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Minoan Ship Replica To Sail Seas

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Oct. 3, 2003 — A Greek admiral is realizing a dream to build the world's only replica of the Minoan ships that some 3,500 years ago helped the ancient civilization win dominance over the seas and travel as far as Asia and Africa.

Since no wreck of a Minoan ship has ever been found, Apostolos Kourtis has had to start from scratch, relying on ancient drawings and using the same methods as the Minoans who lived on the Mediterranean island of Crete from around 3000 B.C.

With no wreck to provide a model, his four-strong team had to turn to historical sources for help. Frescos unearthed in excavations on the nearby volcanic island of Santorini proved valuable — it is believed that the eruption of Santorini in Biblical times extinguished the Minoan culture.

The 56-foot long and 12-foot wide ship with its round-shaped trunk looks like a traditional fishing boat as it emerges in a dockyard in the Cretean city of Chania. It is due to be launched for the first time on Dec. 1.

"It will creak and groan, but it will hold. It's a flexible boat designed to withstand tricky seas," Kourtis said. Minoan shipbuilders used tall, sturdy cypress trees to make their boats.

"The cypress tree's trunk was split in two. Both halves were then placed facing each other to guarantee symmetry," said Kourtis, a naval officer who has become a passionate student of ancient naval technology.

Kourtis' four-strong team has lashed the two trunk halves together with more than 2,600 feet of rope. A wooden frame in the form of the letter "A," the tip of which is at the ship's bow, clasps the vessel's two main parts together.

"The secret of the construction lies in this structure, making a ship out of a simple raft," he said.

To water-proof the hull, Minoan ships were covered with a linen cloth coated in fir or pine-tree resin. The coating was then whitened with lime and decorated. Kourtis said they would probably paint blue dolphins on the side of their boat, "like the ancients did."

The ship's name remains a closely guarded secret, but it will be carved on the hull in Minoans' linear B, one of Greece's oldest alphabets.

The last task will be installing benches for some 30 rowers before hoisting the flag.

The replica will set out on its maiden voyage from Crete on June 5, 2004, just in time to reach Athens for the Olympic Games starting in August.

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