Some carpentry enthusiasts spend their retirement years building birdhouses, furniture, or jewelry boxes. Tom Kottmeier had bigger plans.
The 76-year-old San Marcos resident has spent much of the past two and a half years building a 33-foot Viking ship replica.
Now in the final stages of construction in a vista backyard, Kottmeier’s wooden boat was inspired by the famous Gokstad ship, an authentic Viking rowing boat excavated from an ancient burial mound in Norway in 1880. Originating around 750 AD, the Gokstad ship was a 78-foot wooden boat that could accommodate 100 men, of the style used for Viking raids.
Kottmeier is a Swede with a lifelong passion for boating and a deep fascination with Viking culture. His dream is to sail his ship – named Sleipnir, after Norse god Odin’s magic eight-legged horse – through Sweden’s Göta Canal to the port of Stockholm in 2024.
When asked what he loves most about sailing, Kottmeier replies: “Everything”.
“It’s about the elements. You are under the power of the winds,” he said during a break from boat building on Tuesday. “Sailors say the best thing about boating is when you turn off the engine. Then you use the winds to get you going.
Sleipnir (pronounced “slape-near”) isn’t the first Viking ship Kottmeier has built. In Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2001, he was one of 30 volunteers who helped build a 42-foot replica of the Gokstad ship for the 1,000th anniversary of Eric the Red’s landing in Newfoundland. After the construction of the ship, named Munin, Kottmeier was its skipper for its first season. Since then he has taken a deep interest in Viking ship building, history and culture.
Kottmeier said the Vikings began exploring in canoes around AD 400, and over the next 500 years they perfected their nautical technology, using boat-building skills and vocabulary that are still in use today. today. Kottmeier said the Vikings were the first sailors to create a gull-wing-like hull that stabilized the boat against tipping over and the first to create their distinctive trapezoid-shaped sails that allowed boats to sail better into the wind. . Their long wind and row boats were also extremely fast – so fast that no navy from another country could catch them on the water after a raiding expedition.
“My heritage is Swedish and I have always thought of the Vikings as part of my ancestry. Their curiosity and spirit of exploration, as well as their ingenuity in shipbuilding, navigation and trade have always inspired me”, did he declare.
Kottmeier was born in Argentina to Swedish parents and moved with his family to Vancouver as a child, where he frequently sailed on his father’s motorboats. He built his first of many sailboats at age 17 and sailed frequently throughout his adult life while running a technology sales business in Vancouver. After spending a year aboard the Viking ship Munin in Vancouver, he and his wife and fellow Swede, Pia, moved to Santa Barbara in 2003, where he started another tech company. In 2018 he retired and they moved to San Marcos to be closer to Pia’s youngest son, who lives with his family in the 4S Ranch area.
Kottmeier said he’s been talking about building his Viking ship for decades, but he doesn’t have a place to do it. Then in January 2020, the Sons of Norway Lodge in Vista offered to let him build the boat on their property, so he took the plunge. Using Munin’s blueprints, Kottmeier came up with his own design for Sleipnir, which included reducing its size so it could fit in a 40ft container for shipment to Sweden.
Kottmeier called the construction process a “3D puzzle” that suffered multiple setbacks because he is an amateur shipbuilder. Many times his plans were not properly drawn up and he had to dismantle and rebuild parts of the boat. Pandemic-related blockages also interrupted the project on several occasions. But he’s happy with the way things went.
Eighteen months into the construction project, Kottmeier made a presentation about the project at a Sons of Norway Lodge dinner and asked for volunteers. Sitting at the same table with the Kottmeiers was Ivar Schoenmeyr, a 73-year-old veteran sailor who was born and raised in Sweden and moved to the United States nearly 50 years ago. Since meeting Kottmeier that evening in July 2021, Schoenmeyr has driven two days a week from his home in San Juan Capistrano to work on the boat with Kottmeier.
“It’s been a learning experience, but it’s very creative work,” said Schoenmeyr, a semi-retired engineer. “We work from a plan, but we make mistakes. It can be a little frustrating, but it’s nice to see the fruits of your labor.
Last fall, the Lodge asked Kottmeier to find a new home for their project because they needed the land to host public events. After posting a review on the Nextdoor app, Kottmeier received numerous offers from landlords offering their land. He ended up choosing a family of Scandinavian origin, who lent part of their garden to Kottmeier free of charge.
Every weekday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Kottmeier works on the ship. The boat, which is 7ft 4in wide, has a white oak keel, overlapping Port Orford cedar planks held together by 1,500 copper rivets and a 27ft fir mast that is timber salvaged from an old church building.
When complete, Sleipnir will weigh 2,000 to 2,500 pounds. Kottmeier ordered a 300 square foot trapezoidal Dacron sail from Hong Kong with brown and cream Viking-style vertical stripes. He also plans to tie the figurehead of a horse like Sleipnir to the bow.
The ship is 90% complete. Kottmeier and Schoenmeyr are now finishing the interior framing. Then they will clean the hull and check for any leaks. After that, they will build the deck and benches, attach the rudder and oars, and varnish it all. Hopefully this summer they will tow the boat to a nearby port and take Sleipnir on her maiden voyage to test her seaworthiness.
Kottmeier has created a website, vikingshipsleipnir.com, where curious enthusiasts can follow its progress, as the private location of the shipbuilding project is under wraps. On the new website, he wrote about the reason for this labor of love.
“I guess I was a little boy wanting to show I could do what the big boys did, the Vikings,” he wrote. “I guess I’m also a bit of a stubborn Viking. Of course, I can build a Viking ship!