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    Early Vessels in Arctic Exploration and Voyaging

    Encyclopedia Arctica 9: Transportation and Communications

    001      |      Vol_IX-0115                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transportation and Communications

    (Howard I Chapelle)


            In an examination of shipping of an earlier period than is covered by

    the shipbuilding reco r ds now known, there is always the danger of under–

    estimating the technical progress of the age under discussion. In the past,

    it has been assumed that all ships, of the ages before technical records

    of ship design were preserved, were weak, crude, unseaworthy, and cumbersome.

    The reasons for this are obvious to anyone who examines the pictorial evidence

    of one of these pearly periods. Pictorial evidence of shipping on coins, or in

    sculpture, or in pottery decoration, or even in funerary models, of the pre–

    Christian era, for example, would indicate that ships were very short, high–

    sided and fitted with fantastic decorations. This apparent cumbersomness

    becomes more marked in the pictorial evidence of later periods, up to and

    including the first two centuries, seventeenth and eighteenth, in which the

    plans of ships began to be preserved.

            The seaman, shipbuilder, or naval architect examining this evidence

    would find it inconceivable that ships, such as represented, could have accom–

    plished the voyages indicated by historical records and archaeological dis–

    coveries. That something is wrong, in the pictorial representations, is

    commonly evident for they lack proportion; not uncommonly the crew are drawn so

    large that the ships could not possibly carry them. It is apparent, then,

    that these early pictures of shipping were drawn without regard to perspective,

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    proportion, or scale. The artist, to emphasize importance in his composition,

    made the human beings in his picture larger than life, in comparison to ships,

    buildings, or other background material without regard to correct proportions

    or the dictates of perspective. In the same manner he also shortened or con–

    tracted ships and buildings to fit them into the space available. Gradually

    a convention was accepted, that importance was shown by size of a person in

    a composition and that inanimate objects might be prepresented out of all

    scale or proportion, though otherwise represented in laborious detail. Error

    in detail existed, no doubt, since it is improbable that artists and sculptors

    were any better fitted to interpret what they saw in a ship in ancient times

    than in more recent ages. The conventions of art, as represented in the

    pictorial evidence under discussion, was accepted for many centures; indeed,

    until within nearly four hundred years of the present century. Though the

    distortions and lack of proportion in ancient ship drawings, or sculpture,

    are obvious, the modern observer certainly receives an impression that the

    ancient shipping must have been nearly as cumbersome, awkward, and ill-formed

    as the ancient artists indicated. Trained in accurate delineation, the modern

    scholar and student of subconsciously accept the idea that the ancient artist

    drew what he saw to the same accuracy in the proportion of the ship's hull that

    he indicates in small details of fittings, structure, or rigging. Yet there

    are logical reasons for doubting the accuracy of such impression . s.

            In the same manner, literary references to shipping matters by ancient

    writers have proven unsatisfactory. In ancient times, even the historian was

    permitted to indulge in exaggeration and flights of fancy – particularly

    in the description of the size of objects. Though there may have been ancient

    treatises on shipbuilding, as there were on military engineering, for example,

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    unfortunately nothing of the nature has been preserved. Therefore we have

    no better technical information in ancient literature than the relatively

    scant notes of the scholars, philosophers, or playwriters, and these, it

    must be remembered, were neither seamen nor informed on shipping matters.

    Nevertheless, their works represent the "literature" of the day rather than

    technical [ ?] treaties, just as at present popular emphasis is placed on

    nontechnical books. It is as impossible, therefore, to reach conclusions

    on the technical aspects of shipping by use of the ancient "literature" as

    it would be by use of the modern popular novel, play, or poem, the "crative

    literature" of our day.

            Many studies of ancient shipping have been attempted, employing literary

    sources, but it is fully evident that incomplete and confusing results have

    been obtained. The use of pictorial evidence alone has also led to many

    difficulties. Archaeological discoveries, particularly of portions of ancient

    ships, have been rather scanty but are of more importance in such studies than

    has been fully realized. All sources, combined, should serve to give a grasp

    of the probabilities, at least, of technical progress in shipbuilding in any

    age within the last 6,000 years.

            First, it must be understood that the arts of boat and shipbuilding are

    very old in human development and extend far beyond the dawn of recorded

    history. This statement is not a mere opinion; it is based upon archaeological

    discoveries within the last hundred years. It must also be accepted that boat

    and shipbuilding techniques change with remarkable slowness and therefore an

    ancient nation did not suddently become great in shipping matters; such promi–

    nence was an age-long process. As to this, it is interesting to attempt to

    discover how long the methods of boat and shipbuilding used at present, in

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    wooden construction, have been in use; if it could be shown that these

    methods have been developed a number of centures ago, it would give at

    least some idea how gradual development has been in the shipbuilding arts.

            In the year 1691, a Swedish shipbuilding treatise (Skeps Byggerij eller

    Adelig Öfnings Tionde Tom, A Å ke Classon R a å lamb, Stockholm, 1691) shows the

    ship and boatbuilding methods, then employed, in one large plate and the

    ship-carpenter's tools then in use in another. The plate showing the methods

    of setting up ships and boats would be perfectly understandable to a modern

    boatguilder, for this old book shows the use of stocks, moulds, and braces,

    (to shape the hull during construction) and the methods of bending and clamping

    timbers that are basically the same as are used today. Even the tools are

    familiar; in fact, the majority of the ship-carpenter's tools have changed

    little since the year this book was written. If we knew more about the history

    of carpenter's tools, so that a date could be established for the invention

    of the various types of saws, adzes, hewing axes, and drills, we might be able

    to estimate the development of shipbuilding in ancient times with far greater

    accuracy that is now possible.

            The evidence of this old book shows that the common tools and methods

    now employed, in this year of grace [ 1600 ?] 1950, in boatbuilding of the con–

    ventional type, have been used since the 1600's with only very minor refine–

    ments. It cannot be accepted that what is shown in the treatise of 1691 had

    only just come into use. Indeed, it is commonly accepted that changes in

    building technique in ships in past ages were more slowly accomplished than

    in the last century; since the last two centuries and a half have shown no

    important change, how many centuries before 1691 were required to reach the

    level for that year?

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            But this is only a published source, comparatively recent in recorded

    history. A number of Viking ships and boats have been recovered from

    burial mounds, whose estimated dates are in the ninth and tenth centuries;

    one large boat has been found that is believed to be in the third or fourth

    century. In addition to these vessels from northern Europe, there have been

    discoveries of remains of Mediterranean craft; the Lake Nemi discoveries are

    of particular value for they are craft built in the first century. These

    were not seagoing craft but nevertheless are instructive. The Westminster

    ship, of the third century, was a seagoing Roman galley. Remains of other

    vessels, prehistoric and later (such as the Sutton Hoo burial ship of about

    A.D. 630), and numerous dugouts also are evidence.

            These early ships give part of the answer to the question set up, for

    the ships of northern Europe, and the Westminster and Lake Nemi craft, show

    not only very high workmanship but a well-developed structural design. The

    craft were not all small craft; the Viking ships and the Sutton Hoo vessel

    were 70 to 90 feet in length while Caligula's Lake Nemi houseboat was well

    over 200 feet in length, and over 72 ft. beam; the Westminster galley was

    about 90 ft. long and 18 ft. beam. These craft were built by well-trained

    professional builders and their structural details testify to the manual

    skill of their constructors. The Caligula houseboat shows a hull construc–

    tion not dissimilar in fundamental structural design from modern wooden

    hulls, employing keel, keelson and sister keelsons, and sawn frames. Due

    to the hull form, two bilge keels on each side the main keel were employed.

    The planking was smooth or "caravel" with thicker garboards than the rest

    of the bottom plank. Ceiling plank was placed inside the frames but in this

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    the builders departed from modern practice in having the ceiling strakes

    separated by air spaces, making the ceiling plank more like large battens

    than an inner skin. This may have been intended to allow air circulation

    to eliminate rot as much as possible. This craft was certainly built on

    construction methods not far different from what would be employed today

    in a large, lightly built wooden hull. Both the Lake Nemi vessels and the

    Westminster galley show that sharp, serviceable carpenter's tools were used

    in their building.

            The Viking ships and the Nydam Boat of A.D. 200-300 show seagoing ship

    construction of a high order; they were clench planked with hewn or sawn

    frames from natural curved timber. The fitting of the planking was very

    skillful. The laps in the clench planking were iron riveted in the fashion

    still prevalent; the frames were nailed to the plank above the turn of the

    bilges but lashed to the lower or bottom plank by lacings passed through the

    frames and through lugs on the inside of each strake, giving a very flexible

    and strong structure. It is evident that these vessels must have been set

    up and formed in the manner still used in lonech-built craft; instead of

    moulds to shape the hull, the Vikings and North Europeans may have used a

    few control frames; or they may have formed the ships "by eye," holding the

    plank in position by "wedge-clamps" and skin-rope to pins driven in the

    ground alongside the ship.

            Anyone who has examined the remains of these ships or the carefully

    measured and drawn plans of the Gokstad ship of the last half of the ninth

    century, or of the Oseberg ship of about A.D. 800, will realize that they

    represent a highly developed shipbuilding technique of long standing at the

    period of their building. These are not the crudely designed and built craft

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    of unskilled builders but the work of craftsmen of the highest class.

    Furthermore, the design of the hull-forms used was of a high order, pro–

    ducing ships of great seaworthines and ones capable of high speed under

    sa i l e or oars. The finish of these ships as in the case of the Roman craft,

    attest to the existence of excellent tools.

            Were such evidence insufficient, the prehistoric dugouts recovered

    give additional evidence of marked skill on the part of their builders and

    indicate that craft existed before the dawn of recorded history which were

    capable of long voyages. Some idea of the probable capabilities of the

    prehistoric dugout may be obtained from the huge log dugouts of the old

    Maoris of New Zealand, or the fine dugouts of the Indians of the Northwest

    Coast of North America. These craft were not only well built but well formed,

    and capable of long voyages.

            The use of logs in construction of boats has ceased only in very recent

    times among civilized builders; these log craft were commonly built of a

    number of logs, hewn to shape and bolted together with wooden and metal pins.

    The now extinct Picataqua River Gundalow of New Hampshire and the still common

    log canoe of the Chesapeake are well-known examples of a mode of construction

    suggestive of that shown in some Egyptian paintings of shipbuilding of about

    2000 B. C., though the hulls are unlike in form.

            Once it is recognized that shipbuilding knowledge and building tools

    of a very high order have existed since the beginning of recorded history,

    and even earlier, the possibilities of very early voyages of exploration,

    migration, and trade not only become understandable but wholly reasonable.

    With the rise of shipbuilding skill there was apparently an equally great

    increase in seamanship and navigation. The evidence of prehistoric migrations

    and of later ones, such as that of the Polynesians in the Pacific, indicates

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    that the Stone Age may well have seen periods of trans-ocean navigation in

    dugouts, skin craft, and even planked boats by skillful sailors and navigators.

            The application of this understanding to arctic exploration and voyaging

    can but lead to the acceptance of the possibilities of voyages of exploration

    and trade to the polar seas before the period of recorded history. The

    literary evidence that the early Irish were in Iceland before the age of the

    Vikings, in an age when the Irish were believed to have employed skin boats

    or "curraghs," is but one possibility; it is equally possible and highly

    probable that others may have ventured northward, the prehistoric Scandinavians,

    Finns, and Russians. If the Irish could have made such voyages within the

    period of recorded history in skin boats, the ability of other primitive

    peoples to equal the voyages of the skin curraghs must be accepted. Certainly,

    the Eskimo umiak was fully as capable of long ocean voyages as the curragh

    and the lashed-plank hulls of the Scandinavians, or skin boats of the Russians

    and Finns may have been equally capable.

            On the evidence of prehistoric dugouts it is apparent that many Stone

    Age people were acquainted with the use of the sail; once this knowledge had

    been obtained, long voyages by craft having comparatively small crews became

    feasible. However, the paddle alone did not deny a primitive people of

    "Cruising range," for they were capable of withstanding great hardships and

    so could cover great distances under paddle alone, as is evident in the

    traditions of the Maori. With the craft of the Stone Age type, that have

    survived into modern times and are recorded, there are many that would sail

    and paddle at comparatively high speed under reasonably favorable weather

    conditions — and some, such as the kayak and Northwest Coast log canoes, that

    would move fast even under relatively unfavorable conditions. In view of

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    this, it seems apparent that prehistoric navigation would have been possible

    in arctic waters so far as the capabilities of Stone Age craft were con–


            Historically, the first arctic explorer and voyages who left a literary

    record was Pytheas, who is thought to have voyaged from what is now Marseille,

    France, to Iceland and a hundred miles or more beyond, to the edge of the

    arctic ice, floating south in the Greenland Current, about 330 B. C. This

    voyage has been a matter of controversy, for its details are not clear; the

    original book of Pytheas describing his voyage, The Ocean , has been lost and

    only portions of it on third or fourth-hand quotations, have survived. These

    quotations have largely been by ancient writers who deemed Pytheas a liar and

    quoted him only to hold his claims up to reidicule. Without entering into the

    question of whether Pytheas reached Norway or Iceland, the suitability of

    craft of his time for an arctic voyage to Iceland from Europe can be explored.

            Most writers, in discussing the ship that Pytheas might have used, have

    entered into a description of the oared war galley of his age, deeming that

    his ship would be of this description. Others have been led to discuss the

    large merchantmen of the age, assuming these to have been the most likely type

    for such a voyage. It hardly seems reasonable that either a large war galley

    or a large merchant ship would have been Pytheas' selection, any more than

    a battleship or cruiser, or a liner or large freighter would have been

    selected by a modern explorer. Large ships required too many men to feed and

    were too expensive to operate; they were too cumbersome in narrow, shoal waters

    where great length and draft would handicap an explorer. On the other hand,

    Pytheas lived in an age when unfriendliness among strangers was the rule

    rather than the exception and where the "civilized" adventurer rarely possessed

    the advantage in weapons over the "savage." Hence, an explorer venturing into

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    unknown lands had to have enough men to resist attacks by small bands of

    men armed with weapons equal to those available to the explorer. Sword, lance,

    bow and throwing dart, and stones thrown with a sling were the common offensive

    weapons; breastplates, helmets, and shields were common implements of protection.

    With variations in efficiency and serviceability, these were known to all

    peoples, cultured and uncultured.

            We know, from the sagas, what size of crew the Viking exploration craft

    usually had; 20 to 35 men were considered adequate. It is probable that

    Pytheas would have placed a similar limitation on the size of the crew he took

    along and this would determine, certainly, the size of the ship required.

            In the age of Pytheas, there were many craft in common use on the Mediter–

    ranean that were fitted to row and sail well and capable of being manned by

    such small crews. One type was the actu a riae , small craft of various models

    suited for scouting and usually fitted to row and sail equally well. Sub–

    divisions of this general type appear to have been the celoces , or "recehorses,"

    a small sharp ship fitted for carrying dispatches; another was the cercurri ,

    a type designed to serve as war galley and merchantman; and a third was the

    lembi , a small vessel used in piracy and for carrying dispatches. There was

    also the Phoenician hippi , merchant ships having figureheads of horses; in

    the time of Pytheas these were in use at Cadia and in the [ ?] African coast

    fisheries. It was this type of ship that is supposed to have doubled Cape

    Good Hope, as wreckage of one was found on the African east coast about 112 B.C.

    and the ship was supposed to have hailed from Cadia.

            Some of these types carried rams but this appendage would have been of

    little value to Pytheas unless he expected to have to fight his way past the

    Strait of Gibraltar, where the Carthinginians had long maintained a blockade

    to prevent trade through the Strait. However, Pytheas would have realized

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    that this would be foolhardy with a small crew, so, if the blockade existed

    at the time of his voyage, he undoubtedly would depend upon speed to run

    the blockade, as have blockade-runners since ancient times. It is probable

    that he employed either a cercuri or a hippi . In either case, his ship

    would have been about 60 to 70 ft. over-all and 15 to 17 ft. beam; a low

    galley hull with one mast and square sail, rowing perhaps 15 cars on a side

    and decked at the ends. Such a ship would not have been greatly dissimilar

    to the later Viking ships except in model; the Mediterranean galley usually

    had flaring sides, rounded bilges, and rather flat bottom, smooth planked,

    (caravel) with sharp lines fore and aft.

            Such a vessel as this would not only carry the size of crew that is

    probable but also a quantity of provisions and some trade goods. She would

    have a speed under cars alone of about 3 knots for an extended time, with

    an extreme speed of perhaps 5 knots for a very short period of time. Under

    sail she would be very fast, reaching and running — under favorable condi–

    tions she might be driven 10 knots, with the possibility that she might

    average as high as 7 or 8 knots for prolonged periods. To windward she

    would be poor, neither pointing high nor fetching her course; it is doubtful

    that she would make more than 2 knots on her course close-hauled. The shape

    of her hull and the out and form of her sails would make speed, when close–

    hauled, improbable, particularly when there was any sea. Though these

    vessels had an outside keel, it was probably shallow and rather ineffective

    on the wind in preventing leeway. In this respect the Mediterranean galleys

    were far less efficient than the Viking ships having reverse curve in their

    floors, as in the Gogstad ship. Beaching qualities were too important in

    the Mediterranean types to make any sacrifice to obtain Weatherly character–

    istics desirable; the long calms met in the Mediterranean made rowing far

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    more important than sailing. Nevertheless, in Pytheas' time it is highly

    probable that craft existed in the western Mediteranean that had some

    weatherly qualities; and the hippi were probably on such a model.

            It has been said that the ships of Pytheas' time were larger and safer

    than those of Columbus; in justice it must be said that the actuariae and

    the Viking ships were more seaworthy and faster than the vessels given to

    Columbus, but this is true only because Columbus had neither the fastest

    sailers nor the most seaworthy ships of his time; his vessels were poor for

    his purpose. It is doubtful that Pytheas would have used ships larger than

    those of Columbus; it is highly probable that the former's ship was not one

    of the largest of his time, any more than Columbus' ships were for his age.

            Living aboard the partially decked Mediterranean galley was no more of

    a hardship than on board the Viking craft; the exposure in both was not as

    great as in the crowded whaleboats that have been used in escaping from ice–

    bound whalers on countless occasions. Both the galley and the Viking ships

    had decked holds, at bow and stern, that could be used to keep bedding dry

    and for other dry storage. The open waist could be closed over with a

    ship's lent; this however was rarely done at sea. Normally, the crews slept

    on or under the rowing thwarts covered with tarpaulins of some kind, often

    skins, in addition to their bedding. Cooking hearths were of course used at

    sea. Some of the Mediterranean galleys and Viking craft had a cabin aft for

    the commander and a low forecastle into which some of the crew could stow

    themselves in cold weather. With adequate clothing and bedding, the crews

    of these ships probably felt themselves fortunate compared with the soldiers

    and peasants of their period.

            In discussing the inherent differences between Mediterranean galleys

    and the vessels of northern Europe, it has often been said that the weather

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    conditions met on the Mediterranean produced little heavy sea and, by

    referring to the "sunny" climate, the inference is given that the seamen

    did not suffer from cold weather. This whole outlook is contrary to fact;

    the Mediterranean is subject to violent storms and to cold weather; and

    ancient seamen there had to have almost as much protection from cold weather

    as the northern Europeans in their open, or partially decked, shipping. In

    addition, the shipping of the Mediterranean had to be very seaworthy if long

    voyages were made, particularly in the western portion. Throughout the

    period of sail, the small craft of Italy and southern France, that were em–

    ployed in the open Mediterranean, were notable sea boats. When the war

    galleys grew so large and long that they were endangered by rough water it

    is to be noted that they became fully decked below the rowing thwarts; this

    began in the large multi-banked galleys of the pre-Christian era.

            The lack of scale models or plans of the ancient Mediterranean craft, such

    as the actuariae or the older hippi , does not prevent us from obtaining some

    idea of their hull-form. There are enough pictorial and sculptured, as well

    as archaeological, remains to give at least a general idea of the model of

    hull most commonly used. On this evidence it is apparent that most of these

    craft were sharp at both ends but with the stern so built as to mask this to

    some extent by use of carvings or a "tail," often of a water bird. While

    some of the vessels may have had their stern formed round, in copy of the

    after portion of a duck or swan, the majority appear to have been sharp and

    to have shown the sea-bird stern by profile build. The bow look many forms;

    some had rams, some overhung in a sweep from the keel, some seem to have had

    what is now known as a "clipper-bow": which later was well developed in the

    galleys of the 15th-18th centuries. Some vessels, represented apparently by

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    the hippi , had hull profiles approximating those used in the known Viking

    ships of the Christian era. So far as we can determine now, all the Mediter–

    ranean craft were smooth planked (caravel), and clenchwork was not used.

    Dugout boats were common in the smaller sizes. The midsection form has been

    described and was apparently a U-shape with a somewhat flattened bottom and

    flaring sides. The practice of the Vikings of carrying shields along the

    sides to protect the rowers seems to have been practiced on the Mediterranean

    at times, so it is highly possible that the sight of Pytheas' ship at sea

    would not have caused any surprise to a Scandinavian seeman met on the voyage.

            Though the voyage of Pytheas in 330 B.C. is the first of which we have

    any still existing recorded mention, there is no reason to doubt that there

    may have been others from the Mediterranean who reached arctic waters. These

    may have coasted northern Europe to the Arctic by way of Norway, or may have

    gone overland to the Baltic and then northward. At least this much can be

    said with certainty; the early Mediterranean peoples such as the Phoenicians

    and Carthaginians possessed ships fully capable of making such voyages and

    had seamen who would have dared. Even the unsatisfactory surviving literary

    evidence gives strong indications that there were many periods, in pre-Columbian

    ages, when long voyages of exploration were common and when trading voyages

    of great length were the general rule. These cannot be discussed as fables

    because they contain imaginary monsters and sea conditions; there is the much

    established fact in these accounts for them to be discounted. Propaganda was

    not unknown in ancient times and, by telling fearful tales, many traders and

    their governments hoped to prevent competitors from following and exploiting

    the newly discovered lands and trade routes.

            With the possibilities of the voyages of the Scandinavians of a later

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    period — such as Ottar's coasting voyage around northern Norway into the

    White Sea, in A.D. 890 and the discovery of Greenland between about 875 and

    900, the voyages to Labrador or the North American mainland by Leif, and

    later voyages in the eleventh and twelfth centuries — there can be no

    question so far as the capabilities of Viking shipping are concerned. With

    the discovery of very complete remains of Viking craft, we have too complete

    knowledge of their ships and shipbuilding practices to doubt the ability of

    daring, hardy seamen, such as the Scandinavians were known to be, to cross

    the northern Atlantic at will.

            The Irish discovery of Iceland may have taken place in the sixth century;

    at any rate the Vikings found them there in the tenth century, as has been

    mentioned earlier, when the Irish apparently left in their vessels. According

    to Tacitus, Ireland was well known, compared to England, because of the trade

    there; the ancient Irish were sea traders in the first century then, and

    probably had been for some time. They appear to have employed curraghs in

    their long ocean voyages, as apparently did some other of the Celts. We

    must judge the capabilities of the curraghs, as the Irish skin boats are

    called, by the modern survivals; however, there is some reason to believe

    that these are decadent and that in ancient times these boats were of far

    larger dimensions. If this were the case, the long voyages described or

    indicated in the Irish tales were surely possible. The record of the Irish

    voyages are too vague to be certain that there had not been extensive Irish

    discoveries before the first century; indeed, the Tacitus mention infers

    that they were. So far as the capabilities of skin boats and early European

    dugouts are concerned, existing evidence pertaining to these boats gives no

    reason for doubting the possibilities of rather long ocean or coasting voyages.

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            Very little is known about the explorations of the early Russians in

    the eastern Arctic. When the English voyagers first reached the White

    Sea in 1553 they found Russian sealers and walrus hunters and there is no

    reason to believe this was anything new so far as the Russians were con–

    cerned. Their boats, lodias , were much like the Viking ships, though cruder

    in build and design. These vessels were apparently 40 to 60 feet in length

    and could be both rowed and sailed. They carried crews of 15 to 30 men, as

    a rule, and employed 10 to 20 carsmen; they had one mast and a square sail.

    It was noted that running free the lodias outsailed the English. As late

    as 1898 many of the Russian boats in the White Sea had their planking fastened,

    or "sewn" together, with bark and sinew lacing. Judging by later models, the

    lodias were clench-planked, double-ended, with a shallow V-bottom and flaring

    Sides; their stems either were sharply raked forward and nearly straight, with

    a high, unadorned stem-head, or curved inboard above the waterline with a

    strong, rounded tumble-home. The sternpost was usually straight, with varying

    rakes depending upon the district in which the boat is found. Most of this

    class had hide or canvas shelters flush with the rail at bow and stern. The

    boats seem to follow the Norwegian construction in general except for the

    more extensive use of lashings. The lodias and their more modern sisters

    had shallow keels, but could sail on the wind to some extent and were

    strong, seaworthy craft. It is probable that many unrecorded voyages were

    made by these Russian craft; the early English navigators found Russian

    White Sea navigators acquainted with Novaya Zemlya as well as much of the

    coast to the eastward along the main: it was obvious that this was of rather

    long standing except for Novaya Zemlya perhaps, the "New Land" of the Russians.

            The voyages into the Arctic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

    are well recorded — such expeditions as Cortereal, 1500-01; Frobisher, 1578;

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    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Early Vessels

    Davis, 1585; Berents, 1596-97; and Hudson's Button's, and Hawkeridge's

    voyages in the early years of the next century — and the shipbuilding of

    the period is more readily explored. In these centuries there are not only

    extensive pictorial representations of ships to be examined but also the

    evidence of primitive plans. In spite of the material available, it has

    been customary to seriously underrate the qualities of the ships of these

    centuries, just as it had been for the ships of earlier periods. The

    voyages show that, on the whole, many of the vessels employed sailed quite

    well and were seaworthy, though there were individual cases where the

    vessels used in exploring were poor. However, the use of a poor ship in

    an exploring expedition cannot be accepted as proof that all ships of the

    date were equally low in quality. As in more recent times, slow and unsea–

    worthy ships might be used in an expedition because of lack of funds to

    obtain better ones, or because the sponsors of the expedition knew no better,

    or because the ships selected were believed to have other necessary qualities

    of great importance.

            The most serious fault, perhaps, in many of the ships of those centuries

    was in the fashion of raising the after portion very high to obtain additional

    quarters. This "over-charging" was more marked in Latin vessels than in those

    of northern Europe, but in both areas there were vessels in use, at the same

    time as these high- [ ?] sided craft, that were relatively low and Weatherly.

    This variation in design was traceable to the requirements of use. Many of

    the merchant craft, particularly in the smaller sizes, were not fitted with

    the high "stern-castles" and the lower, but often burdensome, "fore-castles,"

    as such appendages were not required; also the ships were sometimes too small

    to carry them. War vessels, on the other hand, had these structures because

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    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Early Vessels

    they not only gave additional quarters for officers and important personages

    but also because the height of those "castles" was useful in the sea-fighting

    of the period. Naturally, the fighting ships were more attractive to artists

    and so we find men-of-war, and large ones at that, more commonly represented

    in pictures. Because of this, the impression is readily received that all

    shipping followed these vessels in build. However, it is now known that

    there were many types of ships in which the "castles" were suppressed or

    made so low that they were not objectionable from the standpoints of speed

    or seaworthiness. From the context of many of the contemporary accounts of

    the early English and Dutch voyages it is apparent that the ships used were

    not extremely "overcharged" with superstructure.

            In g e neral, it can be said that the Mediterranean ships, of the larger

    types, were cluttered with high superstructure, while ships of northern Europe

    were commonly without these high and burdensome structures. The Spanish

    appear to have been among the worst offenders in this respect, as many of

    their large ships in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were not only

    fitted with lofty stern cabins and heavy forecastles but also were very

    high-sided amidships. But even this nation had many ships that were without

    such structures; apparently two out of the three vessels of Columbus' squadron,

    on his first voyage to America, were low-sided. There are strong reasons for

    doubting that the reconstructions of Columbus' vessels exhibited at the

    World's Fair in 1892 were correct; however, these reconstructions have been

    widely accepted and representations of them have been used in many school


            In pictures of ancient ships and boats, extreme awkwardness of build

    or excessive "bluntness" at the bow should not be accepted to [ ?] literally.

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    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Early Vessels

    While blunt lines were quite common, many craft were sharp; for steam–

    bending of plank was not very common until after 1720. Before steaming

    became accepted it was the practice to "stove" plank. This method con–

    sisted of taking a green timber or plank and, after wetting it thoroughly,

    to "cook" it over a large fire until it was supple. While such a method

    allowed an increase in the bend of a timber or plank, over that obtained

    with an unseasoned stick alone, it did not equal the bend that can be

    obtained by steaming or actually boiling timber. The earlier the ship or

    boat before 1720, the less likely would be extreme bluntness.

            Small boats, throughout the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth

    centuries, were commonly well built and on good models. The whaleboat came

    into existence, some time in the first half of the seventeenth century per–

    haps, though there were similar boats in use earlier. Ship's boats followed

    the lines of small shore fishing craft in being suitable for both rowing and

    sailing. Shallops, or "sloops," "slups," or "soutes," were the forerunner

    of the later "longboat" or "launch" of naval usage; these boats were wide

    and deep square-sterned open craft of good capacity and fitted with one or

    more sails and masts. Such boats were capable of making long voyages in

    open waters. Another type of small boat mentioned in the accounts of early

    arctic voyagers was the pinnace; this was usually a rather long open boat

    with a very narrow square stern, fitted to row and sail. There were a

    variety of "pinnace," ranging from ship's boats to large seagoing vessels;

    the features that identified a large, decked "pinnace" (some were ship-rigged)

    have yet to be discovered. With respect to the small boats of the Viking

    period, they were very much like the 4-oared Norwegian skiffs or "yoles"

    still in use; lap-strake boats almost a V in the midsection; easily rowed,

    020      |      Vol_IX-0134                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Early Vessels

    light and seaworthy. Because of their lightness, it is probable that

    these boats of the early Scandinavian seamen were far better craft in

    arctic seas than the small boats used by later explorers; certainly they

    were superior to those used by the Dutch in the sixteenth and seventeenth

    centuries, and far better than the boats taken into the Arctic by some of

    the nineteenth century expeditions.

            The ships used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for arctic

    exploring and trading, are represented by surviving plans and models; they

    are too modern to be discussed here.

    021      |      Vol_IX-0135                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Early Vessels


    1. Abell, Sir Wescott. The Shipwright's Trade , Cambridge University

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    2. Boebmer, George H. "Prehistoric Naval Architecture of the North of

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    3. Du Chaillu, Paul B. The Viking Age , 2 vols., London, 1889.

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    5. Holmes, Sir Geo, C.V. Ancient and Modern Ships (Part 1, "Wooden Sailing

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    6. Hornell, James. British Coracles and Irish Curraghs , London, 1938.

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    022      |      Vol_IX-0136                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Early Vessels

    20. The Mariner's Mirror . Denham, Lt. Com.H.M. "Caligula's Galleys,"

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    Howard I. Chapelle

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