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October 5, 2003
CHANIA, Greece (AFP) - A Greek admiral is realising a dream to build the world's only replica of the
 Minoan ships that some 3,500 years ago helped the ancient civilisation win dominance over the seas 
 and travel as far as Asia and Africa. 
 
AFP/File Photo 

	 
Since no wreck of a Minoan ship has ever been found, Apostolos Kourtis has had to start from scratch, 
relying on ancient drawings and using the same methods as the Minoans who lived on the Mediterranean 
island of Crete from around 3000 BC. 
With no wreck to provide a model, his four-strong team had to turn to historical sources for help. 
Frescos unearthed in excavations on the nearby volcanic island of Santorini proved valuable -- 
it is believed that the eruption of Santorini in Biblical times extinguished the Minoan culture. 
The 17-metre long and 3.80-metre wide ship with its round-shaped trunk looks like a traditional 
fishing boat as it emerges in a dockyard in the Cretean city of Chania. It is due to be launched for 
the first time on December 1. 
"It will creak and groan, but it will hold. It's a flexible boat designed to withstand tricky seas," said Kourtis. 


Minoan shipbuilders used tall, sturdy cypress trees to make their boats. 
"The cypress tree's trunk was split in two. Both halves were then placed facing each other to guarantee symmetry,"
 said Kourtis, a naval officer who has become a passionate student of ancient naval technology. 
Kourtis' four-strong team has lashed the two trunk halves together with 800 metres (yards) of rope.
 A wooden frame in the form of the letter "A," the tip of which is at the ship's bow, clasps the 
 vessel's two main parts together. 
"The secret of the construction lies in this structure, making a ship out of a simple raft," he said. 
To water-proof the hull, Minoan ships were covered with a linen cloth coated in fir or pine-tree resin. 
The coating was then whitened with lime and decorated. Kourtis said they would probably paint blue dolphins
 on the side of their boat, "like the ancients did". 
The ship's name remains a closely guarded secret, but it will be carved on the hull in Minoans' 
linear B, one of Greece's oldest alphabets. 
The last task will be installing benches for some 30 rowers before hoisting the flag. 
The replica will set out on its maiden voyage from Crete on June 5, 2004, just in time to reach Athens 
for the Olympic Games  starting in August.

Kourtis is hoping that the ship will 
be chosen to carry the 2004 Olympic flame on part of its journey between the island 
of Salamina, off Athens, and Piraeus, the Greek capital's harbour. "The proposal 
is under consideration," Kourtis said. "With 15 miles per day, the itinerary will 
be the same as in Minoan times, when ships only travelled at daylight from April 
to November," said Kourtis, who plans to captain the rowers, assisted by two steersmen 
and two sailors. Daily stops are scheduled on islands lying between Chania and 
Athens. But with a distance of 150 nautical miles to cover, the trip will take 
25 days, including eight full-day breaks. Kourtis is proud he and his team have 
produced a "realistic reconstruction," but he admitted three modern-day items 
had crept into the construction -- synthetic ropes instead of plant-made cords, 
wood-glue rather than resin, and metallic clips instead of rope to hold the frame 
together. Due to a lack of manpower, Kourtis' team has also used some modern mechanical 
means such as winches. Made for commerce and war, Minoan ships were built in two 
months by crews of some 30 men. "We do not have more than four workers," he explained. 
Kourtis is also short of manpower to row the boat once it is in the water. A team 
of volunteers has already been formed, but more men are needed. "We need a second 
team to take turns. The young men here are not exactly pushing to get in," he 
said. After winding up his Olympic trip, the ship is to become the Chania naval 
museum's showcase exhibit.
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