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Briton to recreate first African circumnavigation
May 19, 2008 / 4:37 PM / 10 years ago

Briton to recreate first African circumnavigation

LONDON (Reuters) - British sailor Philip Beale aims to rewrite a bit of African history by sailing round the continent in a boat built with the same materials he believes the Phoenicians used 2,500 years ago to make the same trip.

Built of Aleppo pine and using wooden dowels to hold it together, the 21-metre-long “Phoenicia” powered by wind and muscle will set out down the Suez Canal on August 6 and Beale aims to complete the 15,000-mile clockwise journey 10 months later.

“The Europeans think it was Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Dias who did it first. But I think the Phoenicians did it 2,000 years earlier and I want to prove it,” Beale told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

“It is also designed to be both inspirational and educational. I want to show the kids of today that there is a whole world of opportunity out there.”

Beale headed the Borobudur expedition in 2003-04 sailing a replica eighth century boat from Indonesia to West Africa.

He said he was inspired by epic 20th century exploration voyages like Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 Kon Tiki expedition across the Pacific on a balsawood raft.

But it was an argument with an academic in Cape Town when he landed there during the Borobudur trip who said it was the Indians who managed the first African circumnavigation that catapulted Beale into his latest adventure.

“I said I thought it was probably the Arabs. When I got home my research found a mention by Greek historian Herodotus of a circumnavigation by Phoenicians written in 440 BC, 200 years after the actual event,” the ex-Royal Navy man said.

He said certain details such as the location of the sun during certain parts of the voyage described by Herodotus leant it authenticity.

Beale believes that Egyptian King Necho II in 600 BC commissioned the Phoenicians, the dominant seafarers of the era, to see if it was possible to sail round Africa.

“They basically built a boat in kit form, carried it overland to the Red Sea, put it together and set off,” he said. “It took them three years because they stopped in the winter to plant and grow crops before sailing on again.”

The 21st century recreation of the voyage will round the Horn of Africa and then drop down the east coast, rounding the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa some time in January before heading up the west coast then round the north to Alexandria.

The “Phoenicia” will carry a crew of about 20 with a core of six making the whole voyage and the rest being recruited for different stages.

Beale, in London in a bid to raise sponsorship for the project, said he hoped the crew would end up being half from the Middle East and Africa and half from elsewhere.

But he warned that it was not for the faint-hearted.

“There is danger there. There are almost daily attacks these days by pirates in the Horn and the weather in the Cape is notorious,” he said. “But the odds are better than 50-50 of making it,” he added cheerfully.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)

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