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Boathouses in post-medieval Norway

Boathouses of different types are still common along the Norwegian coast from Vest-Agder in the south to Troms in the far north. Only in the south east, in the Oslofjord area, are boathouses from the modern period almost unknown.

Why are there no boathouses in South east Norway?
The reasons for the absence of boathouses in South east Norway are, most likely, manifold. It has often been pointed out that as a consequence of the relatively little difference between ebb and tide in the Oslofjord area, boats can be safely left floating on the water. In wintertime, they are hauled ashore and turned up-side down.

Another fundamental cause for the diverging sheltering practices seems to be the difference between the type of boats used in Western and Eastern Norway respectively in the post-medieval period. Two different boat building traditions meet in southernmost Norway, the transitional point seemingly being Cape Lindesnes in Vest-Agder.

To the east of Lindesnes we find the Skagerrack-Kattegat tradition with tree-nailed boats. In the western area the West Nordic tradition with iron-nailed boats dominates. The boats in the Skagerrack-Kattegat area are rather heavy and built of oak, while the boats in Western Norway are lighter, narrower and built of pine or spruce.

The eastern, oak-built boats are somewhat more robust than their western conifer counterparts, and this fact may be of some significance for the unequal distribution of buildings used for the protection of boats. Also, the greater weight alone might have done it less appealing to haul the vessels ashore on a regular basis.

Furthermore, the salty winds will do more damage to the iron nails commonly used in western boats than to the tree nails used in the southeastern area (Westerdahl 1989:249)..

Western and Northern Norway
From the above, the reasons for sheltering vessels on the Western coast should be clear. The effects of the spring drought, the rain and the wind on boats being stored ashore made special buildings or roof constructions a neccessity to protect the vessels. While there are some examples in Scandinavia of boat houses being used only in the summer (Rolfsen 1974:12), the vessels in question are relatively small boats that could just as well be brought ashore and turned upside down (Westerdahl 1989:249). During summer it might be enough to leave the boats on water. But this was usually no option at the open, western coast.

The long western coast of Norway from Vest-Agder to Troms, then, is the classical naust area in Scandinavia.

Types of nausts
Traditional boathouses in Norway come in a variety of types and shapes. Some of the types have a distinctly regional, even local distribution. However, three main types can be isolated:

Stone nausts:
In Jæren, parts of Lista and the western outer coast stone nausts are a characteristic feature. These have dry stone walls. A wooden frame on top of the stone walls supports the wooden roof. The stone nausts are often dug partly into the ground for stability, depending on the type of stone used. Where flagstones are used, one get very stable walls, and thus it is not neccessary to dig the walls into the ground. This was the case for instance in Hardanger.

Framework nausts:
There are two basic types of wooden boat houses. Framework (‘grindverk’) nausts have wooden, roof-bearing posts joined two and two into frames with with horizontal beams. Framework nausts are, together with stone nausts, the most common type of boat house in Western Norway. They occur regularly from Vest-Agder to Romsdal.

The framework construction have ancient roots. An identical or similar building technique must be presumed for the pattern of pairwise post holes found in prehistoric boathouses like the ones from Nordbø/Rennesøy and Stend. Traditional framework nausts do not have dug-down posts, however. Instead, the posts are positioned directly on the ground or on stone bases.

Somewhat similar to the ‘grindverk’ nausts are the ones constructed in ‘stavline’ construction, the difference being that the horizontal beams in the latter runs along both long walls of the building. Thus, the posts do not make pairs (‘grinder’), and may in fact stand at irregular intervals. Nausts with different variants of ‘stavline’ construction are found from Møre og Romsdal and further north.

In the far North, Saami nausts (‘naustgammer’) are constructed in a technique rather similar to the cruck construction found in a number of traditional barns in the British isles.

Log nausts:
Log nausts constructed with horizontal timbers using cog joints are primarily found in Møre and further north, but also in some inner fjord districts further south. Judging from the available material, the lafting technique seems to be an Eastern loan to Scandinavia in the Viking period. In Northern Norway log nausts may be combined with the so called ‘skjeltervegg’ technique, where parts of the wall(s) are constructed with vertically placed planks fitted into the logs below and above, making it easy to temporarily remove parts of the wall(s) – to make it easier to place a boat inside the building, for instance.

Other types of boathouses
Nausts can be combined with a number of other functions. Buildings combining naust functions with storage facilities for fishing equipment etc (‘sjøbu’) are rather common, for instance in Hardanger, while combinations of naust and sleeping facilities for fishermen (‘rorbu’) are found many places in Western Norway.

Especially in the southernmost part of Norway there occurs a type of ‘naust’ being constructed ‘off-shore’, so to speak. These buildings are placed partly on the beach, and partly off the beach, meaning that boats can be floated into the boathouse, where they remain safely on water. These ‘nausts’ often have a ‘sjøbu’ on top of them, and they can be attached to regular houses. For obvious reasons, they are only found where the difference between ebb and tide is little.

This type of boathouse now have a rather widespread distribution, but this is a very modern development, and one linked to the expansion in the use of boats for leisure since the 1930s (Molaug 1985). One core area for these boathouses seems to be the Feda fjord in Vest-Agder, where they seemingly goes back to at least the 17th century. A similar solution to the sheltering problem is found in parts of Sweden, as well, for example in Åland and Roslagen (Westerdahl 1989:255).

In the Feda fjord the boathouses in several cases had a hook fastened to the ceiling, so that the boats could be lifted up in case of bad weather.

The naust rows
At many places in Western and Northern Norway the beach is lined with a great number of nausts. These rows of nausts owe their existence to two different facts.

The first has to do with the limited supply of proper harbour sites. In Spangereid in Vest-Agder, of the 50 or so multi-occupant farms only one did not have access to a beach or harbour – although many farms did not border on the sea. This meant that the nausts or storage buildings of several farms often were located in one and the same harbour. This phenomenon was widespread in many parts of Western Norway, as well, especially where many farms did not have direct access to the sea. The occupants of one such inland farm often shared a naust together on a neighbouring farm that bordered on the sea.

The forms of landownership in Western Norway also contributed to the densely built farm harbours. There was usually no direct link between the number of owners and the number of occupants of a farm, as the right of ownership in the post-medieval period ordinarily amounted to little more than the extraction of rent. From the 17th century onwards population grew, and through inheritance the occupancies were divided into ever so many lesser plots. Thus, a large and resourceful Western farm could have several dozens occupants in the pre-industrial era, each of them often with their own naust at the beach in the farm harbour.


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