Israeli-built Phoenician ship replica sets sail for Cyprus

An Israeli-built replica of a 2,400-year-old ship is at sea on its way to Cyprus. 

By World Israel News Staff and Israel21C

Sea lovers in Israel were gripped by a moment of excitement Monday morning when a replica of a 2,400-year-old Phoenician ship set sail for Cyprus, the Hebrew-language Israel Hayom reported.

Less than two years have passed since the completion of its construction, and after more than 50 cruises along Israel’s coast, the longest taking 31 hours from Haifa to Ashkelon, the accurate replica will make its first voyage abroad.

The ship, christened the Ma’agan Michael II, was named for the kibbutz where a fifth-century BCE shipwreck – the first Ma’agan Michael — was found in 1985.

The University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) launched the new ship in March 2017 into the Mediterranean waters.

Archaeologists taking part in the restoration project were hoping to learn how ancient mariners sailed against the winds and currents, especially as they lacked modern technological solutions.

The archaeologists had recovered a carpenter’s toolbox at the shipwreck. They used it to build the replica using the same materials, working methods, and tools that were used 2,400 years ago.

“It’s hard to admire it when you see the ship completed and it looks like a prop from a movie,” Avner Hillman, an IAA archaeologist, said when the ship was launched. “But if you go into the belly of this ship and understand that inside it there are close to 10,000 bolts, and tens of thousands of nails, and those are among the dynamics we had no idea how to do two years ago.”

Hillman’s doctoral thesis at the University of Haifa covers the ancient woodworking methods used in building the ship.

The ancient Ma’agan Michael ship was discovered in 1985 by Ami Eshel, a member of Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, some 70 meters from the kibbutz. The ship was removed from the sea in 1988 in a project directed by Dr. Elisha Linder, one of the founders of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa.

The ship was in fantastic condition thanks to it being covered in sand and thus helping to preserve it. The keel, numerous wooden plates, 14 crossbars, and the base of the mast were all preserved, offering researchers rare insights into the method used to construct the ship.

Building the replica ship was a dream for the late Prof. Yaacov Kahanov, of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa, and Hillman. Kahanov passed away in December 2016, just before the work was completed.

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The restoration crew behind the replica learned how to properly sail the Ma’agan Michael ship, and have now set sail on the four-day voyage to Cyprus.

The ship will be accompanied by two yachts and life rafts. “The first ship sank and my responsibility is to make sure the second one continues to sail,” the Skipper promised.