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The Rigging of a 17th-Century Frigate at Mombasa, Kenya

Bruce Thompson
Thesis: May 1988
Chair: Hamilton
Nautical Archaeology Program


Between 1977 and 1982 the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA), under the auspices of the National Museums of Kenya, conducted the excavation and analysis of a frigate that wrecked off the coast of Mombasa, Kenya. Interpretations of the remains and reviews of the historic record disclose, with some certainty, that the wreck is that of the Portuguese frigate Santo Antonio da Tanna (Piercey, 1979:308), which played a key role in the historical siege of Fort Jesus in the late 17th century (Kirkman, 1974:215).

Of the more than 6,000 artifacts recovered from the wrecksite, 237 pertain directly or indirectly to the ship's rig. Deck and hull fittings, standing rigging, running rigging, and sails are represented. This thesis represents the analysis of rigging components recovered from the Mombasa Harbor wreck and proposes reconstructions of rigging features, where possible. Hopefully, the study provides answers to important questions about the differences and similarities between the 17th-century Portuguese rigging techniques and the better known European methods.

An introductory chapter will familiarize the reader with the characteristics of the Mombasa Harbor wrecksite and the archaeological investigations completed to date. Artifactual proof for the age and origin of the ship is discussed next. Finally, since the evidence strongly suggests that this is indeed the Portuguese frigate Santo Antonio da Tanna, a brief history of this ship and its loss is provided.

Chapter II presents the major contemporaneous and modern sources available for ship construction and rigging practices during the 17th century, and a review of the archaeological parallels for the period. Chapter III includes a brief explanation of the sinking and offers a theoretical reconstruction of the ship's hull profile and sheer shape.

The artifacts are categorized by function (deck and hull fittings, standing rigging, running rigging, and sail) and are discussed in separate chapters (Chapter IV thru VII). With evidence provided by the hull and rigging remains, major rigging features are reconstructed within the appropriate chapters. A summary chapter compares the resulting rigging techniques to known European rigging methods of the 17th Century.


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