The Phoenician Ship Expedition

A friend sent me the central section of Westcountry News with an exclusive interview with the explorer who intends to circumnavigate Africa in a re-created Phoenician vessel. Recruiting now!….

The Horn of Africa is infamous for its bloodthirsty pirates, and the Cape of Good Hope is even more notorious for its ghastly wind and weather – but such details don’t seem overly to concern the man who is about to negotiate these and many more perils in a type of engine-less vessel that has not sailed the seas since Christ walked the shores of Galilee.

In fact, the ship in question is being built not too far from Galilee at the moment. Built, that is, in a fashion that for a while had even the Syrian builders of traditional wooden boats shaking their heads in disbelief.

“‘Why do you want us to use old iron nails when we’ve got strong stainless steel bolts?’ That’s the sort of question they were asking at the outset,” laughs Philip Beale, leader and originator of the remarkable Phoenician Ship Expedition.

But Mr Beale is no stranger to turning the clock back a long, long way when it comes to the design and build of something that will float.

Five years ago he persuaded craftsmen on a small Indonesian island to build him an outrigger that was a replica of a 1,200-year-old vessel. He then took that boat – called the Borobudur – right across the Indian Ocean to Africa in a frighteningly authentic bid to prove that early Indonesian merchants had sold goods such as spices to the Dark Continent.

It was on that expedition that he somewhat accidentally stumbled across the notion that perhaps the Indonesians had been Johnny-come-latelies when it came to trading along the South African coasts.

“It was on this previous trip that I got to Cape Town and a rather nutty South African professor was saying in the newspapers that what we claimed to be an Indonesian ship was in fact a forgery,” Philip told me when we met at his West Dorset base. “He said it was the Indians who got there first.

“I argued, quite convincingly I think, that the ship was Indonesian and not Indian – and I also stated that almost certainly the real first explorers would have been Arabs. When I got home I decided to look into it further and there was this detail from Herodotus (a Greek historian writing in about 600 BC) that the Phoenicians had made the first journey around Africa.

“Actually, he was sceptical,” says Philip of the old Greek. “But there were all sorts of factors – like the fact that they’d recorded the sun as being on their right- hand side (while travelling west) and they could not have known that this would be the position of the sun unless they went south of the Equator.”

And so the dream of a new voyage of discovery was born in the mind of the 47-year-old ex-Royal Navy man who hails originally from East Devon…..

The Phoenician Ship Expedition Website This Expedition aims to build a replica Phoenician/Mediterranean vessel and attempt to recreate the first circumnavigation of Africa, as accomplished by Phoenician mariners in 600BC.


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