The Trireme Trust - Newsletter 17

Newsletter mailed out to Trireme Trust members during Nov 1998



(from Boris Rankov, Chairman, Trireme Trust)

The Trust's main activity in 1998 has been the mounting of a conference to present the lessons learned from the six seasons of trials on Olympias and consider how her design should be modified. It was decided that the first day of the conference, when papers would be delivered by members of the Trust and outside scholars, would be open to all who were interested. The second day, devoted entirely to round-table discussion of the issues raised both on the previous day and in pre-circulated papers, would be limited to a specially invited group.

The venue for the first day was the splendid new River and Rowing Museum at Henley-on-Thames, in part because it houses a full-scale mock-up of the modified design. This was built for exhibition by Coventry Boat Builders, who constructed the original trial piece for Olympias. The Museum was able to provide first-class conference facilities and would, it was hoped, in itself attract as many people as possible to attend. The discussion on the second day was held at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The conference was originally planned to take place in June 1998, but because the Museum was not, in the event, able to open its doors to the public until the end of August, it was necessary to postpone until the weekend of 19th/20th September.

A major aim of the conference was to invite criticism of the Trust's proposals from interested experts around the world, so that alternative points of view should be aired and, where persuasive, be taken on board. Fourteen scholars from a wide range of disciplines were able to attend, eight of them produced specially written papers for pre-circulation and three more who could not make the journey also sent papers. We were also able to welcome to both days of the conference Commodore Aristotelis Dimitsas, the Hellenic Navy officer in charge of the Olympias while she remains on display at Neon Faliron, and were gratified to hear from him that she might yet be allowed to go to sea again, possibly to appear at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

The Saturday commenced with a welcome by the Chairman of the Trust, followed by an introduction to the Olympias project and a brief summary of her sea-trials. A video of the ship in operation was then shown before Timothy Shaw made a presentation of the Trust's reasons for proposing a modification of the Olympias design. He summarised his three pre-circulated papers which argued, firstly, that Xenophon implies that a trireme should have been able to maintain a cruising speed of 7 to 8 knots over a period of 16 to 18 hours; secondly, that such a speed cannot have been maintained with the assistance of sail; and, thirdly, that the length of stroke possible in Olympias is too short to enable her to maintain a 7 to 8 knot cruising speed under oar, and that a satisfactory length of stroke could be obtained by canting the oar- rig by 18.4 degrees.

John Coates then concluded the morning's proceedings by summarising his paper in which he describes how the rig could be skewed and the implications for the design. A ship built to the new design and employing a longer cubit would be just under 3 metres longer than Olympias at 39.6 metres, 15 cm wider over the outriggers at 5.6 metres, and have approximately 5% greater hull resistance at higher speeds. Nevertheless, the modifications to the oar-rig and the longer stroke this allowed would enable her to attain 9.7 knots in a short sprint and to sustain 7.5 knots in prolonged cruising.

After this, the conference adjourned for a long lunch-break, during which attendees were able to visit the Museum galleries, sit in the trireme mock-up and inspect the impressive audio-visual display which accompanies it.

There followed four short but fascinating papers, interspersed with questions from the floor. The first , by Ian Whitehead, former recorder on Olympias and now Museums Officer for the Hartlepool Museum Service, argued that the demand for a crew to be able to row any reconstruction construction for 16 to 18 hours at 7 to 8 knots was too high, since triremes can be shown to have voyaged under both oar and sail whenever possible. However, the ability to maintain such a speed over about 10 hours rowing in a day would be consistent with our evidence.

Hermann Wallinga, formerly Professor of Ancient History at the Universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht, argued that the evidence for a 7 to 8 knot cruising speed in Xenophon is a propagandistic exaggeration and that our other texts, especially Thucydides, imply a sustained speed of only just over 5 knots, of which Olympias is already capable.

The reality of long-distance rowing was described by Anthony Duff, Lecturer in Marine Studies at Falmouth Marine School, from his own experience in Cornish gigs. He stressed the importance of thorough preparation, strict discipline and psychological strength. Rowing has to be done efficiently, with regular breaks and rotations, at 25-30% pressure and 22-24 strokes per minute. Average fluid intake is one litre per hour, depending on the weather.

John Hale, an archaeologist from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, gave a presentation of his thesis that the bent knees and positioning of the feet in several iconographical representations of Greek oared ships strongly imply the use of a sliding stroke. This technique allows the rowing stroke to be lengthened without extension of the individual room in the ship allowed to each oarsman. A sliding stroke would therefore obviate the need for skewing of the oar-rig.

After a coffee break, the final session of the day was taken up with a long paper by Andre Sleeswyk, Professor of Physics at the University of Groningen, in which he questioned various aspects of both the Olympias and the modified design (as Professor Sleeswyk was unable to attend, the paper was read in his absence by the Chairman). He calculated that the ramming would have caused the attacking rowers to be flung forward in the hull unless they had a means of bracing themselves, which should be built into the design. Professor Sleeswyk also argued that Vitruvius' two-cubit interscalmium should be taken as the clear distance between two thole-pins, not as a heart-to-heart figure as has been done in Olympias. The skewing of the rig, he believed, would introduce disadvantages such as a loss of power by reduction of the alongships component of the force produced by the oarsmen. He therefore preferred a simple extension of the interscalmium or the use of a sliding stroke. Finally, he suggested a variety of modifications to the hull design which would, in his opinion, conform better to the ancient evidence. The whole paper provoked a lively, prolonged discussion which ended the Saturday session.

The invited scholars reconvened at Corpus Christi College, Oxford the next day. The colloquium was divided into four themes which covered discussion of specific pre-circulated papers together with relevant papers from the previous day. The first theme was the general validity of the Olympias design. Alec Tilley, a well-known critic of the project, argued in his paper that the Olympias design does not conform to the ancient iconographical, archaeological and literary evidence and is fundamentally wrong. He proposed instead a single-level, 30- bench, triple-banked, (i.e. 90-man) trireme (later developed by Cimon into a four-banked ship with 120 men) rowed according to his own earlier interpretation of the Siren vase (Antiquity 66 (1992), 599-610).

Antony Papalas, Professor of Greek and Roman History at East Carolina University, countered in his paper that it was Tilley's trireme which did not conform to the evidence and that the Olympias design was essentially correct, even if it required some slight modifications.

In the subsequent discussion, Commander Tilley explained the evidence for 170 rowers to a trireme by suggesting that only 120 rowed in the trireme itself while the other 50 were in a separate auxiliary vessel accompanying the trireme and under the command of the officer known as the pentekontarchos ("commander of 50"). He interpreted the diagonal lines on the Lenormant relief, which Coates and Morrison have seen as oars, as part of the structure of the ship, and in any case followed Lucien Basch in seeing the relief as Roman. He also interpreted the lower opening shown on the Ruvo vase (which is certainly early fourth-century BC) as being a scupper rather than an oarport.

The colloquium then moved on to consider individual details of Olympias' design. Ronald Bockius of the Museum fur Antike Schiffahrt in Mainz, Germany concluded that comparative evidence from Roman wrecks does not favour a significant extension of the room available in the trireme. There followed discussion of John Hale's paper of the previous day. Hale indicated that he was thinking of a sliding stroke of about 6 inches (15 cm) only. Andrew Taylor, the rowing master on Olympias in 1994, suggested that the rise of the knees and movement of the legs in fixed-seat rowing were in fact very little different from the amount of sliding for which Hale was arguing, and Hale agreed.

The Chairman then summarised the second part of his own paper in which he presented comparative evidence from the Mainz Roman ships which suggested that the oar must have been attached forward of the thole, as in Olympias. In subsequent discussion, it was agreed, that so long as the oar could be kept tight against the thole, there was no advantage to attaching the oars sternwards of the thole.

Finally, Paul Lipke, who acted both as a team leader and a carpenter on board Olympias from 1987 to 1993 summarised his paper arguing the need for a programme of tenon research. After lunch, Sean McGrail, formerly Professor of Maritime Archaeology at Oxford, suggested that there was still a great deal of experimentation which should be carried out on Olympias before finalising a new design. Discussion then turned to requirements for a revised design. The Chairman added an unusually precise text from Livy concerning a Roman fleet to the evidence for cruising at 7 to 8 knots, and there was then discussion of the importance of being able to attain a particular speed as a criterion for the new design, and what that speed should be. Rene Burlet, an expert on Renaissance and later galleys, had already expressed the opinion in a pre-circulated paper that one should expect a major dropping-off of speed after the first few hours of rowing. In line with this Harry Rossiter, an exercise physiologist from St George's Hospital Medical School, showed that the maximum power available from individual rowers over a particular length of time could be calculated from existing data, from which could then be calculated how fast any particular hull with any oar-rig could be driven over time.

The conference concluded with discussion of the priorities for experimentation towards a new design both if Olympias became available and if she did not. These included more voyaging over long distances, more sailing trials, which had been discussed in a pre-circulated paper by Douglas Lindsay (sailing master in 1992 and 1994), and beaching the ship. Experimental investigation of canting the rig was also proposed - however scepticism was expressed on its authenticity.

It is intended that all the papers contributed to the conference will be published, together with the report on the 1992, 1993 and 1994 trials and the Trust's considered proposals for a modified design. It is a measure of the success of the conference that we will now have a great many issues and points of view to consider before that design can be finalised.

The full text of the Chairman's report is available on request: please telephone 01932-220401


We have to report that the long-awaited second edition of The Athenian Trireme, revised and brought up to date by Boris Rankov to include the trials of Olympias, is still promised by the Cambridge University Press to be published in the near future. While there have been no new publications on the trireme by Trust members since the last Newsletter, there have been numerous calls for photographs of Olympias to be included in recently-published or forthcoming influential compendia such as the Oxford Companion to Classical Civilisation, The History of Warships, The Reader's Digest Family Encyclopaedia of World History, The Global Past and La Navigation dans L'Antiquite. Pictures of Olympias continue thus to be put before a wide readership.

There has also been a steady and world-wide demand for copies of the building drawings from modelmakers and others in Australia, Greece, Switzerland, Germany, the United States and Canada as well as in Britain. Several modelmakers are now hard at work, and one has completed a fully-manned high-quality model for a Greek customer living in the U.S.

Frau Lore Pietrusky wrote to John Coates asking him whether he could find a worthy home for her late husband's fine models of Olympias. He reports that they have been accepted by the River and Rowing Museum at Henley, which may lend one to the Allard Pierson Museum, of the University of Amsterdam.

A weekend of discussions in Mainz

In March John Morrison, John Coates and Boris Rankov were invited by the Museum fur Antike Schiffart in Mainz to join round-table discussions chaired by Dr. Ronald Bockius on reconstructions of ancient warships, and on Roman ships, Gallo- Roman ships and lighters of the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Ten people from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland and Britain working in this field were able to accept the Museum's kind hospitality and enjoyed a series of most informative but informal discussions. Some of these centred on finds of Roman oared ships on the Rhine and on a remarkably well-researched and reconstructed wreck of a Gallo-Roman ship found in Lake Neuchatel. Problems in reconstructing the Lake Nemi ships of the time of the Roman emperor Caligula were also discussed with Dr. Marco Bonino. Dr. Bockius was able to attend the Trust's own recent conference at Henley and Oxford, and to make a substantial contribution.

Historic Naval Ships Association

Rosie Randolph reports on the 33rd HNSA Conference, which she and Commodore Dimitsas of the Hellenic Navy attended from 25-29 October at Newport, Rhode Island.

We met up with other delegates for a pre-conference ship-visiting day at Boston, where we visited the USS Constitution, a two hundred year old frigate and sail training vessel, and the USS Cassin Young, a Fletcher-class destroyer commissioned in December 1943. From there we went to Quincy to visit the USS Salem, a battleship ordered in 1942 and commissioned in 1946. The Conference proper got off to a lively start with a talk by Ms. Jann Hoag, Executive Vice President of the US Naval Memorial Foundation on "Who are Today's and Tomorrow's Visitors ?". Work with tourism bureaux. Upgrade souvenirs. As travel is considered a major cause of stress, provide easy parking, a fun day out, a good level of service and a welcome. Be aware of your audience: those attending college this year were born in 1980. To them Vietnam is history. They were eleven when the Soviet Union broke up. They don't have any recollection of Tiananmen Square, of Reagan, or of black and white TV.

The second session, concerning access for the disabled, was addressed by Mr. Stephen M. Spinetto, of the Boston Commission for Persons with Disabilities. His naval career was ended the week before it was due to begin, by losing both legs to a ship's propeller. He said that small improvements (shallow ramps, handrails, the use of hatches for a lift) can make a great difference. For those who can't make it on board, he recommends a "Watchman"- a tiny TV giving video footage and oral history. He mentioned the Lord Nelson as a Tall Ship giving opportunities to disabled people who want to sail.

We were then addressed by Mr. Ed Cooke of Lockton's Insurance. Lockton's pride themselves on tailor-made insurance policies to cover museum ships, providing better cover at a more competitive rate.

After lunch, Captain David Scheu of the battleship North Carolina gave a valuable insight into major fund-raising with his talk "Corporate Sponsors and Contributions". His advice was to employ professional help - on a flat fee rather than a percentage basis - to do a feasibility study, set out a timetable, and hold a launching event.

Mr. Strafford (Stretch) Morss tackled preservation issues. He stressed the importance of correct berthing, cathodic protection systems, and also of checking on electrical switchboards; when they get loose and dirty the current can short and cause fire. Epoxy resins can make good temporary repairs, providing you watch out for long-term deterioration.

The preservation issue was also addressed by Mr. Bob Wasalaski, a naval engineer of the Naval Sea Systems Command Ship Inspection Program. He too stressed cathodic protection, marine application and safe electrics. He said how useful the HNSA fleet is providing young engineers with the opportunity to gain experience in annual ship inspection. His other recommendation was to invite the fire brigade to familiarise themselves with the ship's layout.

A talk on the HNSA Web Site Survey and related topics was presented by Dr. John Fakan, President of the Cleveland Co- ordinating Committee for USS Cod. He said that the young use the Internet as their primary information source, stressed the need to keep the website up-to-date, and suggested further uses - virtual reality electronic tours for veterans too frail to come on board, as a means of keeping in touch and having crew reunions, and a way of maximising PR opportunities.

Captain Robert Papp of the US Coast Guard Barque Eagle gave a keynote presentation about Eagle, a sail training ship used for sea cadets. USS Eagle has been found to be a useful diplomatic tool, by providing an unthreatening environment. He gave as an example that Venezuela and Colombia sought Eagle's co- operation in anti-drug-smuggling efforts.

Mr. Anthony Nicolosi of the US War College Museum at Newport gave us an insight on some of the problems involved in running a Forces museum. For instance, the museum looks to provide the highest quality of preservation whereas the Navy may look for the cheapest solution. The museum may be called upon to give up artefacts for office decoration, with no means of overseeing their care.

After a brief update on the Averoff restoration programme by Commodore Dimitsas, Mr. Tom Demas gave an interesting talk on the NAVSEA Donations Program. NAVSEA is the Naval Sea Systems Command of the Navy Inactive Fleet. Non-nuclear ships within the inactive fleet may be sold or leased to other navies, they may be kept for future mobilisation, cannibalised for spares, used for weapons testing, sold for scrap, or even - as we later learned from Mr. Rick Welsford of HMCS Fraser in Nova Scotia - they may be sunk as artificial reefs for scuba divers. They may also become part of the memorial or Ship Donation programme. NAVSEA is keen to donate ships, as it is seen to be preferable to scrapping them in that it preserves naval history and promotes the Navy.

On Tuesday afternoon we all went to the Fall River to visit the Battleship Massachusetts, and Battleship Cove. Captain Guy Archambault, Captain Ernie Cummings and Paula Hague talked about the overnight encampment programme on the USS Massachusetts. They sell 25,000 places a year, which makes an appreciable financial difference.

On Wednesday, the programme began with Mr. John Burchill, Superintendent of Boston National Historical Park since 1984. He told us the National Parks Service is responsible for its own fund- raising, and in Boston is responsible for the Charlestown Navy Yard, berth for USS Constitution and USS Cassin Young, the Freedom Trail and the Black Heritage Trail. His motto is "Don't do anything dumb, play to your strengths", but you need faith, especially, since maritime preservation is at once illogical and inspirational.

Dr. Norman Cary of the Navy Historical Centre discussed heritage assets; taking care of them, accounting for them, and a collections management donations programme. Mr. Jack Green gave an interesting talk on the work of the NHC photographic reference services. Margaret Renn of the Intrepid introduced a section of educational programmes. Mr. Michael Benano of USS Constitution said there was much teacher support; a menu of themed programmes on life at sea, building, maintenance and repair. Mr. Bill Garvery of the Naval Undersea Museum said they ran a distinguished speaker series of four presentations a year, by scientists, authors and experts. They also use teenagers of 13-16 as summer guides, volunteers and librarians, providing the young - who have proved energetic and capable - with work experience. Other projects have included natural history broadcasts, and a marine science education collaboration. A further idea was to have "Do you know ?" facts on cards for 7-8 year-olds at their eye level.

Mr. Bruce Smith of the Woodruff Museum of the Civil War spoke on the need for interactive communication. The young have to be engaged: provide dioramas, films and sound effects. However, don't let modern technology overwhelm earlier centuries; pulling the sails up the spars can be just as instructive. Create live action areas - a hill, a clump of bamboo and a Japanese tank can be enough to create a Pacific location. Have living history weekends, with Marines training young people. Showing them a flame-thrower is enough to bring home the brutality of war.

Captain J. Peter Marnane, a Director of the Museum of Yachting, said that exhibitions could be thematically linked - for instance art or photography could be linked to current affairs. Lectures could be broadly about navigation, but could embrace GPS, weather, stars, storms, El Nino, and water quality. The Yachting Museum had found a niche in running power boat courses, as the qualification is now a requirement.

Mr. Peter Glankoff told us about Mystic Seaport, and said the attendance had declined from a high of 600,000 in 1976 when the Tall Ships visited, to 400,000 now.

Ms. Anne Brengle of the Whaling Museum in New Bedford National Historical Park said that theirs is a 94 year old institution housed in 1822-81 buildings. It needs a major capital campaign, and has increased family visits and runs sailing lessons and courses in maritime history. They started a whale discovery and whale watch centre in Plymouth, but the local audience perceived it as abandoning New Bedford. They have recently acquired the skeleton of a Blue Whale which beached itself and died. In the afternoon I opted to go to a meeting on the USS Massachusetts concerned with plans for her imminent dry docking, which meant I missed the concurrent workshops on educational and preservation issues.

Michael Ripton of the US Brig Niagara showed us a fascinating video on the effects of cannon-fire on wooden timbers. They built a scale model of a length of half the hull, peopled with wooden cut-outs, and then fired on it from different distances. The effects of splintering wood and flying timber were dramatic.

On the Thursday morning, there were presentations from a panel of consultants. Admiral James Scott talked about a remarkable product called Micro Blaze*, an oil spill control solution which is useful for flight decks, bilges, holds, heads, and drains, and neutralises smells. The product is added to the spill, changing oil to water and carbon dioxide, which can be rinsed out as "grey water" after twenty minutes. It is biodegradable in 20 days.

Joseph Lombardi, of Ocean Technical Services, discussed dry- docking - on a 3-5 year cycle for the Navy, every 20 years for reserve ships, and how it is fund-dependent for inactive ships. The most important protection is cathodic, but he mentioned epoxy recoating of the hull round the waterline as an alternative to dry-docking. We were shown a film on the use of epoxy resins on the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, demonstrating the use of Belzona, a non-shrink, algae-resistant, erosion-resistant repair material. Repairs have been proven to last ten years, without the need for dry-docking or having exhibits out of service.

After the HNSA business meeting, we had a talk from Professor Michael Sabitoni on the importance of hospitality. "You never have a second chance to make a first impression." You should aim to surpass your customers' expectations, motivate your employees, and ask customers to evaluate the service they get. Mr. Peter Lamb discussed cathodic protection. We also heard about the different acoustic guides from Ms. Kathryn Glass; there was also the chance to see Flight Avionics, who make motion simulators for museums - but you need a 100,000-customer throughput to make these pay.

The week ended with a banquet at the Navy Officers Club, Newport. I came away feeling that the Conference had been professionally run, due to the enthusiastic and untiring efforts of Captain Channing Zucker. We also felt full of admiration for Captain Guy Archambault and his team, who were hosting the conference at the same time as preparing USS Massachusetts for dry-docking. Despite such an immense workload, they always appeared relaxed and full of humour. The whole week was full of good spirits and interesting speakers, in a very friendly atmosphere, and was very much enjoyed.

The full text of Rosie's report is available on request: please telephone 01932-220401

The Great River Race 1998

Victory (should that be Nike ?) for Trireme RC Cameron Stokes writes :-

Once again, the Trireme Rowing Club competed in the Great River Race, a 22-mile marathon on the Thames Tideway, with an international entry of 250 boats and 2,000 rowers. Our boat, "Y Crac", a Pembroke Longboat, was crewed by : Mike Strawson (bow), Llewellyn Roose (2), Steve Jarrett (3), Cameron Stokes (stroke) and coxed by Geraint Pritchard. In Tideway tradition, our 11-year old passenger was Ian Rose.

The race is run on a handicap system aimed at getting a close finish. All 19 Pembroke Longboats in the entry started together, and we had a clean fast start at the head of the field. "Tonneau Glas" from Ceibwr overtook at 40 strokes a minute, with Cardigan, Aberystwyth and the dark horses in "Dim Jibbing" charging past in similar fashion.

We rowed on at a steady 28 strokes a minute, concentrating on length and technique with regular pushes at full pressure. Sure enough, further downriver we began overtaking those who had 'bolted'. We passed fars, skiffs, gigs and whalers, and no sign of the dreaded dragonboats.

At London Bridge, massive waves almost swamped us, but we pumped out furiously and got through - unlike one crew of unfortunates who sank. We had shot 34 bridges and were into the long, wide Limehouse Reach when we realised we were now ahead of all the other Pembrokes and that we had to "go for it". We put in a massive push for the finish, and could see "Dim Jibbing" on our stern doing likewise. They looked dangerous and we used all of our remaining energy in the last mile to fight off their desperate attacks. We succeeded and crossed the line a length ahead, to take the Pembroke Thames Challenge Trophy and a generous GRR donation to Trireme Trust funds.

Starting in position 174 we had finished 35th overall, 25th fastest and 1st in our class. We're getting better !

The Trireme Website

We remain most grateful to Anu Dudhia, who looks after the site for us and fields the many enquiries it generates. The address is: