Suggestions for the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast

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    Sam Willis

    I’ve had an excellent email – as well as several other contributions – concerning suggestions for episodes of the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast.

    I thought it would be good to set up a strand of the Forum so everyone can post their suggestions in one place.

    The below is from Michael Pooley – if anyone has any suggestions for contributors who can help with either Kon Tiki or the Phoenicians please answer here.

    I have listened to the excellent podcast. I would like to suggest two topics for the podcast to consider.

    1) Thor Heyerdahl a Norwegian adventurer and practitioner of experimental archaeology.

    In 1947 he conducted the Kon Tiki expedition and sailed from South America to French Polynesia in a traditional built craft to prove that the inhabitants of French Polynesia had migrated from South America.

    In 1964 the Royal Geographical Society London awarded him a gold medial.

    In 1970 Ra and Ra 2 expeditions from the west coast of Africa to Barbados in a papyrus reed boat to show that it was possible.

    Unfortunately he died in 2002 and was given a state funeral.

    2) this may not fill one episode of a podcast but either an historical note or a podcast on ancient maritime history.

    I refer the Phoenician voyage around Africa. The only record we have appears in Herodotus.
    It is only a footnote. It is ascribed to Pharaoh Necho II and occurred between 610 – 594 BCE.

    According to Herodotus ” as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of Lybia ( check ancient maps for more information) they had the sun on their right.” ( The Histories 4:42)

    Jon Ward

    Terminology: Maritime terminology is a massive subject, dictated to us by the usages (mostly) of previous generations of mariners. But there is one tiny bit of it which has been coined by historians: “The Age of Sail” – and also “The Golden Age of Sail”. They are rarely defined and are not intuitively obvious in meaning. Maritime Historians know what they are talking about. I suggest that not many other people do.
    As far as I can determine, “the age of sail” is a period in naval history that started when navies first built sailing vessels specifically designed as warships equipped with cannons. It ended when steam driven warships were introduced. As with most periods in history, it has a fuzzy beginning and a fuzzy end. Was the start when the Mary Rose and Henry Grace a Dieu were built? What other dates are candidates for this period?
    The end may appear to be easier to define – but the first Royal Navy steamships operated largely as tugs, despatch boats and in specific amphibious operations. It was a while before the main warships ceased to be solely sailing vessels.
    In explaining the end and beginning of the Age of Sail, a podcast has plenty of material to include about what defined the beginning and end of this period. The SNR has ample access to a range of historians to give their definitions of the term (scope for some differences in definition to entertain the listener?). And, most importantly, the interested amateur might eventually get some certainty about what the professionals are talking about.

    It is probably another subject, but “the Golden Age of Sail” might be worth exploring. Did it happen because of the arrival of steam (which, at a superficial level, may the thought of as competition)? Or was it just an increase in the amount of trade? Or simply a more technological world, with hemp rigging being replaced by wire, and winches (and later, donkey engines) replacing large crews? Again, a beginning and an end, covered in some detail, will go a long way to explaining to what was happening.

    The origins of sail (in various parts of the world) could be of interest. This might include the evidence of early maritime trade in the Mediterranean (shipwreck evidence – the perforated lead beads used on the square sails of the period for brailing up the sails is an intriguing gem of information). The first Scandinavian use of sail is of interest – there is some fascinating research on the amount of effort needed to equip a Viking longship with (a) a sail and (b) the woollen clothing needed to crew an open boat crossing the North Sea. One comes to wonder if the building of the ship was a smaller part of the preparatory work. What did early civilisations have to do when they made the transition from paddle or oar to sail? Given that ships, by definition, travel – how much did they learn from other cultures? The origins of sail in the Pacific is a whole other area.

    Jon Ward

    SS Agamemnon (1865) – the first commercially successful long range steamship (trading to China before the opening of the Suez canal). Points: (1) the question of steam pressure: persuading the Board of Trade to allow higher steam pressures (the Cleator as testbed for these higher pressures).(The new higher steam pressures are puny by today’s standards – the change was from 25 or 26 p.s.i. up to 60 p.s.i.- compare the latter with the tyre pressures for a modern truck, which are about 120 p.s.i.) Holt’s negotiating skills come into play here, together with his sound technical knowledge on designing steam engines. (2) The ordering of sister ships even before Agamemnon was back from her first voyage. (3) the multiplying effect of greater fuel efficiency – you didn’t just need less space for the coal, but you needed fewer stokers to fuel the boilers and less crew space to house them. (4) Various problems with the new type of ship: (a) the propeller shaft becoming unscrewed when the ship was moored in a tideway (this may have been one of the sister ships), leaving a large hole for water to get in. (b) these ships carried much more cargo than the tea clippers with which they competed – often they could not fully load in one port as there was just not enough tea available. (4) For personal stories of these ships, I believe the writings of Captain Thomson of the Agamemnon are in the Liverpool maritime museum. Though he was not the first master of this ship, he had previously commanded the tea clipper Scawfell in which he had achieved a record passage home to Liverpool. It is therefore interesting that he writes about how much better steamships are than sailing vessels – rather “one in the eye” for those who go on about the romanticism of the tea clippers (though, let’s face it, tea clippers were romantic, even though they were built to make money.).
    Of course, Agamemnon and her sisters soon benefitted from the Suez Canal. But there was also an acceptance of steam (and iron hulls) by the shipping agents – so these ships got higher rates of freight. Their insurance also cost less. This initiated a familiar co-existence of sail and steam – one kept costs to the minimum, the other had to provide speed to the shipper and needed high freight rates to cover their costs. There was soon overcapacity in steamships, which caused problems. This coexistence continued for another 60 years or so – but that is probably another subject.

    Mark H

    Hi Sam – you mentioned Celestial Navigation as a potential MMP topic, which got me thinking. A great (related) topic would be Harrison’s Clocks which are at the RMG, so I’m sure you could find an expert there to talk about them.

    Harrison is also covered in Dava Sobel’s excellent book Longitude

    David L

    For the Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa and for celestial navigation in antiquity – here are two suggestions: Prof. Duane Roller (Ohio) writes a lot about ancient geography and exploration (what I’ve read is very good); Dr Dan Davis (Luther College Iowa) wrote a great PhD dissertation on commercial navigation (including celestial navigation) in the Graeco-Roman Mediterranean back in 2009, and is turning this into a book.

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