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F + 13 : Ancient Wrecks in Fournoi

Divers of the 2015 Project lifting ancient Cargo from one of the Ship Wrecks

For the first two weeks of sailing there was almost no wind. Occasionally, we had a light breeze from the south. The feared northerly Meltemi was blowing in Istanbul but got eclipsed on 15 August by rain. Ancient mariners loved the southerly winds. They helped them sailing up the Straits where they faced the 2.5 knot strong north-south current. The northerly wind, the Meltemi, was less welcome. It easily turns into a storm and can force sailboats to sit it out in a bay - sometimes for weeks. Meltemis are more frequent than southerly winds and unpleasant. We went through one of them in 2017.

The Meltemi is forecasted to freshen up on Tuesday and will get stronger by end of the week

As per Windy, the easy-to-use app on windspeed and direction, winds are going to change tonight. The northerly wind will be back and gathers pace towards the end of the week. I guess our Tuesday crossing from the Aegean Islands to the Cyclades is right on time. We just slip through before the Meltemi hits.

Two major Trading Routes crossed at Fournoi and many cargo vessels stayed for the night

Ancient mariners had no app like Windy. They picked the seasons which were known for stable wind conditions, never sailed in the winter, followed the shores to benefit from thermal winds and the protection the mountains provided. As kind of an “insurance”, they sacrificed to Poseidon and the less well-known Goddess Brizo to ask for favorable weather conditions. We will find their statues all over Delos. If Brizo and Poseidon allow, we shall arrive there in two days’ time.

Could only find this Pompeian Fresco of Poseidon with Amphitrite, his wife.

Despite their prudence, ancient Mariners were often caught by unexpected turbulences resulting from changes in wind direction. This was not a big problem for the experienced sailors as long as they were in open waters and had sufficient space to manoeuvre. Ancient boats like the Kyrenia wreck (see my blog E - 180) had no proper, deep keels and drifted a fair bit when crossing the wind.

The Kyrenia Ship, built in the 5th century BC, had only a shallow keel

Around Fournoi, a favourite spot for the ancient mariners to stay overnight, the channels are narrow, the bays shallow and dotted with underwater rocks. Fournoi is also the beginning of the Meltemi funnel and known for its erratic, turbulent gusts. When caught in narrow waters, vessels often hit the rocks before the captains were able to turn them away. So far, 58 ancient ship wrecks have been identified.

Ship Wrecks form small underwater Hills - here Divers find a completely intact Amphora

Most wrecks were found by sponge divers who dive to a depth of 40 meters. The wrecks in shallow waters are badly looted but those lying between 40 – 60 meters depth are in pristine condition. They were luckily out of reach.

Vases and Amphorae on the Sea Floor - many have survived intact

Many of these vessels carried cargo in amphorae which are easy to date and locate. Amphorae from North Africa and the Black Sea dominate. They proof the existence of the ancient trade routes. Most vessels date from the late Hellenistic period (200 BC), the zenith of Roman power (200 AD) or the Byzantine area (600 AD). A few are from the 19th century.

As always in Archeology, the Bulk of the Work is done by Doctoral Students

Since 2015, a joint team of divers and underwater archeologists from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities catalogue these wrecks and compiles a selective inventory to determine the nature of the goods transported, the age and origin of the vessels. The wrecks with most of their content are then left on the sea floor. Lifting them is not only costly, exposing them to oxygen would destroy them. Whether there will ever be a museum for these boats is too be seen. In the foreseeable future, there is no budget for such a project.

An Amphora lifted from one of the Wreck Sites for Analysis and Cataloguing

The precise site of the 58 vessels is kept secret and scuba diving in the area is not permitted. We thus won’t be able to see any of these vessels. Luckily Reuters and a few archeology magazines published illustrated articles from where I could copy a few photos. I hope they give you a good impression of what you would see were we allowed to dive.

We used one of the treacherous Underwater Rocks

to anchor the Queen of Datca for lunch

Tonight we sail to Icaria where we stay in Agios Kyrikos. Depending on the wind conditions we may sail to Delos already tomorrow. There is no risk that we would wreck the ship here. Our engines allow us to manoeuvre any time. But sailing in the Meltemi with up to 2 meters high waves is unpleasant. We did it in 2017 and are not keen for a repetion.

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