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The Origins Of Naval And Marine Technology

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The construction of boats and vessels is tightly related to survival as well as to exploration and the progress of mankind. Without adequate ships, many civilisations of ancient times would not have expanded and the world of today would also certainly be different: both Vikings and Phoenicians are good examples, and especially the latter one, with specific regard as to their meaning within the evolutionary process of the Western culture; thanks to the Phoenicians and their commercial expansion we have our alphabet.

It is probably impossible to know with certitude when and why humans began to navigate using floating debris such as trunks, or when they passed from this simple activity to the first true naval constructions such as rafts made out of more than one tree or wood plank tied together. The oldest vessel known so far has been found in the Netherlands: it is a fairly simple canoe very similar to those made by carving hardwood and used by many different ethnical groups even today. It was pretty rudimentary but effective, and its basic characteristic - that is, the rigidity of the big wood piece used to carve the hull - was something that led to more advanced concepts: only the sails seem to be alien to this technological evolution, for they seem to have been invented by the ancient Egyptians, a culture that used to build ships using entirely different principles.

It seems that the step from hardwood canoe to hulled ship was taken during the Bronze Age in Greece, where there was a good supply of trunks and the need to construct bigger vessels. Doubtlessly, those early shipyards and naval engineers first tried to produce bigger canoes using bigger trees, but of course, there is a natural limit imposed by the size of trees, and so they had to come up with new ideas. And what they did was to fix other pieces around the rigid, original hull of the canoe, and that gave rise to the first structural hulls. Of course, there was a lot of trial and error and empirical practice, but they finally got it right and the technology then was adopted by a lot of different cultures.

The Phoenicians were among those who saw value on the invention and they perfected it, adding a lot of other innovations: they were the inventors of the first effective rigging systems used to control sails, they also waterproofed their ships using tar - hence the name Black Ships given in antiquity to the Phoenician vessels, and they develop quick load and unload systems and methods in order to shorten the time their ships were anchored or docked. But there is yet another, very significant, Phoenician invention: it s a well-known fact that Phoenicians were extremely quick at recovering their fleets damaged by disasters, piracy or wars. They built their ships very rapidly with apparently no resources.

The reason that explains this ability might come from the fact that it seems that Phoenicians always kept rather big stocks of spare, standard components for their vessels. In fact, some of the oldest usages of their alphabet has been associated with these stocks, for they used to identify each wood plank, paddle, sail, mast or wood plank with letters: so, archaeologists have found some planks of - say - "Type A", "B-Ribs" and so on. Certainly they could not produce pieces or spares that were exactly alike, but similar enough as to fit in their different ship models easily and quickly. As these changes in technology took place, shipyards evolved too and even town emerged around them in which the whole population began to live from shipbuilding and repairing. That was the beginning of the earliest traditions related to naval and nautical engineering as well as craftsmanship and of all explorations until the invention of the hot air balloon.

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