how did the Vikings navigate?

That was my google search question of the day.

At the same time we had Polynesian explorers sailing the vast Pacific using only stone age tools to create fabulous double hulled ships, navigating by natural signs like wind, swells, sea color, sky color, stars, animal behavior. In the late 20th century there were still a few people like Mau Piailug who knew how to do this.

The Vikings had the art of bending metal to their will, and went through the entire Middle Ages, Renaissance and Colonial era, gradually changing their technology…

…is any of their ancient arts remembered?

And I’m asking this as someone who’s done Viking Age living history and sailed Viking longships…

…but we mostly just puddle around the Chesapeake Bay navigating with our phones…



They looked at the colour of the sea, the way the waves were moving and the way the wind was blowing. They looked out for birds and could smell if they were near land. It’s very unlikely that they had a compass, although some Vikings may have used an instrument called a sun-shadow board to help them navigate.

We are navigating on rivers, creeks, backwaters, bays. We can use landmarks (hey, there’s that bar…), charts, GPS, compasses. We also use wind direction and sun, because we’re weenies and don’t go out at night. We are also not navigating open ocean. Which is a whole ‘nother thing.

Navigating rivers ans bays can be challenging in its own way; water and land interweave like a jigsaw puzzle… a very confusing one. Keeping track of tides and weather becomes important: is that Mighty Thunderhead of Thor moving toward us or away?

The Vikings and the Polynesians were the finest sailing explorers of their times, on opposite sides of the world, in very different environments, with slightly different technologies and answers to How To Build A Boat.

Both were awesome.

Here, my Adventures In Navigating… or How I Got Lost On The Potomac And Why Isn’t There Any Cell Phone Reception Here It’s Flat…



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