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Færing = Norse wooden boat with two pairs of oars.
The term "færing" refers to the number of oars on the vessel, not its site of origin in Norway (or anywhere else). "Færing" is a contraction of "firæring", which is a boat with four oars (two pairs). "Fire"="four". Therefore a "færing" refers to a Norse boat of a particular size, rather than a special kind of boat. Note that a færing must be built within the Norse boat building tradition to qualify as a færing.
All the different local variations of Norwegian wooden boats with two pairs of oars are called færing within their type. Then you can speak of oselvarfæring, sunnmørsfæring, nordlandsfæring, nordfjordfæring, åfjordsfæring and so on. See my map of the norwegian boat types >>
The number of oars derives several other definitions in addition to the færing:
3 pairs of oars > trerøring (three rowers) or trekeiping (three pairs of kabes). Some areas also use seksring (six oars).
4 pairs of oars > firkeiping (four pairs). Can be used with both 4 or 8 rowers + helmsman.
5 pairs of oars > femkeiping (five pairs). 5 or 10 rowers + helmsman.
To bring in some more confusion, some older boats with 4 pairs of oars and rig are also called åttring (8 rowers). And in time they got another pair of oars, but still kept their old name åttring. So åttring could have both 4 or 5 pairs of oars, but were also rigged. The diagram on this page displays how the boat sizes in Sunnmøre led to many subcategories which developed to be inconsistent with their original number of oars and rowers.
The boats from nordland, also used the term færing for boats with four oars, but used another system for naming the larger boats. They counted the number of rom (room, i.e. the space between the thwarts), just like they did in the viking age.
This is a very rough description, as several other names still are in use along the norwegian coastline. Going into detail could easily fill a book (which actually exist in norwegian: B.Færøyvik: Vestlandsbåtar).
Definition of a færing:
A færing is a clinker built Norse wooden boat type with two pairs of oars and pointed in both ends.
The curved stem and stern are extensions jointed to the keel, which is the backbone of the construction. The strakes are made of wooden planks, most often of pine, spruce or oak. (But any kind of wood is acceptable as long as it is made of solid wood, and can be worked to form strakes). The ribs should be of naturally curved wood. The hull is built like a shell into which the ribs are mounted. In some areas the boats were built with the garboard curving opposite of the rest of the strakes, causing less water resistance. Such concave garboards were skillfully axed into shape rather than sawn and bent.
A færing can be rowed only or rigged with mast and sail. If a rudder is mounted (rigged boats only), it is usually mounted on the stern, equipped with a push-and pull tiller. Lenght usually varies from 14 feet to 17 feet. The hull is built very light, often less than 80 - 90 kg. The rigged færings had square sails until late in the 19th century, while later boats usually have variations of lug rigs and sprit sails.
The kabes (oarlocks, keip in Norwegian) can have slightly different designs, but is in general a wooden hook mounted on the gunwhale to support and hold the oar steady. The thwarts can be loose or fixed.
The færing design is virtually unchanged since the Viking age, despite some geographic variations. In many ways the færing is a downscaled Viking boat.
A Norse færing narrows the time frame to the Norse period, lasting about 500 AD til 1300 AD. However the Norse period can be extended with 200 - 300 year regarding the typology of the boats, as the strakes were still split an hewn by axe even in this period. The main transition from axed strakes to sawn strakes came from 1600 and on, when water driven saw mills became available.
The færing represents the most basic design of all Norse and Viking wooden boat building.
In Shetland, which was Norse until the 15th century, the terms "fourareen" and "sixareen" are still in common use even today. These are anglofications from old Norse language firæring/færing and seksring (originally six oars). http://www.shetland-museum.org.uk/
In my eyes these fourareens are just as much færings as the Norwegian boats are.
Today all boats with two pairs of oars which are built within the Norse/Viking boat building tradition can be defined as færings, regardless of where they are built.
Jørn Olav Løset, June 7. 2007.
Last update on the Jan.19th 2009.
(please respect my copyright)
The Gokstad faering.
The original two smaller boats found together with the Gokstad ship. These are 1100 years old!
Færing from Sunnmøre during building in the workshop of Jakob S. Bjørkedal.
My own færing
before I purchased it. Built ca 1960 in Bjørkedalen. Price about
850 $ in 2004.
Not a very elegant boat, but it is very light. And at least it didn't sink at relaunch..
Nordfjord færing with rig (spree type).
Færing of the Nordland type. In the background a strandebarmer færing from western Norway.
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|Photos and text © copyright 2007 Jørn Olav Løset, Norway. E-mail: