Tuesday, July 26, 2005

‘Viking’ replica ship calls into Gibraltar port


The Cilicia is a replica of a 13th century Armenian merchant vessel.
As far as visiting ships go, you would be hard pushed to find a more unusual one than the Cilicia.

Docked alongside Queensway Quay yesterday, this replica of a 13th century Armenian merchant vessel looked distinctly out of place - A wooden Viking ship among high-tech luxury yachts.

But the Cilicia, built by hand following guidelines and information gleaned from medieval manuscripts, was without doubt the most remarkable boat in the marina.

It took 11 years to build this vessel using nothing but ancient techniques and natural materials. It is made from oak beams and pine panels, kept together by over 10,000 handmade brass nails and waterproofed using a mixture of pine resin, animal fat, sulphur and ash.

The ship is the product of a long-running project by Armenia’s AYAS Nautical Research Club. Since 2002, members of the club have been sailing the Cilicia along medieval maritime trade routes around the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

The crew of 15 includes people from all walks of life, from doctors to writers and engineers, and they live a Spartan shipboard life, testing themselves to the limit in order to better understand their ancestors.

“Our ancestors were maybe more patient than us,” joked Karen Balayan, the ship’s captain and president of the AYAS club, when asked to describe life on board. “It’s really hard work.”

Although the ship has an engine, required to meet rules in most harbours, its primary source of power is wind. Apart from a few modern gadgets, the aim is to recreate as closely as possible what life on board was like in the 13th Century.


This Mariner's Astrolabe (1616) was a navigational device intended for use primarily at sea.
Yesterday, Mr Balayan could not help but share his favourite joke after the Chronicle asked him if the ship carried a Global Positioning Satellite kit to help navigate. He rushed below deck and returned with a mariner’s astrolabe, an instrument used by sailors through history to navigate by both the sun and the stars. “With this astrolabe, I control the GPS,” he said, unable to conceal a grin.

The Cilicia and its crew have worked their way slowly from Armenia, at the easternmost end of the Mediterranean, all the way to Gibraltar. From here they will sail up the Spanish coast to France, before crossing the English Channel and stopping in Portsmouth for the winter. After that, the journey will take them to St Petersburg, in Russia, and along inland waterways and rivers back to Armenia, where they started their voyage.

In each of the many ports they have called at, the crew has worked to raise awareness of the historic role of maritime commerce in building links between countries. In the process, they have become ambassadors for Armenia and its rich cultural heritage.

Yesterday they were visited by Baroness Cox, a member of the House of Lords who has led an astonishing life and has for the past 20 years worked fearlessly to defend human rights around the globe.

Baroness Cox has a long and close relationship with Armenia, particularly with the enclave of Nagorno Karabakh, scene of a violent conflict in the early 1990s. During that time she made around 60 trips into the enclave, crossing the blockade at the height of a full-scale war in order to deliver aid to communities there.

To her, the Cilicia was symbolic of the spirit of Armenia and its people, who “create beauty from the ashes of destruction.”

“I’ve known them in very dark, difficult years and it’s lovely to see them now they have their independence,” she said.

“They are incredibly resourceful, resilient people with a deep culture and deep commitment to tradition and preserving history.”

For Baroness Cox, yesterday was also an opportunity to catch up with an old friend, a man who first made her aware of the problems of his home country.

Zori Balayan is a physician and also one of Armenia’s most famous writers, author of 60 books, the latest being an account of the first leg of the Cilicia’s voyage.

Yesterday, he presented her with a copy of that book and an encyclopaedia of Armenia’s recent history, which included an entry on the Baroness herself.

“He’s an amazing man,” she said of her friend. On board the Cilicia, they all said the same about her.

Related Links:

Armenia - Info from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Armenian History
Armenian Information Directory
Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Search for books by Zori Balayan



Search for Books by Baroness Cox

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