Norway’s Oselvar Boat, a National Treasure

Oslevar boat listed on UNESCO's 'Intangible Cultural Heritage' list
By Susan Hallett
Susan Hallett
Susan Hallett
November 8, 2017 Updated: November 8, 2017

The Oselvar boat was selected in 2016 for inscription on UNESCO’s “Register of Good Safeguarding Practices,” part of the effort to maintain traditional learning procedures.

Previously, western Norway’s main method of transportation was the wooden oselvar boat, also used for recreation. The introduction of modern boats in the 1940s, however, as well as government price restrictions, forced builders to find other work. Greater access to better roads also made the building of wooden boats fall into disfavour.

Interest in the Norsemen, the name used by Europeans in former times for the Scandinavian Vikings who raided the coasts of Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries, has been revived by the fascinating exhibition “Vikings” which opened Nov. 4th at the Royal Ontario Museum. I was fortunate to see it in Gatineau at the Museum of History last year. According to museum notes, the Vikings who were skilled shipbuilders and seafarers, “were capable of navigating the seas without instruments and navigational calculations” using knowledge about “winds, tidal currents, weather phenomena, and travelling times by many generations of ancestors.”

Epoch Times Photo
The Oselvarverkstaden boatyard and workshop foundation helps safeguard Norway’s traditional practice of boat building. (Courtesy Oselvarverkstaden)

To help safeguard the traditional practice of boat building, the Os Batbyggjarlag boat-builders guild of the Os Municipality of and Hordaland County, supported by the Arts Council of Norway, founded the non-profit boatyard and workshop foundation named Oselvarverkstaden.

This foundation has operated since 1997. It recruits boat builders as well as transmitting the expert “know-how on building techniques (normally passed down from father to son).” It attracts active builders, provides them with infrastructure and supports the entire oselvar manufacturing process.

To date, more than 85 boats have been made and 40 repaired. Five of the six apprentices are active and four builders participate. They have access to a workshop where “skills sharing is encouraged, as well as materials and tools.”

Constructing the 5m to 10m boats which are made for racing, freighting, or fishing is a 500 to 600-hour process. It includes “negotiating with material suppliers to rigging and testing the final product.” The builders also conduct field studies, demonstrations and participate in seminars and exhibitions, both locally and internationally.