In the Phoenicians’ wake
Briton Philip Beale aims to rewrite a bit of African history by sailing around the continent in a boat built with the same materials that he believes the Phoenicians used 2,500 years ago to make the same trip.
Built of Aleppo pine, held together with wooden dowels and powered by wind and muscle, the 66-foot-long Phoenicia will set out down the Suez Canal on Aug. 6. Beale intends to complete the 15,000-mile clockwise journey 10 months later.
“The Europeans think it was Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias who did it first. But I think the Phoenicians did it 2,000 years earlier and I want to prove it,” Beale said Monday.
Beale headed the Borobudur expedition in 2003-04, sailing a replica 8th century boat from Indonesia to West Africa.
Beale was catapulted into his latest adventure by an argument with an academic in Cape Town, South Africa, when he landed there during the Borobudur trip. The academic said Indians had made the first African circumnavigation.
“I said I thought it was probably the Arabs. When I got home my research found a mention by Greek historian Herodotus of a circumnavigation by Phoenicians written in 440 BC, 200 years after the actual event,” the former Royal Navy man said.
He said details such as the location of the sun during certain parts of the voyage described by Herodotus lent the account authenticity.
Beale believes that Egyptian King Necho II in 600 BC commissioned the Phoenicians, the dominant seafarers of the era, to see if it was possible to sail around Africa.
“They basically built a boat in kit form, carried it overland to the Red Sea, put it together and set off,” he said. “It took them three years because they stopped in the winter to plant and grow crops before sailing on again.”
The 21st century recreation of the voyage will round the Horn of Africa and then drop down the east coast, rounding the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa some time in January before heading up the west coast then round the north to Alexandria, Egypt.
The Phoenicia will carry a crew of about 20, with a core of six making the whole voyage and the rest being recruited for different stages.