Olaf Engvig, author, maritime historian, lecturer, coastal skipper, ship restorer and preserver.   The Ships That Built the West: The Scandinavian Navy, WAPAMA and VAERDALEN The Ships That Built the West: The Scandinavian Navy, WAPAMA and VÆRDALEN

Olaf Engvig has published English and Norwegian editions of his new hardcover book: The Ships That Built the West: The Scandinavian Navy, WAPAMA and VÆRDALEN. Read stories of the "Scandinavian Navy" and its impact on the U.S. Pacific coast, and two very different tales of two historic ships. Learn more!

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Olaf Engvig's author's notes.

The Last Iron Ships

FALLS OF CLYDE, the iron built four mast ship moored in Honolulu since 1894, has been abandoned by its museum and cleared by the Coast Guard to be sunk. A few hardy enthusiasts from around the world are trying to save her.

Falls of Clyde under sail during the ship’s years with Matson. She is one of the most important historic ships in the world. In an article in the New York Times 10/19/2008, (www.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/us/19ship.html) Christopher Pala notes that the FALLS OF CLYDE was sold recently for a symbolic amount to a group of enthusiasts who hope to save her. According to Pala: "For more than a year, its owner, the Bishop Museum, had planned to sink the ship offshore. The museum, Hawaii's largest, said that more than $30 million was needed to restore the ship 'to her former glory'."

The museum, however, has been accused of incompetence in caring for the FALLS OF CLYDE, which has been a National Historic Landmark since 1989. Part of the controversy pertains to the use of designated funds, but there is also disagreement regarding how to restore the ship.

Allow me here to share my views on the latter, starting with the postulate that to abandon this ship would be a crime committed towards our children and grandchildren.

Ships of iron and iron railways were the two main components that made modern life possible. The decades after 1860 became the height of the Industrial Revolution. Not until the late 1880s could steel compete with iron on a world wide scale. By then the whole development of the new world was well on its way, based on mass production of vast quantities of wrought iron. Iron was abandoned in ship building after 1890. Only in decorative artwork does iron still have a major function as it had in all aspects of life from the Viking Age on until the end of the Victorian Era.

The FALLS OF CLYDE is the only four mast full rigged iron ship left in the world, and the second largest. Built in 1878, she is only 13 feet shorter than the lesser rigged WAVERTREE in New York. Those two windjammers are precious relics and excellent icons for future generations to investigate and interpret. To save this ship for the future is a responsibility for the entire United States. Besides, this ship needs professionals who know how to secure an iron built vessel. The Maritime Museum of San Diego has done so through their work with the STAR OF INDIA.

One example: Sandblasting of an iron hull should never be done. It will carry away the "soft" iron as well. Black spots of slag in a plate will be identified as rust and the sandblaster will continue leaving a hole in the plate and the conclusion that the plate was bad, when, in fact, it was not. High pressure washing should be sufficient to remove organisms, rust and paint. Then the bottom of the ship should be surveyed with ultrasound. A status report must be written. Only then is it time to make specifications for repairs and price the restoration. If the ship has concrete ballast, the surface of the iron plates underneath is usually as clean as when they were laid down. The bottom hull of an iron ship from a good quality shipyard will normally have sufficient thickness left in the plating.

The status of the FALLS OF CLYDE is not fully known. This commentary is based on general knowledge from research on several vessels built of iron that are still afloat, and highlighted in the book "Viking to Victorian, Exploring the Use of Iron in Shipbuilding". It is the first book ever to be written on this topic.

Taking steps to dispose of the 130 year old FALLS OF CLYDE is an irreversible negative act of historic proportions. If you would like to help save this National Historic Landmark, please visit http://savethefallsofclyde.com/page2.htm. Scroll down to see details about the most recent developments. Even if the Web page notes that the ship has been saved, it is only a temporary postponement. It has only been saved from being sunk. A lot of effort is still needed.

Sinking the 130 year old Falls of Clyde is an irreversible negative act of historic proportions.

Falls of Clyde in 1986 in Hawaii.

An Exciting US/Norwegian Maritime Link - - PART 2
(see Part 1 below)


Steam schooner VÆRDALEN is the largest artifact attesting to the mutual cultural ties between the US Pacific Coast and the coast and fjords of Norway. She is the sole survivor of the Pacific Lumber Schooner, built in Norway in 1891, as a conversion in metal of the wonderful boats made of wood in this part of the world.

VÆRDALEN is a ship of 84 feet, bigger than one person can handle. I have worked extremely hard trying to save and restore this ship for future generations. After a lot of setbacks and repeated vandalism, the ship is now on its final track of restoration. As this happens more people have understood that this ship needed to be saved.

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2018 UPDATE! "The Ships That Built the West: The Scandinavian Navy, WAPAMA and VÆRDALEN" is my NEW HARDCOVER BOOK available in Norwegian and in English!
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Vaerdalen - restored and ready for sea.

After an extremely long and painstakingly slow ship restoration, without any funding whatsoever from the government,
the 124 year old VÆRDALEN, a passenger, mail and lumber schooner, is ready to go back to sea.

The development of the US Pacific Northwest was based on lumber. Forests like nowhere else were standing untouched all down to the coast. This was a place where Scandinavians felt at home; even the rocky coast was something they knew from home. They manned the first schooner rigged sailing ships for lumber transport.

Those vessels were later developed into a hybrid sail steam ship, an excellent vessel for navigating the rocky shores and transporting lumber down from the Pacific Northwest for the development of big cities after gold was found in California. They were called hybrid or push/pull ships as they were put together with a sailing vessel forward and a steam ship aft. The straight area in between the bow and the stern became an excellent space for a hold well suited for board and planks.

Dogholes along the rocky coast became the loading places where Norwegian sailors became the daredevils who would take a ship in between rocks to reach loading stations fed by high wire. (See below) Loading had to be done by the crew and was backbreaking work, but the pay was unbelievably good. Norway was still in union with Sweden and the huge fleet of lumber schooners working the West Coast was known to the world as "The Scandinavian Navy".

SEA FOAM, an American lumber schooner, built in Washington in 1904, loading at Point Mendocino. Her captains were Simonsen, Henriksen and Lund, good Norwegian names.

SEA FOAM, an American lumber schooner, built in Washington in 1904, loading at Point Mendocino. Her captains were Simonsen, Henriksen and Lund, good Norwegian names. (Drawing by Mc Clure)

From the 1880s until past WWII, some 225 steam schooners of this coastal "Navy" roamed the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Alaska. They catered to all aspects of life, hauling goods and money as payment to all the mill workers and lumberjacks and adventurers north, and hauling millions of board feet of lumber on the southern run.

This legendary trade has left few memorabilia as all the lumber schooners are long gone. People returning to Norway telling about these practical ships with an enormous cargo half way up the mast soon made a shipyard in Trondheim develop a similar ship to be used for transport of lumber, passengers and mail in Norway. That became the VÆRDALEN, built in 1891 as the very first Norwegian ship of this type. VÆRDALEN is a ship still with us today.

Learn about this and much more in the book "Viking to Victorian: Exploring the Use of Iron in Ship Building".

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2018 UPDATE! "The Ships That Built the West: The Scandinavian Navy, WAPAMA and VÆRDALEN" is a NEW HARDCOVER BOOK available in Norwegian and in English!

You can now learn even more about the Scandinavian Navy and two important ships of the past, namely the WAPAMA and VÆRDALEN, which had two very different stories and fates. As you can see, I managed to save and restore the VÆRDALEN". The WAPAMA, in spite of her illustrious history, is gone.

I invite you to check out my webpage with more information on The Ships That Built the West, and would be very pleased if you chose to purchase it to read all of the stories, and view the book's many photos or drawings of the ships.

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An Exciting US/Norwegian Maritime Link - - Part 1


While researching my newest book "Viking to Victorian: Exploring the Use of Iron in Ship Building", it became clear to me that my ship VÆRDALEN, (below) built of steel and iron in Trondhjem, Norway in 1891, is unique in more than one way. It is built of iron and steel, constructed in the period where ship builders transitioned from the use of iron to the use of steel. VÆRDALEN is therefore probably the youngest of all the iron built ships still existing in the world. At the same time, it is also among the oldest ships anywhere assembled with the use of the new material, steel, that had become inexpensive enough around 1890 to be used in shipbuilding on an international scale.

VAERDALEN saved for the future, arriving back in Trondheim for repairs.

VÆRDALEN saved for the future, arriving back in Trondheim for repairs. (Photo Engvig)

The steam schooner VÆRDALEN was constructed on the design and layout of the US Pacific Coast lumber-carrying steam schooner, the famous coastal trader that worked the coast from Seattle to San Diego from the 1880s on. However, all the American steam schooners were built entirely from wood. None of them exists in a seaworthy condition.

Original drawing of VÆRDALEN from 1891,by TMV 1891.

Original drawing of VÆRDALEN from 1891. (Drawing by TMV 1891, in author's possession)

I saved the steam schooner VÆRDALEN from being sunk and becoming a breakwater many years ago. Little did I know at that time that I had one of the most significant historic ships anywhere. The 84 feet long VÆRDALEN is a world prototype with a riveted metal hull. The world fleet today consists of some 25,000 large vessels. They are built of steel on the design as the VÆRDALEN with a bow section with mast, rig, anchors and chain, a middle section for cargo, and the aft with the propulsion and superstructure for people, and the bridge for control. In the 1890's VÆRDALEN was an odd looking outcast that earned itself many derogatory nicknames, even if she carried passengers, general cargo and mail and had a government post officer on board just as the rest of the local steamers in those days.

As many of you might know, more than 1000 years ago the Vikings constructed superior ships with a combination of iron and wood. To keep a Viking ship together on the high seas, iron rivets were used to secure the boards of the hull. This was marvelous construction that remained superior to all other ship construction for hundreds of years. It made the platform on which the Vikings could go far and wide, even discovering America 500 years before Columbus did.
book cover of Viking to Victorian: Exploring the Use of Iron in Ship Building
All this and much more are found in my book "Viking to Victorian: Exploring the Use of Iron in Ship Building". It is unique as it is the first book ever to highlight the use of iron in shipbuilding. The book is also a recording of expeditions trying to learn how Vikings navigated the oceans and found their way without the use of navigation equipment.

The book is a blend of research and storytelling, history and adventure, making it an interesting read to the professional and the casual reader alike. It is a good reference book to keep and peak through over and again. With all its good quality color photos, it is a pride on anyone’s coffee table, recommended by scholars in nine different countries.

Be convinced that the Scandinavian heritage lives on by reading my book "Viking to Victorian: Exploring the Use of Iron in Ship Building".

Olaf Engvig's The Ships That Built the West: WAPAMA and VÆRDALEN * * * * * * * * *
2018 Update:

And now with even more information on this era of maritime history, and an indepth telling of the vastly differing tales of two important ships of the past, the WAPAMA and VÆRDALEN, here's my latest award winning hardcover book, The Ships That Built the West: The Scandinavian Navy, WAPAMA and VÆRDALEN". This new hardcover book is available in Norwegian and in English.

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Olaf T. Engvig     150 Chickasaw Street     Ventura, CA 93001
Phone: 818.266.5170     olafengvig@earthlink.net

New Hardcover Maritime History Book by Olaf Engvig
The Ships that Built the West: The Scandinavian Navy, WAPAMA and VÆRDALEN

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