others have been.
But the more Henri looked at the ship,
the more perplexed he became,
the characteristics of the Oseberg ship were sometimes in contradiction to
what he had learned about ship design in his studies.
This ship’s hull was concave instead of the traditional convex,
and it had a large and high bow and stern.
The rudder, compared to nowadays, was very small.
A keel, necessary for the stability of a ship, was missing.
If Henri had designed this ship for one of his courses, he would have failed.
Yet a thousand years ago these very ships sailed over the world,
from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean Sea, to Ireland, Iceland, Greenland,
and on to America.
No other nation could compete with the Vikings’ fleets.
It was clear, then, that the design of their ships was no accident and,
however odd it might seem to modern shipbuilders,
those strange characteristics must have contributed to the superiority of Viking ships.
Lessons from the Oseberg Ship
Back home in the Netherlands, Henri couldn’t get the Oseberg ship off his mind.
He wondered what secrets the ship might have to share.
With his knowledge of shipbuilding,
he started to make sketches of the ship and to investigate its properties - design,
line, proportions and characteristics.
He found one surprise after another
( more about this in
How the Vikings did it
Henri began to realize that the Vikings’ shipbuilding knowledge was not
at all inferior to modern practices,
and that some of their knowledge had been forgotten through the ages.
He decided that his task would be to recover whatever knowledge he could,
and bring Viking history forward to modern times.