19. Making and Sailing Blue-water Vessels in 5203 BP.

Before I approach maritime matters in 5203 BP, I’ll address my experience with ships and sailing. I’ve supervised the construction of naval and merchant ships, raced sailboats, helped design new ships, climbed down cargo nets from troop ships to board small landing craft in stormy weather a mile offshore, and crossed on warships both ways: the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the Mediterranean, Aegean, and East China Seas.

I love ships and seafaring, but nautical archaeology is new to me. I’ll give you an introduction to ancient seafaring, but if you want to go deep, look to the books of Lionel Casson, Shelley Wachsmann, and George Fletcher Bass listed under the Bibliography tab. You’ll also find there a short history on the design, rigging, and maneuvering of most sail classes in Leo Block’s To Harness the Wind—which will prove helpful regarding the maneuvering of boats with lateen sails (see below), which rigging is central to my Raising Up Pharaoh novels, starting in the 4th novel. Ships are on center stage  in the 5th and 6th novels, and will continue in the upcoming 7th and later novels in the series.

There is archaeological evidence of maritime and overland trade among Harappa, Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt, Cyprus, and along the western Mediterranean coastlands in the 3rd to 6th millennium BC.  Precious goods such as gold, gems, incense, and spices could justify huge overland journeys among some of these markets, but rising demand for perishable goods stored in pottery (e.g. wine) and heavy commodities such as wood, copper, and grains stimulated risk-takers to develop transportation by ships. The prevailing northerly wind across the Mediterranean and up the Nile encouraged sailing before the wind (4th millennium BC) hundreds of miles upstream from the delta and rowing downstream—which stimulated the unification of this navigable stretch to become the nation Egypt. Likewise, monsoon winds in the Indian Ocean drove a seasonal maritime trade from India to East Africa and up the Red Sea in the late 4th millennium BC, sailing before the monsoon wind with square sails, trading while waiting, and returning with the reverse monsoon—a perilous but predictable route.

The invention of fore and aft rigged lateen sails subsequently allowed travelling much closer to the wind than the more ancient square sail, reducing dependence upon wind direction, while increasing steering control and lowering time enroute. In order to speed up and make travel more predictable (and less risky), I admit to taking poetic license in advancing the lateen sail in my novels to the late 4th millennium BC (5203 BP). Given the scarcity of contemporary maritime artifacts, this wouldn’t be a major trespass, except that there is no evidence of lateen sails until millennia later . I could have written the entire series with the square sail, but the story would not be as fast moving as I wanted.

Ship construction in 5203 BP was not limited to reed boats on the Nile, as can be witnessed by the Khufu ship dating to 4500 BP. which was constructed out of cedar from Lebanon, using strakes that were sewn together in mortise and tenon joints. It reaches the astounding length of 143 feet and beam of 20 feet (44m x 6m). However, because of its low freeboard, the Khufu ship was limited to river travel. The seagoing ships in my novels are less than half that length (52 ft.), but with a similar beam (16 ft.), and much deeper displacement (3 ft.) and higher freeboard (9 ft.). But, the complexity and heft of the Khufu ship shows that I’m not pushing the construction of substantial wooden ships by overly much to 5203 BP. My ship’s hull form is much simpler to build and assemble than the shapely Khufu ship, for I am using flat panels (no bigger or thicker than a city or palace gate). This I acknowledge is another minor trespass of poetic license, which I credit to the very bright characters in my novels who were bringing about the enormous changes of their time, which are felt in our own lives, today.

Here’s the sketch I made for my cover artist, and middle son, David:

Ship Topview & Profile

The ship is designed to run its bow aground onto a beach, or slightly offshore, depending on the slope of the beach. Thus, the crew can lower themselves to the shallows or sand by rope, make a daring 9-12 foot jump, or hang over the gunwhale and drop about 4 feet. Running aground as the preferred way to come ashore requires a strong bottom. Here’s the sketch I made of the internal construction details:


Hull Construction Sketches

After discussing pros and cons like getting stuck on a mud shore, Artist David and I decided to replace the 5-half-round-log bottom with ten 1 ft. square x 24 foot trimmed cedar logs. David came back with a plan view of the ship using Lightwave digital-art software as follows:


Ship on Lightwave Front, Rear, Side 

Using perspective, here’s a different view below. Note the steering oar, main (forward) and steering (aft) sail yards (2-piece cross-bars). The smaller steering sail aft can be set to reduce the required torque from the steering oar. Note that the rowing oar ports are closed, as they would be when unused. Oars would only be employed when the ship is becalmed, or nearly so, for an extra burst of speed in combat, for propelling the boat onto a beach, and for maneuvering in close quarters.


Ship from front perspective 2


Other than the fact that those scuppers are about 6″ above the main deck (scuppers are cut-outs flush with the deck and meant to drain seawater back into the sea), this looks pretty good. The ship’s carpenter would have remedied that defect on the lead ship while at sea, and made sure later-built ships in the series had scuppers at deck level. Below, a fleet of these ships is underway on the cover of Askleumon.


Cover of Askleumon


In summary, as-soon-as city folk could construct a multi-story building such as in Uruk, Ugarit, and Ashkelon, harvest or import by sea huge cedars from local forests, shape wood with copper tools, join wood using mortise and tenon joints, build large framed wooden doors and city gates, weave and join large cloths from linen, make ropes from hemp, waterproof joints with bitumen, and construct a navigable and protected harbor…then they could build substantial ships. And after they build one such ship, acquire more skilled woodworkers, and desire to expand their maritime trading to increase their wealth, then they will build a fleet that is strong enough to protect their trade routes, repulse seafaring raiders, and punish ambitious rivals. All cities in my novels once thrived and have known locations with archaeological excavations, and those along the seacoast also competed for maritime trade. In the above art, an allied war fleet from two of these cities is sailing to punish a murderous rival, while transporting several scouts from the refugees fleeing Mesopotamia, who are on a different, but equally urgent mission.




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