Boat building through the centuries

The coat of arms of Hemnes Municipality shows a boat-clamp, honouring the area’s strong boatbuilding tradition. The boat-clamp is also featured on the mayor’s ceremonial chain. Boat-clamps are used by the boat-builder to hold boards in place before they are riveted together.

Since the 1850s alone, as many as 300,000 boats are said to have been produced in the valleys below the Okstindan mountains, along the Røssåga river, and in the village of Hemnesberget. In the past, most of the production of smaller boats was done on farms with access to plenty of good timber. Once built, the boats were transported down to the fjord. During most of the 20th century, Hemnesberget and Sund were two of the leading Northern Norwegian centres for the production of fishing boats. In the years 1910–88, more than 2000 fishing boats were built here. Since 1981, most of the recreational boats produced in Hemnesberget have been made of glass-fibre reinforced plastic (GRP).

Fortunately, there are still master boat-builders keen to share their knowledge with young apprentices. We are witnessing a surge of interest in this heritage, including by historians who write books to document the boat-building traditions in the villages around the Ranfjord. We would eventually like to share some of their stories here.

A well-known story is that of the Leif Erikson, a replica of the ship design the famous Viking explorer sailed to the New World. The replica ship was crafted by skilled boat-builders on a farm in Leirskardalen. Then it was transported down to the fjordside village of Hemnesberget, from which it was sailed to Bergen and then across the North Atlantic. Today it has a place of honour in The Leif Erikson Viking Ship Park in Duluth, Minnesota.

If you are interested in traditional boats and wooden boat building, you will be well rewarded by visiting Hemnesberget and taking a fjord trip with the newly restored fishing boat MK Remi Ketil. And you would do well to seek out a conversation with one of the enthusiastic members of the Hemnes Historical Boatbuilding Association who put in long hours to restore this vessel!