London, August 11 : A group of 20 sailors on Arwad Island off the coast of Syria have set sail on a journey that would involve the circumnavigation of Africa, a feat which has not been undertaken for two and a half millennia.
According to a report in BBC News, the sailors have set off on a journey that attempts to replicate what the Greek historian Herodotus mentions as the first circumnavigation of Africa in about 600 BC.
Their vessel, the small, pine-wood Phoenicia, is modelled on the type of ship the Phoenician sailors Herodotus credited with the landmark voyage would have used.
The year-long voyage will take the crew into some of the most dangerous waters in the world.
As well as sailing round the southern most tip of Africa, the crew is preparing to deal with pirates and long periods of waiting for favorable winds.
The skilful shipbuilders in Arwad are familiar with construction techniques dating back 200-300 years, but according to shipbuilder Orwa Bader, this is the first time they have ever tried to build in the Phoenician style.
"Usually, it takes three men and two months to build any type of ship. But this time, we needed at least five to 10 builders to work on it over eight months to make it ready. It was a hard but enjoyable job," said Bader.
The vessel, designed on the basis of information from wrecked ships, pottery and other archaeological artefacts from the era, is made entirely of wood, with a single sail and no engine.
The only concession to 21st Century sailing equipment is its navigational system. Its top speed will be the equivalent of 10km/h on land.
The route goes through the Red Sea, past Somalia and down the East African cost before rounding the southern tip of Africa around Christmas time.
According to Philip Beale, the ship's captain, "The most difficult part will be circumnavigating around the Cape of Good Hope where many shipwrecks are testimony to the difficult conditions there."
"You can get big waves of 20 metres or more there. It is a dangerous area and we'll be there in December and January," he added.
The ship will be crewed by a largely British team of volunteers, some of whom have never done anything similar. Living conditions will be tough, and little different from those the Phoenicians would have endured.
Unlike the Phoenicians' ships, the vessel will be equipped with lifeboats, and will carry large amounts of food and fresh water.
The Phoenicians lived in areas of modern-day Lebanon, Syria and other parts of the Mediterranean from about 1200 BC and are widely credited with being both strong seafarers and the first civilization to make extensive use of an alphabet.