Traditional use of clinker-built boats

For at least two thousand years, open clinker-built boats have been rowed and sailed in Norway. In days gone by, the boats were essential for both food provision and mobility in large and small communities up and down the coast. Local Coastal clubs, associations, museums and other groups on the Norwegian coast are currently involved in passing on the knowledge through environmentally friendly outdoor leisure, such as trips, rowing and sailing.

Written by Tore Friis-Olsen. Last updated 20. October 2020. Do you want to reuse the content? The contents are licensed for unlimited reuse

About the tradition and knowledge

This article is mainly concerned with the open clinker-built wooden boats seen in great numbers on the Norwegian coast and in the Norwegian fjords, lakes and waterways. Exponents of the clinker-built boat traditions are active in a number of local Coastal Clubs, associations, museums and coastal culture centres. Many are private owners of clinker-built boats.

The activities pursued are mainly the use and maintenance of the boats and the seamanship appropriate to them. The boats are used for recreation and leisure, for public education and for social enjoyment. Some groups organise regular racing with sails and oars. The motive power is generally wind and muscle power, though some of the boats are motor-driven, such as the Sørlandet “snekke”.

Knowledge transfer

In the Coastal Clubs and other groups, there are active and knowledgeable persons who are able to contribute to the preservation of skills and practices. Knowledge is exchanged between the generations, and not least from experienced older tradition bearers to new and often younger boat users. Some of the knowledge bearers have roles as course or trip leaders. Knowledge transfer is performed by both formal and informal training. Many courses are arranged, mainly in the form of organised classes through the various adult education associations, particularly Studieforbundet Kultur og Tradisjon.

The use of the boats is part of a wider knowledge corpus in which familiarity with the natural elements, such as weather, wind and landscape, is the basis for navigation and safe sea travel. In respect of the construction and maintenance of the boats, the emphasis is on transferring traditional craftsmanship and on the conservation of artefacts. Active persons in the groups have a great deal of practical knowledge in the use of materials and maintenance products, such as linseed oil and tar.

On board the boats while under way, the crew have clear and specific roles. Each person must know his or her own task and area of responsibility. Traditionally the boat’s skipper is chosen on the basis of ability. This practice continues today. Today’s skippers have important roles as educators and knowledge resources, and often have new or less experienced users with them. On the smaller clinker-built boats, the same system is applied as on the slightly larger boats, but the roles are not quite as clear. Great stress is put on learning about safety and good seamanship.

The knowledge and practices relating to use of the clinker-built boats are also part of the Nordic clinker-built boat tradition.

Plan for preservation

In the groups which are active in the use of clinker-built boats, there is a conscious strategy for transferring knowledge and practice. Work on safeguarding initiatives is carried on at local, national and Nordic levels. One example of this type of initiative is a greater emphasis on outdoor leisure, with the use of small open clinker-built traditional boats as a strategy for enhancing knowledge of conservation and use.

Cooperation is being pursued at the Nordic level to have the Nordic clinker-built boat traditions inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In connection with this, Nordic cooperation partners have initiated a process aimed at drawing up a Nordic safeguarding plan for traditional clinker-built boats. Knowledge about the use of clinker-built boats is to be included in this safeguarding plan.

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