How Vikings Navigated Around the World – Part 1

The Nordic people are among the greatest sailors that the world has ever known. Sailing in fairly rudimentary crafts it is almost unbelievable that they managed to achieve such great sailing feats that up to then no other had been able to. Their greatest skill was that of navigation and the Nordic sailors relied on all manner of things to help them find their way including, the stars and birds and even early forms of compasses. Whilst they were sailing across the oceans many chants and rhymes also aided somewhat in their navigation. The early Nordic sailors were known as Vikings and these particular sailors were savage in the extreme.

And looking back it is a real mystery how these war-like men managed to sail across the Atlantic, and a couple of hundred years before Columbus!

Whilst they were on their long voyages of discovery and it must be said terror, the Vikings understood how important it was to link their experiences. Thus observations of weather, marine life, wind were all recorded to help future Nordic explorers to find their way.

The Recording of Experiences

Trying to understand just how the early Vikings found their way about the great oceans of the world is a little baffling. Firstly you must clear your mind of modern navigation techniques as they did not exist. There were no modern aids such as satellite navigation, compasses, radios or echo sounders. The Vikings harnessed their experiences of living in the wild and applied them to the water. They had an idea of direction and where east and west were, but mostly these early Nordics based their position on where the sun was in relation to the horizon.

Navigating at Night

It is one thing looking how high the sun was in relation to the horizon to find out what direction you are heading in, but this technique falls down at night, or inclement weather. Known for their aggressive behavior, the Vikings were also highly intelligent. They realized just as they could use the sun for finding out their position, the moon and stars could also be utilized. Some nights or in cloudy or foggy weather neither the sun nor the moon is visible, and if you are setting out on a long sea voyage one or two degrees off route could mean missing an entire continent.

This is why the Vikings also used any static objects on land they could see, this method was useful sailing around coasts and islands. Perhaps a cliff top or an unusual rock in the water would aid navigation. The Vikings were great at recording such natural navigation aids and drew rudimentary maps. Obviously the motives for such long sea voyages was not always to make new friends and share culture. Most of the Vikings motivation was one of greed and to pillage any new lands of riches or ideas to take back to their homeland.

In part two we continue our epic Viking voyage to discover even more methods that these intrepid Nordic explorers used to navigate around the world. And we see how even plain chanting and singing of songs were integral to their expeditions.