Sailing the famous trade routes

In the past few years, the world of sailing has witnessed a renewed interest in the ancient trade routes and how they were masterfully navigated by the seamen of old.

Modern sailors are not only captivated by the manner in which these routes were plotted, but aim to discover how vessels of the time stood up to the elements and treacherous coastlines.

The result has been a proliferation in replica ship-building, as boating and yachting enthusiasts seek to recreate the journeys undertaken centuries before them. It is their belief that in order to truly capture the essence of these voyages, every detail needs to be reproduced, from bow and stern to intricate understanding of the channels.

To be sure, these sailors are not your greenhorns or weekend enthusiasts. Their credentials have as much to do with their passion for nautical history as they do completing a yachtmaster offshore course or other certification.

Hundreds if not thousands of hours are ploughed into research before they even think about building the replica vessel, and even more time is dedicated to studying the history books for the exact routes taken by trailblazing navigators.

One of the more successful trade route recreations came in the form of the Phoenician Ship Exhibition.

This exhibition sought to mimic the astounding achievement of Phoenician mariners in 600BC by becoming the first sailors to circumnavigate Africa.

According to the exhibition website: “In 2008-2010 a reconstruction of a Phoenician trading vessel, built at the ancient Phoenician port of Arwad, embarked upon a journey to re-trace the Phoenicians’ route around Africa.  Re-creating this historical voyage was the major objective of the Phoenician Ship Expedition and was completed by Captain Philip Beale and his crew in October 2010 after 2 years 2 months, and 20,000 miles at sea.

South Africa features prominently on centuries-old trade routes, and in 1987 a replica of Batholomeu Dias’s original caravel, which landed at Mossel Bay in 1488, set sail from Portugal.

Today, the replica is displayed in the coastal town’s Batholomeu Dias Museum, and is well worth a visit. Car hire in Cape Town is very affordable all year round, so making a trip to Mossel Bay to take in the region’s proud maritime history is definitely recommended.

Another recreation project currently under way is the Cutty Sark 2, in honour of the famous British tea clipper which among the world’s most famous ships in its time.

It is envisaged that the replica will sail the globe as a training vessel/museum which carrying symbolic cargos of tea and wool as the original ship upon the Suez Canal being opened.


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