London, March 24 : A British explorer is all set to begin an epic voyage around Africa in a replica of a 2,500-year-old ship in a bid to solve a mystery which has baffled archaeologists for centuries.
Philip Beale's mission is to prove that the Phoenicians, an ancient civilisation that lived around the Mediterranean, completed a near-circumnavigation of the continent about 2,000 years before any Europeans.
He devised the idea after reading the work of ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote of the Egyptian King Necho II asking Phoenician seafarers to sail around the continent in 600BC.
Beale, from Dorset, has commissioned the building of a replica Phoenician ship that he plans to sail around the continent with a crew of 20.
Their 10-month expedition will start in August and will follow the route that seafaring Phoenician merchants are said to have taken more than 2,500 years ago.
Aside from navigation and communications equipment, Beale's crew will have none of the comforts of a 21st-century vessel.
It will have only a basic toilet, with no running water, no spare sails and no motor.
"For me it is the challenge that is the attraction but I am a little wary," the Independent quoted Beale, as saying.
"I have been round the Cape of Good Hope before in a traditional vessel and I know there are risks. There is a 30 per cent chance that we won't be able to complete it at all," he added.
The single-sailed vessel will, however, be taking tinned food among the basic provisions, and will have oars so that the crew can manouevre in and out of harbour.
Beale's crew will use the Suez Canal to reach the point of their predecessors' departure.
In pre-Christian times the Phoenicians, referred to in the Bible as "rulers of the sea," were considered the only sailors capable of navigating their flimsy wooden vessels on such a treacherous voyage.
"There are lots of dangers. In rough seas there is a risk that it could simply fall apart. And because we have got just one square sail, we cannot sail into the wind, so we might get blown on to rocks," Beale said.
"Now we need some crew. The trip is divided into 12 legs, and three people, including myself, are going to do the whole thing," he added.