Propulsion & Performance

Hypothetical reconstruction of a complete Ferriby boat (Illustration Roger Waites



It has to be assumed that the boats were paddled and there is room for up to nine thwarts to give eighteen paddlers. Oars for rowing are not certainly known in northern Europe until c.500BC although they existed in Ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean earlier even than the Ferriby boats. Masts and sails cannot be proven to have existed in the north before about 250BC although they are known in the south in Bronze Age times. There are a few enigmatic rock-engravings of this date in Norway which have been interpreted as pictures of boats with mast and sail.

Sketch showing paddling positions (Illustration John Craig)

A Ferriby boat in reconstruction with eighteen paddlers could do a good 6 knots in bursts which would be fast enough for the Humber crossing at full tide. She could carry passengers and cargo of 4.5 tons with ample freeboard. Total loaded weight of hull, crew and cargo would be about 11 tons.


Experimental Archaeology



The finding of these remarkably sophisticated vessels raised many questions. What were they built to carry? Where did they sail? How were they powered? To help answer these questions, naval architects Edwin Gifford and John Coates joined forces and, using Ted Wright’s research, embarked on building a half scale replica called Oakleaf. In the summer of 2004, the replica successfully completed her first sea trials on the Solent. The results gave a tantalising glimpse as to how the boat could have been used. Although what may have been be a paddle was found with the remains, the trials showed that a sail would have been a superior form of power. This would indicate that Bronze Age crews could have made long sea voyages and landed safely on unfamiliar coasts. In suitable weather they could have crossed the North Sea perhaps in three or four days. In 2012, the Discovery Channel commissioned the building of a full-scale replica of the Ferriby boat. The subsequent programme successfully showed that the boat would have been able to carry a large bluestone, similar to the ones used at Stonehenge.


Oakleaf takes to the water, 2004
Copyright - Estate of Edward Wright deceased. As extracted from his booklet 'North Ferriby and the Bronze Age Boats'

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