October 15, 2012

The New Phoenician

Went sailing on Saturday (yes, camping did not quite materialize) in the sea off Beirut. I was with another 2 boats, but besides us, there were no other sailboat on the water. There are very few sailboats in this part of town. Zaytouni Bay has maybe 2 (other than our 3 lasers), but that’s it. I know there must be a few at ATCLnow and then we see another sailboat or two on the water near Jounieh, but that’s it.

Two lasers (in case you're wondering what they're called; I only learned last year) 
A city of more than a million people, and we don’t manage more than a handful of sail boats? It’s odd, because the Phoenicians, who used to hang out along this coast as well, were phenomenal sailors.

The Phoenicians were the greatest traders in the ancient world for the period between 1000 B.C.E. and 600 B.C.E. These were highly skilled shipbuilders and sailors built strong and fast sailing vessels to carry their goods. They learned how to navigate and how to use the North Star to sail at night. It is possible that they even sailed as far as Britain and around the southern tip of Africa (source).

And here we are, some 2,500 years later; we order our sail boats from abroad, and there are about five active sailors on the sea on any given weekend. It’s not exactly what you’d call progress.


It is almost incomprehensible, because Lebanese love the sea! And the argument ‘it is an expensive hobby’ hardly holds ground when you see the hundreds of motor yachts that clog the coast line in the weekends.  A sail boat is cheaper when you buy it, they’re usually smaller than a motorboat, so lower mooring costs, and you don’t need diesel to run them.
I’ve been trying to get people interested in sailing around me, but other than my brother in-law, I have failed miserably. My son and my hubbie find the sport ‘excruciating slow’. Well, that’s the whole sport of it, isn’t it?  My daughter deems it ‘boring’ (but then again, she finds pretty much any physical activity boring these days; a sort of pre-teen attitude). Some friends say they’ll join me on my trip around the Mediterranean once I’ve bought myself a ‘real’ boat.  I am still only in the ‘laser stage’, which is far removed from a 'real' boat.

You go to any country with a coast line, and it’s all white sails in the summer time. If they have only lakes, like Switzerland for instance, you better be careful when swimming in the lake, you’re bound to get run over by a sailboat. In Holland it is a standard thing that you go to sail camp while in high school.

Near perfect sailing conditions (could have used some more wind though)

There’s even this British guy, Mr. Beale, who has sunk his life savings into a project proving that the Phoenicians were able to circumnavigate Africa, some 1,000 years before Columbus even was born. He even built a real Phoenician sail boat! Apparently the Greek historian Herodotus mentioned that the Phoenicians were able to do this in  600BC.

 And before everyone is suddenly claiming Phoenician heritage; Several studies have been looking at a possible Phoenician footprint in the region. No, we do not really descend from the Phoenicians (well, certainly not me), any more than the Maltesers or the Cypriots do.  They apparently weren’t really an ethnic group, but rather a group of people with common business interests.

That, however,  does not change the fact that Lebanese, with an (albeit shady) connection to the greatest seafarers of their time, the Phoenicians, make pathetic sailors themselves. And I’m going sailing this Saturday: I am a New Phoenician! Without all of you. 

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