The long, navigable coast of Norway, in most places protected by a belt of islands and skerries, is an excellent training ground for sailors, and until the advent of cars and railways, the sea was the principal highway.
The coastal boats were often built in the inner fjords where timber was abundant, while the most demanding customers were the fishermen from the outer coast. Competition between the districts and cooperation between fishermen and boat-builders led to the development of a number of boat types, functional as well as beautiful.
In more recent times, the western and northern coast of Norway have retained much of the boat-building tradition we know from the Viking Age, while eastern Norway have types somewhat further removed from their Viking ancestors.
The latter half of the 19th century saw great changes in Norwegian society, and the traditional boat types were altered and improved. Great regattas were held, such as in Stavanger in 1868, in order to determine which type was the safest and most efficient, and formed the best basis for improvement. The East-Norwegian boats won the competition, but each district remained faithful to its own type.
- See also: Nordland Boat – The Viking Heritage
The boats of Rogaland, the south-west coast types, were mainly built in the well-forested, northern part of the county called Ryfylke. The southern part of Rogaland – Jæren and Dalane – was practically without trees so that the natural conditions for boat-building were poor. The boats built in Rogaland were four, six and eight-oared boats.
The main boat-building areas of Hordaland south of Bergen were Hardanger, Strandebarm and Os. It takes a keen eye to see the differences between old boats from these districts. Since the 1800s, boat-builders from Os have dominated the pleasure-boat market of Bergen and the surrounding districts, and the term Oselver has become almost synonymous with a light three-stake boat.
Great numbers of four-oared boats were built to serve inshore fishing, general travel and small-scale transport of fish, meat, butter, wool and other farm products to Bergen. These commodities were sold by farmers and fishers at the Bergen market.
Fishing further offshore called for six-oared boats. Eight- and ten-oared boats were used for rowing to church. The church boats were often the common property of several farms. For a wedding, it was important that the boat carrying the bride should be the fastest and stout oarsmen had to be selected among the young men of the community.
In the 1850s, Helge Larsson Kvalvik was regarded as one of the leading boat-builders in the area. One of his boats was called ‘tausabåten’ – the girls’ boat, a nickname dating back to 1853 when the boat was new. The young people of Lote in Hardanger and the neighboring farm of Alsåker were none too friendly, and the Alsåker people used to say that the Lote boys could not even row as well as the Alsåker girls. On the occasion of a wedding in Alsåker, eleven Lote men dressed in girls’ clothes borrowed the new boat in the boat-shed and annoyed the Alsåker ‘bride boat’ by rowing round it in circles, shouting, screaming and making a general nuisance of themselves.
Text by: Anette Broteng Christiansen