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Richard Braithwaite

Trireme "Olympias" by Richard Braithwaite

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Several years ago (quite a few in fact...) I started building a 1:24 scale model of a reconstruction of an Athenian Trireme. The model is based on drawings produced by John Coats for building the full size reconstruction ("Olympias"). A number of trials were conducted with the ship in the 1980's, which have been published in a number of sources by the Trireme Trust. Well worth looking up. A fascinating example of experimental archaeology.

I did have a blog running to record the model build (on this site I think?) but have not updated for a long time and I think it is no longer there. I have now reduced my working hours which has given me more time to progress the model over the last few months, so I thought it would be worth restarting the blog.

I have just completed the framing for the canopy.

 

P9130994small.jpg

Edited by Richard Braithwaite

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Oh, nice. One of my favourite vessels of all time. I've re-looked at the video of her sea trials time after time. But how many oars are you going to have to make? About 150?

 

It takes a special kind of insanity to make  a model of a galley. But you're doing an amazing job with her. I'm very impressed.:imNotWorthy:

 

Steven

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There are 170 oars on Olympias. One of the purposes of the reconstruction was to demonstrate that that many oars could be operated effectively from a 37m long vessel...

The oar system arrangement can be seen from the following extracts from John Coates Midship Section drawing:

644016504_OlympiasOarArrangement.thumb.jpg.ef51501aa4a306ffb52a110d6f0241b7.jpg

Edited by Richard Braithwaite

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Before I embarked on this project I built a section model to see if I could fit machinery below the central walkway to operate the oars. This remains an option for this model which is why the canopy and internal hull structure is removable (see bolts in the above pics). The machinery is quite crude (I would aim to improve on that with the full model) but did demonstrate that independent control of port and starboard oars would be possible with machinery that would give an elliptical oar path with the right stroke length.

 

 

 

Edited by Richard Braithwaite

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I've used lime pretty much throughout, mainly because the density is close to that of the pine used for the full scale reconstruction. Its quite a soft wood (compared to fruitwoods such as holly or pear), but that doesn't seem to have been too much of a problem and it has a very fine grain, which is nice..

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Very ingenious mechanism for the three banks of oars, Richard! Must have been fun calculating the 'throw' and stroke rate relative to the motor rpm. Is that ramming speed? And a very nicely crafted model as well.

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That's a pretty amazing machine, Richard. I was hoping to do a similar thing on my dromon model in the early days of the build, but I just don't have the mechanical skills and I gave it up as a bad job.

 

However, as I'm putting little guys on my model I studied what the oars did in the video of the full size ship's sea trials, and I found it was quite different from some of the oar motions I've seen on video of other mechanised model galleys. I'd be interested to know if the motion of the oars on your model ties up with what's seen on the sea trials.

 

Steven

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Are the oars actually just about touching when rowing on the real vessel?   I've wondered about that ever since seeing "Ben Hur" if they were close or separated.

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14 hours ago, Richard Braithwaite said:

Before I embarked on this project I built a section model to see if I could fit machinery below the central walkway to operate the oars. This remains an option for this model which is why the canopy and internal hull structure is removable (see bolts in the above pics). The machinery is quite crude (I would aim to improve on that with the full model) but did demonstrate that independent control of port and starboard oars would be possible with machinery that would give an elliptical oar path with the right stroke length.

Simply amazing! Are you talking about a radio-controlled galley? (Maybe even with a speaker for the sound effects of the cadence drummer and lashing whips?) How cool is that, or what?

 

 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, mtaylor said:

Are the oars actually just about touching when rowing on the real vessel?   I've wondered about that ever since seeing "Ben Hur" if they were close or separated.

They'd pretty much have to be very close and rowed in perfect unison. What's apparently inaccurate in the Ben Hur galley scene is when the rowers start "falling out" from exhaustion, what happens to their oars? Nothing, in the movie. In real life, a dropped oar's loom would likely immediately start flailing about inboard, making it impossible for adjacent rowers to row in unison, and the blade outboard would foul the blades of adjacent oars, creating a mess, and probably a "chain reaction" type of mess at that. Imagine what below decks would look like in combat when the vessel was rammed amidships. I guess naval tactics in that age boiled down to "ram and hold fast, board and kill all the other guys, then hope there was at least one ship left to make it to shore on.

Edited by Bob Cleek

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There was a lot of discussion relating to just that problem when they were working out the design of Olympias. Apparently even after the design had been finalised and the ship built, they discovered there was a certain amount of fouling between oars of the different banks, resulting in broken oars.

 

Ben Hur was pretty bad. Have a look at the reality of rowing a multi-banked galley at 

 

Oh, and the Romans didn't have galley slaves - neither did the Ancient Greeks; that didn't come in until the Renaissance. The ships were rowed by freemen.

 

Steven

 

 

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Am I correct in my recollection of reading somewhere that a flute or fife-like instrument was used to keep time, not a drum?

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Interesting video!  Unlike modern “high tech” rowing, this appears to be all arms and backs with short strokes and no feathering.  Maybe there is a rower on the forum that can enlighten us on ancient rowing mechanics.  Also, does anyone know what the slots in the looms of the oars are for? 

 

Roger

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Thanks for explanation Bob and for the video Steven.  Clears up my question.   

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15 hours ago, druxey said:

Am I correct in my recollection of reading somewhere that a flute or fife-like instrument was used to keep time, not a drum?

You probably saw that in my dromon log. Apparently a shrill tone carries far better than a deep one (such as a drum - :angry:, Hollywood!) which tends to get drowned out by other low-pitched noises such as the groaning of the oars on the tholes, sloosh of the water creak of the masts etc. Note that the rowing master on the reconstruction used a whistle to give the rowers the time.

 

On the other hand here's how NOT to do it!

 

OUCH! :default_wallbash:

 

Steven

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On 10/1/2019 at 1:03 AM, Louie da fly said:

That's a pretty amazing machine, Richard. I was hoping to do a similar thing on my dromon model in the early days of the build, but I just don't have the mechanical skills and I gave it up as a bad job.

 

However, as I'm putting little guys on my model I studied what the oars did in the video of the full size ship's sea trials, and I found it was quite different from some of the oar motions I've seen on video of other mechanised model galleys. I'd be interested to know if the motion of the oars on your model ties up with what's seen on the sea trials.

 

Steven

Yes, remains to be seen whether I can achieve the required level of accuracy. Placement of the thole pins in relation to the oar ports is critical to achieving the required length of stroke. The following photos show the approach I used:

 

1. A jig used for drilling the thole pin mounting blocks to ensure that the hole is in the right place and angle:

jig-for-thalmian-thole-dril.jpg.1e5241c30fc0bddf84336742baa209ac.jpg

2. Some pins installed on their blocks together with a jig for installing at the correct angle in the boat:

jig-and-tholes.jpg.a54532673df8ea3be051cde894ee304c.jpg

3. Installing the pin in position using the jig:

installing-thalmian-thole.jpg.d66a6c3d6122fefa71d5509c3e8c0414.jpg

4. The pin in position:

thalmian-thole.jpg.d346c1ec285e491681573fd3dae47f2c.jpg

5. Finally, a check on the clearances to give the required stroke angle:

thalmian-oar-sweep.jpg.251b8527c88284b72d0a7afa75d22f63.jpg

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:o My jaw is firmly on the floor. This is amazing, and a great subject too! Your technical skill and precision are next level! 

 

What are you going to do for the ram? Are you going all the way out and casting it in bronze? :) Are you sticking with the ram design they used on Olympias or going with one of the more recently found trireme rams?

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Since this is intended as a model of "Olympias" rather than an updated attempt to model an Athenian Trireme, I shall stick to the Olympias Ram. As a parallel project, I am also working on a software simulation of the maneuvering of oared warships, which I am validating against the sea trials of Olympias. One of the original ideas was to use this model for testing to find some of the coefficients for the software simulation. Must admit that I got a bit carried away with the model. Rather more detail than would be strictly required for a tank test model... I (sort of) justified it to myself on the basis that If I built it to the full size drawings, from wood of the same density, then the weight distribution would be about right.... But there are easier ways of doing that. Probably also easier to use Computational Fluid Dynamics Software to derive the coefficients. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to see if I could build an accurate enough model of Olympias at this scale and fit a rowing machine in it.

Haven't yet decided how I will make the ram...

John Coates "Plan No 20 Trieres Ram" drawing shows details of the wooden structure (which I have used for my model as you can see from the whole ship picture at the beginning of the blog) but does not detail the construction of the "Ram Sheath" other than to say that is based on the Athlit Ram as described in the Mariners Mirror , August 1983. The views in the drawing suggest that it is fabricated from plate. Part view of Plan No 20:

 

1899602628_Plan20Rampart.thumb.jpg.ff4e91d398f33941d4b34d1b4f032d6d.jpg

Ill need to do some more research...

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Very cool! What will the software simulation be used for? I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one interested in the results!

 

I’m curious how they made the ram for Olympias too. I have their book The Athenian Trireme but it doesn’t talk much about the ram. Casting a 200kg bronze ram can’t have been cheap. Though if they were trying to be as accurate as possible, making it out of plate would be strange.

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Had an urge to splash out on the only widely available trireme kit last year. The Dusek trieres, although impressive, is too boxy looking (although DD could have 'nailed it' -who really knows?) -nontheless your work looks superb as a mini-Olympias. Not enough ancient vessels in kit form so these scratch-builds are always a wholesome treat.

 

Congratluations on your expertise and choice of subject matter.

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Starting to plank the canopy today. Olympias's canopy was constructed from a number of sections so that the delicate structure would not be damaged by the hull girder stresses as the long thin ship flexed at sea. The sliding joint between each section is shown in the extract from John Coates Plan No 23 (Quarter Deck) below:

566931102_Slidingjoint.jpg.b0e54dd3c46be896f2564bc58ddc2df9.jpg

The start of this joint is indicated by the arrow on the following picture of my model:

1510311497_PA271455small.thumb.jpg.dd35ce8e16e6b5ec3fa97814a138789f.jpg

 

 

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