DULUTH – A group of local volunteers worked hard to build their version of a Viking ship, circa 1045 AD. And they aim to sail the ship to the Two Harbors Tall Ships Festival in early August.
John Finkle, who founded and organized the wooden boat building collective, said the ship was inspired by a replica ship he visited at a museum in Roskilde, Denmark.
But the Duluth collective, called Noatun, has taken some liberties to ensure their hold on the ship will be able to navigate the local waters safely.
“Lake Superior is known around the world as simply cold, fierce and unpredictable. So we’re very sure to raise the sides and do a lot of things from our experience with other boats we’ve built,” he said.
The 27-foot-long, single-masted wooden vessel will be built in the style of a Norwegian ‘treroring’, almost entirely using hand tools.
The project began two winters ago, when volunteers ventured into the woods to harvest and transport the tamarack and white oak that are now used to build the boat, which Finkle hopes to name Alfinna, in honor of her Norwegian grandmother.
But Noatun didn’t exactly encounter the kind of ideal conditions that made for smooth sailing.
These headwinds included the collective’s studio workspace move from Lincoln Park to the Duluth waterfront and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noatun landed in a spot on the Duluth waterfront once occupied by Duluth Timber, and Finkle considers the setting a bit of a dream come true. Still, he said it came with some challenges, thanks in large part to the pandemic.
“It was just at a transition point where we were coming into this beautiful waterfront space. So it kind of threw us into a loop like everyone else. It just changed the world,” Finkle said.
This break had its advantages, however.
“It allowed us to put our heads down and really start to develop this into what we wanted it to become – a welcoming space where people could be creative and explore ideas and have fun in a kind of unusual place. “, Finkle said.
Volunteers worked to open up the available workspace, installing windows to provide more natural light. They also installed a 4 ton stone stove, suggesting they are probably planning to stay for a while.
Finkle said a core group of about 20 people regularly tune into the boat. But all told, probably over 100 volunteers helped out somewhere along the line.
People of all ages and skill levels got involved.
“We’ve had people as young as 4 and as old as 90 ax working, learning from each other, and often people sharing stories and tools,” said Justin Anderson, another member of the collective.
“It’s a learning and sharing experience for everyone,” he said, noting that his own skill set has expanded significantly.
Geoffrey Gates, a 73-year-old retired doctor and endocrinologist, was helping to reinforce the tie-points in what will be the ship’s sail, using thick black thread to encircle a slew of eyelets last week.
His partner in the effort was 13-year-old Jasper Sipila, who said the repetitive, tedious and demanding carnation work was the kind of thing that gets you “zoned out”.
Gates agreed: “The former are nerve-wracking. You ask yourself: Do I understand correctly? Do I have the correct voltage? But after a while it becomes automatic. And it’s fun to learn new things. Still, I can’t imagine being in the 1800s, when it’s a job a person would do day in and day out for 12 hours straight. It would become difficult.
Fortunately, Gates said the collective puts people to work on multiple tasks each day, breaking the monotony of some of the more repetitive jobs.
Sipila said he also enjoys learning new skills, and the exciting promise of having the opportunity to help sail the finished boat is an added bonus.
Finkle believes the project is on track to be completed on schedule. “The race started about five months ago, and we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.
But, Finkle also described the project as largely “above the hump.”
“We will be working every day and then we will spend most of July sea trials,” he said, explaining that adjustments will have to be made as the boat crew refines the ship and trim its sail. long after he kisses the water.
As well as relying on the wind for propulsion, the boat is also configured for six rowers.
Finkle acknowledged that Noatun was willing to modify the original design of the ship, while remaining true to certain other fundamental principles. “It’s not necessarily a Viking ship, but it’s more of a project where we asked ourselves: how to build something using local materials and sustainable products and very little plastic, it’s a thing of beauty. ?” he said.
The collaboration relies on its members to contribute as much as they can, but has also sought outside funding, including a recent grant it received from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. Finkle remains optimistic more support will follow, especially as the organization seeks federal recognition as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
He doesn’t see the Alfinna as a unique boat build.
Instead, Finkle said, “After this one, I think we’ll do more.”