The Boatbuilder’s Village

When the several hundred year boatbuilding tradition in Saltdal was in the throes of dying out, a German took it upon himself to keep the tradition going.

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“People were no doubt rather sceptical when a stranger decided to start building boats, and the fact that I am German didn’t make things easier. But I have been doing it for 22 years now. It is important to keep these traditions alive,” says Kai Linde.


You will find him on the shore in Rognan – Saltdal was the birthplace of boatbuilders. In the 1700s, a considerable boatbuilding industry developed, based on time-honoured skills and knowledge. The combination of abundant pine forests, the river and the fjord laid the perfect foundation for an industry in demand, when the fishing industry began to develop. To begin with, boats were built on the farms up in the valley and carried down on the river.


“The quickest among them could build one boat a week,” Kai Linde tells us.


Down in Rognan they may have got 40 kroner a boat from the merchant. That would be 10 kroner in cash and the rest in merchandise. Boats grew ever greater in size, however, and the boatbuilders decided to set themselves up on the shore in Rognan. In the mid 1900s, there were no less than 250 boatbuilders in full swing. A dedicated boatbuilding course was established at the college of further education and was for a long time the only one of its kind in the country.


Then came the decline. Businesses closed down one after the other, bankruptcies were an everyday occurrence and people were laid-off. But then Kai Linde turned up. He grew up on the shores of the Baltic, a descendant of a family of mariners. He had always wanted to be a boatbuilder and ended up as a student on the boatbuilding course in 1983.  After a time in Denmark and work in Hardanger, he came back to Saltdal in 1991, where he began the laborious task of gathering knowledge. Hours, days, weeks and months were spent together with old boatbuilders in order to learn the craft from scratch. Kai wanted to find out how to create the classic Saltdal boat.


“In the old days, the boat was the family’s car,” says Kai.

The boatbuilding tradition itself is over 1,000 years old, and the Sámi in particular were considered experts in the field. They built Viking chieftain Raud the Strong’s boat, and next time around Olav Trygvasson’s “Ormen Lange”.


In the 1800s, the saw was introduced. Until then, the wood had been split using an axe. Kai Linde has found his own little niche, but it has cost him a lot of work and effort to get where he is today. And if you are going to build a boat, the job starts in the woods.


“In winter I go around marking out suitable trees ,” says Linde.


In spring the trees are sawn down and turned into boat material, and left to dry over the summer. Subsequently, the toilsome task of constructing a vessel begins.

“I don’t use drawings, instead I use a fixed set of proportions. The boat evolves while I am working on it,” says Kai.


He has also spent many hours at the local museum studying how the old boats were put together.


“On average I spend about one and a half months building a Nordland boat,” says Linde.


The extensive boatbuilding trade has formed the basis of Saltdal as the industrial community it is today.


To him it is just as much about culture as it is about craft and industry, because it is the boats that have formed the basis of the borough of Saltdal and the town of Rognan. Now he is one of several enthusiasts working to establish a boatbuilding museum there; a museum that will present the wealth of cultural treasures that are found in the borough. Saltdal Coastal Society (Saltdal Kystlag) is an active association that takes care of vessels, slipways and shipyards.


At the same time, new things are happening there. The old slipway has now become a popular concert arena which is at the centre of events every winter when the “Blåfrost” Festival is arranged. In summer, a promenade and a museum trail are set up along the shore in Rognan: local developments based on history and identity.


“It’s amazing that people can create new activity down here on the shore. At times I have felt quite alone down here,” says Linde


He is also interested in spreading skills and knowledge, and has had apprentices at his workshop for years.