Bronze Age replica sails for Olympics

HANIA – A replica of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age boat – built from clues left on ancient inscriptions and artwork – set sail from the island of Crete on Saturday to be showcased at the Athens Olympics. Twenty-two volunteer rowers, shielded by baseball hats and sun cream, will take the wooden vessel on an 11-stop route from Crete that was followed by the Minoans, Europe’s earliest civilization. The 15-meter (49-foot) Minoa, with no nails or joints, is made with cypress tree logs lashed together with ropes and made watertight by layers of canvas, resin and animal fat. «It’s a very strong boat… but it creaks a lot,» the Minoa’s captain, Apostolos Kourtis, said. «This is an experimental journey to prove that the ancient boat was something like this one.» The Minoa will join the Olympia, a replica of an ancient wooden warship, and the Kerynia-Liberty, which sailed to Athens from Cyprus this month, on display at Piraeus for the Olympic Torch relay two days before the August 13-29 Games begin. Kourtis, 54, said the Minoan boat – which precedes its two floating counterparts by more than 1,000 years – posed the most challenges. No remains of Minoan vessels have been found, leaving an eight-member team of archaeologists, engineers and plant experts to glean evidence from ancient tablets and drawings on vases and other remains. Mixing ancient and modern methods, the Minoa was built with the aid of computer simulation and Bronze Age tools – including chisels and bow-drills. It took nearly two years and 265,000 euros (about $320,000) to build it. The money was raised by the Culture Ministry, local businesses and private donations. «We will sail during the day, just as they did, and sleep on the islands at night,» said Kourtis, who retired this year as a rear admiral in the Greek Coast Guard’s special forces. Powered by the rowers and a sail, the Minoa will take nearly a month to reach Athens. It will carry olive branches from a tree linked to Cretan mythology to make wreaths that will be awarded to Olympic marathon runners.