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The Rig of the Eleventh-Century Ship at Serce Liman, Turkey

Sheila Matthews
Thesis: May 1983
Chair: van Doorninck
Nautical Archaeology Program

Scientists and students from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and Texas A&M University excavated a medieval shipwreck at Serçe Liman, a natural harbor on the southern coast of Turkey, during the summers of 1977 through 1979. Artifacts date the wreck to c. 1025 A.C. and point to an eastern Mediterranean origin for the ship.

This thesis has undertaken the study of both rigging elements recovered from the wreck site and the hydrostatic features of the ship' in order to determine the nature of the ship's rig.

Analysis of the hull indicates that the Serçe Liman ship would have carried two masts: a foremast stepped in the bow and a mainmast stepped midships. A study of the rigging remains, consisting of two partially preserved blacks, a dozen sheaves and a heart thimble, and their distribution supports this hypothesis and also indicates that a group of spare rigging elements was stored in the stern storage area.

An examination of the hydrostatic characteristics of the hull further corroborates this premise and, moreover, indicates that the sail area needed to efficiently propel this vessel would have been about 100 sq. m.

An overview of sources on medieval ships in the eastern Mediterranean shows that the lateen rig was the most prevalent rig used during medieval times and that some ships carried more than one mast at least as early as the tenth century. Although scarce, evidence for the employment of the square and sprit rigs is sufficient to suggest that both rigs may have seen some use but perhaps only on relatively small craft. However, in this case, neither a square nor a sprit rig would have been feasible for the two-masted rig of the Serçe Liman ship.

The Serçe Liman ship is presently the earliest lateen-rigged vessel known whose sailing qualities can be profitably assessed. Although quite small in size, this merchant ship was capable of making long-distance voyages, and with its round-shaped hull and box-like hold was designed for maximum cargo capacity. The hydrostatic properties of this hull were such that it probably would have retained sufficient righting ability and speed with a double-lateen rig. Thus, the proposed two-masted lateen rig for this ship would have maximized not only her maneuverability, but also her speed and safety.

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