The Kyrenia Ship: Her Last Voyage

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The Kyrenia Ship

She had seen many voyages, trading in the Eastern Mediterranean and amongst the islands of the Aegean between 400 and 300 B.C.E. She had been built in the shell method of the times with the keel being laid down first then the hull and later the frames, fastened together by copper nails clenched over on the inner side. – a medium size vessel with short decks in the bow and stern and an open cargo area between.

The shipbuilders had applied lead sheathing to the outer strakes to protect the hull against shipworm – a technique well-known to the Greeks. Spare sheets of lead were stowed on board for emergency patching.

She had a moveable mast with a square sail (10.7 x 6m). Brailing lines (small ropes passing through pulleys used to haul up the sails) were fastened to lead rings. According to the weather or to balance the load, the sailors could make adjustments by moving the entire mast and sail into different positions along the keel.

Spare parts for the rigging and some foodstuffs were stored in the stern, while the fore deck served as quarters. The crew of four slept on top of the cargo and supplemented their food by fishing. The captain, the merchant-owner, chose the most profitable route and kept the money with him until the end of the voyage.

The last ports of call

On this her last voyage, the ship called in at Samos, also possibly Kos and Nysiros loading and unloading a varied cargo – olives, pistachios, figs, grapes. At Nysiros at least fourteen sets of heavy millstones of local volcanic rock were loaded in rows of three onto planks 2cm thick placed along the keel of the ship. Continuing its voyage, at Rodos 400 amphorae of wine were stacked on top of the grain mills.

They sailed past Lycia (Antalya, Turkey) unnoticed by pirates. Almonds were loaded on in Cyprus and its journey continued eastwards hugging the north coast of Kyrenia. They were now in dangerous waters close to the notorious pirate coast of Cilicia (southern coast of Turkey).

Cilecian pirates

The rocky coves and headlands of Cilicia made it one of the largest enclaves of pirates in history. They plied the trade route between Greece and Syria, preying upon heavily laden merchant ships. Concealed harbours facilitated repairs, obtaining fresh food and water and distributing the pillage.

The pirates launched their swift attack, possibly from a point along the Kyrenia coast, in fast oar driven boats hurling iron spears into the hull. From the force of the impacts some spears bent. The crew was quickly overwhelmed and likely taken captive to be sold as slaves. Everything of value was looted, even personal items and whatever cargo could be removed speedily. In the confusion bronze coins slipped in down amongst some lead fishing weights unnoticed.

To ensure the ship would sink quickly without a trace, the pirates axed a hole in the bilge, the lowest part of the ship; it filled quickly with sea water and sank to depth of 30 m. one mile off the Kyrenia coast. As it settled the vessel rolled over onto its port side. The weakened broken planks of the axed starboard side broke away when the keel fractured and the ship split open under the waterlogged weight of the cargo.

Swirling sea currents swept sand and mud from the seabed over the timbers of the wreck until all traces were buried. It lay there, protected by the sand and a thick carpet of eel grass for 2,200 years until ….. 1965.

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