December 1, 2013

A 4,500-year-old yacht

THE SPORT OF BOATING goes back a long way — much further than most of us imagine.  According to Scott Cookman’s book about the 1905 yacht race across the Atlantic [1], a royal yacht more than 4,500 years old was discovered in 1954 at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza.

In his book, Cookman says the discovery was made by Hermann Junker, a German archaeologist, in a long tomb sealed with 41 limestone blocks, each weighing 16 tons. After six months of work Junker finally broke through to find a disassembled pleasure yacht built of perfectly preserved cedar. She was 143 feet long, with a beam of 19 1/2 feet, and displaced about 45 tons. The double-ender had a draft of 5 feet.

Apparently the decision to provide Cheops with his yacht in the afterlife was a last-minute one. The burial pit was too small to accept the yacht intact, so it was painstakingly broken down into 1,224 pieces, complete with rigging, deckhouses, and well-worn oars — a pair of steering oars 28 feet long and five pairs of rowing oars 21 1/2 feet long.

Now this was not a ceremonial vessel constructed specially for the occasion. Its hull planking, lashed together with almost 3 miles of hemp cordage, bore deep grooves where the rope had swollen and tightened in place by repeated floatings in the Nile.  This led the archaeologists to conclude that Cheops had used her extensively for pleasure outings.

Cookman describes her as a royal party boat, allowing the second king of the fourth dynasty to “bask in cool Nile breezes, trysting with his concubines, fishing, hunting, or gambling on games of senet.”

There was a wood-paneled cabin 30 feet long and 20 feet wide — 600 square feet of opulent privacy — and forward of this there was a 40-foot long canopy from which linen cloths hung. When these were soaked with water, the evaporation provided an effective rudimentary swamp cooler.

It’s extraordinary to think that it wasn’t until the twentieth century that anyone owned a private yacht to rival Cheops’s vessel (unless you count Noah).  And those of us who thought that yachting was started by an English king who received the present of a boat from the Dutch in the 1600s should feel suitably chastened by Junkers’ discovery.

[1] Atlantic, The Last Great Race of Princes, by Scott Cookman (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)  

Today’s Thought
You can only drink thirty or forty glasses of beer a day, no matter how rich you are.
— Col. Adolphus Busch, Newspaper interview

“You there, Bill?”
“You still got both arms and legs?”
“You don’t feel no pain or nothing?”
“Good. Then I just shot a bear.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

biglilwave said...

Having your boat in the that is Heaven.