viking boats

viking boats

stepping into your ancestor's shoes (plus his cloak and boots)

By the time you read this it will be spring, with new temperature records set daily and I should be in shorts and t shirt but now I'm not. Indeed, I have worked outside since the age of 15 and this winter has been hardest so far for keeping warm, mainly because it has been so wet, and damp is biggest source of heat loss. Dawn treader (Dt) has been an awful lot warmer since I turned the clock back to paraffin lamps, it's been 5 degrees outside and 20 inside - that’s a respectable lift of 15!  Oddly enough, it’s got rid of the cluster flies and hundreds of spiders I used to suffer from! But it's still been cold sat in the cockpit etc., and this got me thinking...

My great grandfather to the power of 30,  Erik Wolfensohn the Warm ( Viking bloke) managed to sail the north sea as far as Iceland in an open boat in February. Despite what we think, they were no hardier than us; they didn’t have magical anti-freezing powers, so there must be something he knew that time and fashion have erased.

Clothing! Ever since I started sailing at 15, clothing for boaters has been driven by fashion (blame Jan's Boutique on Howard’s way). Today we all wonder around in manmade fibres with some special property – feature plus benefit equals sales with the labels sewn where they can be easily read, and each label raises our social status.  But I am sorry to say none of it has kept me warm or dry. You will have to forgive my sketchy research on this as very little is written down on just what great etc grandad wore, but it would appear to be the following. Linen under trousers – (cotton wasn’t around just yet!) felted woollen socks (easy to do  - just buy large ones and tumble dry them), linen shirt,  then heavy woollen trousers and woollen jumper or top with a tunic and heavy woollen cloak, fur boots and wool around the legs bit like a 1980s keep fit thing. Because wool has an amazing property: it can keep heat in when its wet! Of course add some waterproofing which sheep make naturally, and although you probably smelled beyond today's social acceptance, you could survive what ever the weather threw at you – in fact the more I read about what these people did with wool the more I wonder if that’s how we got our name!

I am writing this snug and warm in sheep skin boots, sheepskin waistcoat, heavy wool socks and a sheepskin hat and thick wool reefer jacket – all my branded expensive gear is now in a local charity shop, help yourselves it's useless!!!

Anyway, on with the show and DT's gas tank is out, and I’ve welded 6 inches to the top to accept the new bottles. I wasn’t going to take it out and did get a quote to weld in situ, but I thought it’s been in there twenty years so better refurbish the whole thing with several coats of rust convertor. Having got this far I have ordered a gas bubble. Slightly expensive and I am in the habit of turning the gas off when I don’t use it, but I think it’s a good safety feature.

I’ve added two carbon monoxide detectors mainly because I was using paraffin lamps and interestingly, they didn’t go off which is unsurprising seeing as they don’t when the gas cooker is on full tilt. I have removed the bubble pack from the windows. The more it can breathe now the better. Indeed a day recently with the widows wide open and a wind blowing through dried it out more than any heater or dehumidifier could ever achieve. Whilst I had no gas and couldn’t use the paloma water heater, I filled it full of kettle descaler – what a difference! I should have done that ages ago! All the gas knobs have had a light smear of gas tap grease ready for new bottles – though I have sort of got used to living on board quite happily and cheaply without gas – it is part of the boat and I now know how to use it sparingly, whereas before I relied on it especially the heater which really burnt it – about 2 kilos in 24hours.

It’s my safety certificate this year; I quite like this because I like working from repair manuals. I just go through everything they check and make sure it’s still working, attached etc. CRT and the inspectors are always a good source of info if you are unsure (my new gas locker being a prime example). I think there is too much bending of the rules once they have left and dubious pressure gas portable stoves and heaters creep back on board, because we forgot how our ancestors coped with the cold.

Now if you will excuse me, I am off to plunder Lindisfarne, there being precious little on the Kennet and Avon worth a Viking raid.