A Trireme in Hudson Bay ???

Trireme Olympias of the Hellenic Navy
Image via Wikipedia

There are various versions of this one bouncing around, but my innate Canadianess almost forces me to use this version from Kathimerini:

Trireme in New York City Inc, a US-based group of history buffs, is trying to raise the $3 million it will take to get an ancient Greek warship sailing in Hudson Bay for the 2012 tall ships festival on July 4, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A replica of a trireme — a galley deployed by the Greeks in the Persian War in 480 BC among other Mediterranean armies — already exists in Greece.

The Olympias was constructed by the Greek Navy in 1987, but it hasn’t been sailed since 1993, when it was taken to London. The Olympias also carried the Olympic flame prior to the 2004 Athens Games.

The replica of the 5th century BC vessel has 170 oars and is the fastest human-powered vessel on the planet.

Trireme in New York City Inc hope that they will be able to recruit the 170 oarsmen or oarswomen needed to propell the vessel, to return the Olympias to sea-worthy condition and to carry out the necessary repairs and trial runs before the ship is transported to New York head of the 2012 tall ship regatta.

According to the American group’s website, it has already received approval from the Greek Navy for the project and is in talks with the Seaport Museum in New York to dock the ship for a temporary exhibition on Athenian maritime history, featuring artifacts and items on loan from the Greek government.

The company is headed by Markos Marinakis of Marinakis Chartering, Ford Weiskittel of the Trireme Trust USA, Dr George Tsioulias of the Hellenic Medical Society of New York, Edward Kelly, Maritime Associate of the Port of NY and NJ, Joseph Hughes, Vincent Solarino and George Tsimis of the Shipowners Claims Bureau, and Charles Hirschler also of Trireme Trust USA.

For more information on the event or the terms of participation, log on to www.trireme.org.

Of course they probably meant the Hudson River, although it would be fun to see the looks on the faces of the polar bears when a trireme rows past them … in any event the coverage in the Wall Street Journal was much better … a couple of excerpts:

For centuries, scholars have squabbled over the design of the ship, which was crucial to defeating the Persians in the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C., part of a wider war that included the fight at Thermopylae dramatized in the film “300.”

But a wreck of a trireme—a nimble vessel tipped with a bronze battering ram—has never been found. Classicists have had to piece together clues about its design from vase images, carved reliefs and bad jokes in ancient plays, generating competing theories about its size, structure and speed.

“The trireme is actually one of the oldest puzzles in classical scholarship,” says Boris Rankov, a professor of ancient history at Royal Holloway, University of London. “These were ships that enabled Athens to maintain the empire and create democracy.”

In the 1980s, a Cambridge classicist and the chief naval architect for Britain’s Ministry of Defense pooled their knowledge to build a full-scale model of a possible structure for the trireme. Construction was funded by the Greek government. The ship was around 120 feet long, weighed 55,000 pounds and relied on an additional 33,000 pounds of crew for ballast.

Powered by 170 rowers, the Olympias did five sea trials in Greece between 1987 and 1994, with a stop in London. Says Mr. Weiskittel, who is executive director of Trireme Trust USA: “It’s like a time machine.”

But the ship hasn’t stood the test of modern time. It is currently unfit for sea travel and is on display in a naval museum in Athens.


It won’t be easy. The ship needs about $275,000 in repairs. It will have to be carried to the U.S. aboard a freighter. Rowers must be recruited.

Scholars say it will be worth it. New trials will improve knowledge of the speed and agility of the ships, generating data that can be used to develop computer models of ancient battles.

Trireme fans also hope to overcome popular misconceptions about the ships. “Forget about ‘Ben-Hur’ and the shackles and the guy with the whip,” says Mr. Hirschler, who participated in several of the ship’s voyages and keeps a 13-foot, 10-inch oar strapped to the staircase well in his Manhattan residence.

Instead, he says, imagine a flutist or piper serenading 170 mostly free men to keep their strokes in rhythm.

A “trierarch” oversaw the ship and funded the voyage. “He is the Steinbrenner of the deal,” says Mr. Hirschler, who notes that in ancient times, the trierarch would seek to poach better rowers through an active free-agent system. “The Athenians rapidly became the Yankees,” he says.

Controversy still surrounds the design of the ships. The word trireme comes from three and “remus,” meaning oar. But “how these oars were arranged was the big puzzle,” says Mr. Weiskittel. “Three what? Three levels? Three men to an oar? Something else entirely?”

Trireme fans can be an impassioned bunch. In 1975, an article in the The Times of London suggested triremes had been powered primarily by sails. Others vehemently disagreed, setting off one of the longest letter-writing exchanges in the newspaper’s history, as engineers, rowers, and classicists poured in their opinions, arguing over possible speeds and the number of levels in the ship.

The debate continues. This month, John Hale, director of liberal studies at the University of Louisville and himself a rower, presented a paper to the Archaeological Institute of America, arguing the Olympias is “quite different” from the triremes of ancient Greece.

Based on his interpretation of evidence, he says the classical ship had only a single mast (the Olympias has two), lighter construction and possibly oars of different lengths.

Despite what he considers its flaws, the reconstruction “is a great achievement,” Mr. Hale says. He first encountered the Olympias when it was no more than a section of a ship erected on the lawn of its creator, Cambridge classicist John Morrison. “The oars were pulled through water in a circular plastic swimming pool,” he says.

The ship “has had a major impact on the study of Greek history,” Mr. Hale says.

Barry Strauss, chairman of the history department at Cornell University, agrees. He has visited the trireme several times for his research—and found it “hot and cramped” and “stinky.” He is also a rower, and would jump at the opportunity to join the crew.

“If they gave me the chance to do it,” he says, “I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

Total cost of the project is about $3 million, when an associated exhibit and conference are worked into it.

UPDATE (a short while later):



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