The Trireme Trust - Newsletter 22

Newsletter mailed out to Trireme Trust members during Feb 2004


Chairman's Report

(from Boris Rankov, Chairman, Trireme Trust)

Much has happened to Olympias in 2003 which, while it has not brought the outcome which the Trust would ideally have wished for, is far from disappointing and has at least clarified the Trust’s direction for the immediate future.

At the end of last year, I reported that the plan to have Olympias repaired in Germany and put on temporary display at the Schleswig Museum over spring and summer of 2003 had been regretfully abandoned. Instead, an agreement was reached between the Hellenic Navy and the Elefsina Shipyard near Athens to have Olympias refurbished there before she was put on permanent display at the proposed new Hellenic Navy Museum at Neon Faliron east of the Peiraeus. This refurbishment was completed in July, and I was able to attend the delivery ceremony at which one new warship was also handed over to the Hellenic Navy and another launched.

Olympias now looks quite magnificent again. She has been cleaned up and revarnished, her interior fittings restored, and all her underwater planking, which had been badly damaged by a fungal disease, has been replaced. The repairs to the hull have not however used the original mortise-and- tenon construction but have been carried out by the insertion of extra ribs onto which the new planking has been bolted. From the outside, she appears exactly as when she was launched, and only someone very familiar with her original appearance would notice the interior changes.

The repairs are undoubtedly strong enough to allow Olympias to go to sea again, but it is likely that any prolonged use, especially in rough water, would cause her to hog still further and probably induce her new planking to leak. Not only would that affect the conduct of any further trials, it would obviously reduce her appeal as an exhibition piece. The Trust is therefore convinced that she cannot again be used for any serious sea-trials, and is fully supportive of the Hellenic Navy's plans to build a shed for her and display her alongside the early 20th-century heavy cruiser, Averoff, and the rest of the Navy's fine collection of historical warships. A shed for Olympias at Neon Faliron has already been built, and plans are well advanced for the development of a 20-million Euro museum complex in an adjacent area.

There nevertheless remains a slim possibility that Olympias will go to sea again one last time. The Trust has proposed to the organisation in charge of staging of the Olympic Games in August, 2004 that Olympias - whose name after all means `the ship of the Olympic Games' - should be used to carry the Olympic flame for one of the final stages of its journey. There has to date been no reply, but informal approaches are continuing. Even if this were to happen, it is certain that the ship would be rowed Greek a crew. It is nevertheless likely that the Trust would have at least an advisory role, and it would probably be possible to carry out some physiological experiments which have been planned by Trust member Harry Rossiter, of Leeds University, as a pilot for a larger research project. It would also provide considerable pleasure to all those who have rowed and sailed in Olympias to see her afloat and under oar just one more time.

These developments have, however, made it clear that unless a second ship can be built (which seems extremely unlikely), the Trust's future lies mainly in conducting research which utilises and builds on the store of knowledge and expertise which has been derived from the five sea-trials of Olympias. A summary of the trials has already appeared in 2000, in the second edition of The Athenian Trireme, but a detailed report of the 1992 and 1994 trials remains to be published, as do the papers presented to the conference organised by the Trust at Oxford and Henley in 1998. These are currently being typed up and edited for that purpose. A second and final conference, to be held in Oxford, is being planned for late spring of 2005, as a memorial to the late John Morrison funded, thanks to John's family, from the donations made at his funeral in 2000.

The theme of the conference will be connected with the major research project on Ship Sheds of the Ancient Mediterranean currently being conducted by the Chairman together with Dr Jari Pakkanen, an expert in the reconstruction of ancient buildings, and David Blackman, a former Director of the British School at Athens and himself a former pupil of John Morrison's. The project has received funding of £250,000 over three years to employ two research assistants and a PhD student to investigate the sheds which housed ancient warships. The remains of such sheds at Zea harbour in the Peiraeus provided vital clues for the dimensions of Olympias, but survey and excavation work by the project's PhD student, Bjoern Loven, has within the last year produced very important new information. This indicates that the sheds were almost 15 metres longer than John Morrison and John Coates thought when they designed Olympias, suggesting that the ship itself could have been built up to 5 metres longer. John Coates discusses the implications of these findings elsewhere in this newsletter.

The Trireme Trust will thus be intimately involved with the Ship Sheds project at least until 2006, and John Coates has already recruited Doug Pattison, a former Professor of Naval Architecture at University College, London to help develop our understanding of how ancient ships were launched from and slipped into such sheds, and to consider what else the sheds might be able to tell us about triremes and both the smaller and the larger warships housed in such sheds.

Even, therefore, if Olympias never goes to sea again, her day is far from over. Her refurbished hull will continue to delight and educate visitors to the Hellenic Navy's new Museum for many years to come, and she has already left a legacy of data and research questions which will allow the Trust and other interested investigators to go on expanding our knowledge of ancient ships and seafaring.

Note: Anyone interested in attending the Oxford Conference is asked to return the advance-notice request enclosed with this Newsletter.

The Zea Shipsheds

John Coates writes:

120 years after the rescue dig by Dragatzes and Dorpfeld on the remains of the ancient trireme shipsheds at Zea, a Danish archaeologist, Bjoern Loven, has recently surveyed some of the stone slipways afresh using modern equipment. He has been diving on the submerged lower ends of the slips. He has therefore been able to measure the total length of a few of the slipways, hitherto an important missing dimension because Dragatzes and Dorpfeld did not go further in 1885 than to record that the slips continued some distance into the water. Loven's first measurements make the lengths of two particular slips to have been 50.5 and 52 metres.

The slipways may be assumed to have been no longer than necessary and so they must fix the likely length of the ships - if we can correctly estimate the other necessary lengths involved, such as the overlap of the roofs over the bows of ships to protect them from sun and rain when in the sheds, the need for access by men and materials across slips and the depth of the ends of stone slips below the ancient waterline when first built.

The submergence of the ends of the slips today has been a puzzle since it must be certain that the ships would have slid on greased timber `groundways' to reduce friction sufficiently for teams of men (agreed to have been a minimum of 140 in total) to have been able to pull them up the slips. Any such timber work if underwater would have been quickly eaten by teredo worm as such attacks on Olympias have recently demonstrated. Could groundways have ended at the water's edge in ancient times, though submerged by a metre or so today? Could sea or land levels, or both, have changed so much over the years?

Preliminary calculations, assuming Olympias to have been launched from one of the slips surveyed by Loven but with a lower water level so that the timber groundway ended at low water of the small Mediterranean tide to protect it from teredo, have shown that she could indeed have been launched safely. The hazards to be avoided are: falling over due to loss of stability; tipping when halfway over the end of the slip; or being damaged by dropping off its end. With the help of Doug Pattison, a recently retired naval architect who has joined the Trust, these fairly lengthy calculations are being checked by computer. It will then be possible to explore the effects of changes in ship length, slip gradients (e.g. of slips elsewhere) and in other factors which would have been quite impracticable if the calculations had to be done manually as hitherto.

Based on a total slip length of 50.5 metres, measured to the high back wall at the top ends of slips, a provisional overall ship length of 42 metres seems likely (compared with Olympias' 36.8 metres and 39.7 metres for the presently proposed length of the Trust's trireme Mark II). A 42 metre ship could either have oars in each file spaced about 8 cm further apart than presently intended in Mark II or have longer ends to the hull, by about a metre each. This project can be expected to indicate in due course the real length of triremes more closely than has been possible so far.

We do not yet know why slip lengths varied in Zea or by how much. It is surely likely that the length of triremes themselves would have been standardised to help training crews, uniformity of squadron manoeuvres and interchangeability of equipment. Perhaps slips varied owing to the lie of the land on the Zea foreshore.

Mrs. Betty Morrison

Readers may have heard of the death of Betty Morrison in May 2003. The Times (a great friend to the Trust) published a charming obituary, recounting the story of her move in 1940 from Bexhill to take up a post as governess to the young King Faisal II of Iraq. Her wartime experiences included being arrested during an attempted pro- Nazi coup, then being besieged in the US legation in Baghdad. After their marriage the Morrisons moved first to Jerusalem, then (after the War) to Cambridge. As well as supporting her husband in his successive roles as Senior Tutor of Trinity, Vice-Master of Churchill and President of Wolfson ` with a certain lack of convention but considerable warmth and humour' she became well-known as a remedial teacher of reading to those with dyslexia and learning difficulties. It is also noted that she skied for many years - her last race being at the age of 72 - and her last ride on a horse at 92. Of their three sons and two daughters, Andrew Morrison and Annis Garfield maintain the family connection as Members of the Trust.

Exhibitions & Merchandise

The Chichester District Museum will be holding an exhibition between May and September entitled `What Did the Ancient Greeks Ever Do For Us ?'. They will be having a number of related evening talks whilst it is on, and are hoping to have a display by The Hoplite Association - they will also be carrying a selection of Trireme Trust merchandise. Their curator, Dr. Ian Friel, has fond memories of rowing on the Trial Piece at Henley in 1985. More details will be found at their website:

The Manchester Museum's cross-section, which regular readers will recall came from the Millennium Dome, is still very popular with schoolchildren from a wide area. Stocks of Trust merchandise will not now be replaced as individual items run out, so if there is a mug design or postcard of which you are particularly fond you may wish to stock up before it is too late. Apply to Andrew Ruddle (contact details at foot of p. 4).

To UK Taxpayers

The Inland Revenue will be offering a scheme from April 2004 whereby anyone completing a self- assessment return will be able to nominate a charity to receive all or part of any repayment due to them. The Trust has now registered as one of the eligible charities; there are no special details that need to be quoted - just the Trust's name.


Readers are warmly urged to follow the progress of Olympias, a three year old filly trained by Hughie Morrison, which is due to start racing in Spring 2004.

World Rowing

Members of the world rowing community may well be aware already that the 2006 World Rowing Championships are to be held at Dorney, near Windsor, between August 20-27. It has also recently been announced that a round of the 2005 World Cup will be held there. Further information will become available during 2004, via the FISA and ARA websites.

Letter from Athens

Rosie Randolph writes:

Athens has been unbelievably busy in the lead up to the 2004 Olympics. Perhaps the greatest boon to local inhabitants is the new road system, which can take you to the airport in little over half an hour, when previously it took an hour and occasionally longer. Elefsina will take forty minutes instead of an hour and a half, which speeds up the road to Corinth and Patras, and the Peloponnese. The last 400 metres, which will save an enormous loop, will be opened in March. Construction continues apace - both for Olympic venues, and for housing. Our street has three building sites, where old houses are giving way to apartment blocks. It is sometimes completely inaccessible because of diggers and lorries.

January saw the dry-docking of Averoff, the Hellenic Navy’s historic heavy-armoured cruiser from 1911. She was taken to the Elefsina Shipyard by two tugs, a third joining for the docking operation. A small film was made, using footage from the tugs and from a helicopter - we even took photographs from the basket of a crane ! Early in the year Athens hosted the signing of the Treaty for the ten new member states of Europe. The general paranoia about security meant that the city centre was effectively sealed off from traffic, and no-one could get anywhere except on foot.

Security for the Games is endlessly debated. NATO has offered air-cover, and the Olympic village will have double walls to take care of exploding lorries. The bombings in Istanbul have brought security issues into sharper focus.

Other issues that have affected Athens have been the Cyprus question; the war in Iraq, which caused almost daily demonstrations up to the American Embassy and which became fairly ritualised as Molotov cocktails versus tear gas; and the developing power struggle between the Patriarch and the Archbishop of Athens as to who should have the right to appoint bishops in Northern Greece. There have been efforts to implement a law to knock down illegally-built houses (especially those close to the sea), which sadly resulted in the suicide of the lady responsible whose position had become untenable.

December saw the sentencing of the November 17 terrorist gang, with many concurrent life sentences, which in one case added up to 2,412 years! In all, a total of 11,000 years in jail was given, though one or two malefactors were saved by the twenty-year statute of limitations.

This has been a positive year for Olympias, which now looks immaculate after her restoration, which was generously undertaken for the Navy by the Elefsina shipyards. She will be kept there until just before the Olympics. As yet, we have no firm answer as to whether or not she will be used to carry the flame. A modern version of a shipshed has been built to house her - pillars and a roof. It has no pretence at authenticity, but it is a pretty building and will give her shelter.

There are good signs that the new naval museum will be built behind Averoff. The land belongs to the Navy, and the architectural plans - which were drawn up some time ago - are being revised. Provided the scheme does not collapse with a change of government, it should go ahead in 2005, when contractors are beginning to look for work. The restoration of Averoff has won a much-coveted Golden Academy award, which was presented on 30 December. This being the 90th anniversary year of the Balkan Wars (1912-13), Averoff has hosted two exhibitions.

The first was put on in conjunction with the Ministry of the Aegean, and we were honoured to have the President on board for a wonderful inauguration. One lady, in her 90s, remembers as a child seeing Averoff sailing into Constantinople in 1919.

The second exhibition, looking at the social, political and economic conditions of the time, was mounted together with the Benaki Museum, and will run until after the Olympics.

Unfortunately the opening of the second Averoff exhibition on 3 December meant that we couldn't get to Crete for the celebrations of the 90 years of union with Greece, or the launching of the replica Minoan ship. In August we found ourselves unable to get to Kefallonia for their commemorations which took place fifty years after the earthquake. The following day, Lefkada, one of the Ionian islands a little further north, was badly hit by an earthquake with considerable damage but no deaths.

Athens looks on course for the Olympics. We have had several trial events - the rowing, which had problems with the melteme, the equestrian, the cycling and the marathon. Ticket sales have been up to expectations, people are up-beat, and working very hard. As an engineer said, Athens has achieved 150 years of infrastructure in the last ten years. However the rest of the world will judge the 2004 Olympics, it must be recognised that Greece has taken a giant step forward.

Last Newsletter

With the Chairman's remarks in mind, it has been decided that this will be the last printed Newsletter. Future editions will be posted direct to the website in November-December (with occasional items going there at other times) and not sent out. We are aware that not all subscribers have internet access, and so for an experimental period paper copies will be available on written or phoned request to Andrew Ruddle.

The Editorial Section

Our continued thanks go to Anu Dudhia, who continues to maintain the website to a high standard and copes manfully with a wide variety of questions. As always, if you would like more background on any topic, or if you have any ideas for future articles, please feel free to contact Andrew Ruddle, Trust Treasurer:- (+44) (0) 1932-220401 or