Replica Bronze Age boat makes history
Living Cornwall Editor
Lifted on an incoming tide and cheered by several hundred onlookers, the first Bronze Age boat to be launched in Cornwall – or anywhere else – for 4,000 years took her short maiden voyage at Falmouth yesterday.
Christened Morgawr – after the mythical monster of Falmouth Bay – the six-ton, solid oak vessel has been 11 months in the making. Built by a team of 50 volunteers led by master boatbuilder Brian Cumby at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, the aim of the project was to learn more about our seagoing ancestors.
Boat enthusiasts, history buffs and the plain curious lined a slip close to the museum to watch the launch. And while there was no fanfare or champagne bottle smashed on her hull, there was a deep sigh of relief from all concerned that Morgawr did fulfil the minimum requirement: she floated.
"I'm very satisfied," said Brian, after he and a 20-strong crew took the 50ft boat for a short inaugural paddle. "Considering this was a first attempt, I'm pleased. She moves well through the water."
A first for "experimental archaeology" and a first for the NMMC, the prehistoric boat has been reconstructed as part of a collaborative project with the University of Exeter. The bulk of the hull was cut, using bronze adzes, from two huge oak trunks. Once shaped, they were "sewn together" using yew withies from churchyards at St Gluvias and Mylor and sealed with moss and tallow.
"The team have done some superb work," said Brian.
June Callaghan, from Truro, who volunteered with her husband John, said they had learned a lot about prehistoric shipbuilding.
"We're both very interested in pre-history, but we'd never done anything like this before," she said. "I've learned an incredible amount about the technique and archaeological background of these vessels and the people who made them. The more you work on something like this the more you learn.
"What is really nice is that instead of being exhibited in a museum she is on the water and doing ordinary boaty things... like leaking."
Getting his feet wet with the rest of the crew yesterday was Professor Robert Van de Noort from the University of Exeter, who has overseen the project. A world expert in Bronze Age boats, he said: "I'm so happy with her responsiveness. When I was steering, I could turn her easily. Today's launch has revolutionised everything we knew."
The build and launch represent the beginning of a wider educational project to study the mobility of Bronze Age people.
"I'm looking forward to taking her out over the next few weeks to do sea trials," said Brian.
"It will be interesting to see how she responds, evaluate manoeuvrability and test her speed."
Morgawr can be seen at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth.