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Ancient Craft

                                                                     Building a Jabega

                                                                                                                             Have you ever wondered about the significance of the
                                                                                                                             eyes on the prow of the wooden fishing boats you
                                                                                                                             regularly see on the beaches of Andalucia? The same
                                                                                                                             symbol appears on the Málaga metro trams and metro
                                                                                                                             tickets. Once you start looking for them, those eyes are
                                                                                                                             all over the place.
                                                                                                                             If you look carefully at the boats, called jabega, you will
                                                                                                                             see they are very substantially built of heavy wood. Each
                                                                                                                             is about 8 metres long from bow to stern and 2 metres
                                                                                                                             wide. The eye, sometimes embedded in the design of a
                                                                                                                             fish, on the prow, has a very ancient Egyptian look, while
                                                                                                                             the bowsprit, extending from the bows, is designed like a   or strakes lie edge to edge, and the planks are laid
                                                                                                                             serpent’s head. The eye protects against evil, looks for   against formers that become the internal frames of the
                                                                                                                             danger and brings luck to those on board. The serpent   boat, the boat is constructed ‘right way up’ from the keel
                                                                                                                             symbolises wisdom and strength as it parts the waters   outwards and upwards to the gunwales.
                                                                                                                             ahead of the body of the boat. These boats weigh in at   Clinker construction has overlapping hull planks. The
                                                                                                                             1000 kgs, which is a lot for a boat that size, and the oars   keel, hog, stem, and stem post are laid first. Against
                                                                                                                             required to pull them through the water have to be   these parts, formers are set out at right angles. The hull
                                                                                                                             equally massive.                                    is built against a series of formers that are only used to
                                                                                                                             Until recently the jabega, with its crew of four men,   maintain the shape of the hull while it is being made,
                                                                                                                             sallied forth from the beach to catch fish and shellfish   they are later removed, and it is built ‘upside down’ from
                                                                                                                             using a tightly woven net. This method of fishing was   the keel.
                                                                                                                             banned because it caught everything in the water. Now   The replica jabega is constructed ‘right way up’ from a
                                                                                                                             the boats have crews of six or eight, and they race   narrow keel. Each abutting edge of every plank has slots
                                                                                                                             against each other. There are rowing clubs at Málaga,   cut into it at regular intervals into which thin wafers,
                                                                                                                             Torremolinos and Rincon de la Victoria. There is a move   rectangles of wood, are tightly inserted. The slots on the
                                                                                                                             to use lighter wood in the boat’s construction to reduce   bottom plank match the position of the slots in the upper
                                                                                                                             the overall weight to 500 kgs to make them easier to   plank so that the planks are fixed together. To reinforce
                                                                                                                             row.                                                the join wooden dowel pegs are used to ensure the
                                                                                                                             The design of the jabega can be traced back, almost   wafers do not move. Thwarts are built into the hull to
                                                                                                                             unchanged, at least 2700 years and probably further. In   help make the whole rigid and maintain the shape of the
                                                                                                                             1994 a Phoenician trading vessel, the Mazarron II, was   boat. The join between the planks is caulked with oakum
                                                                                                                             discovered in shallow water just off the shores of Playa   - fibres woven into thread. The Mazarron II wreck had
                                                                                                                             de la Isla in Murcia. A replica of the wreck was    thin frames, nowhere near as massive as the frames on
                                                                                                                             constructed that is now in the Underwater Archaeology   later carvel-built boats, inside the hull running from
                                                                                                                             Museum at Cartagena.                                gunwale to keel each lashed in place with thick yarn to
                                                                                                                                                                                 add more rigidity. The replica in the Astilleros Nereo yard
                                                                                                                             What is remarkable is that the method of construction of   is not yet ready for the frames. The whole of the outside
                                                                                                                             Mazarron II has survived into modern times and can be   surface is then coated with pitch made from the resin of
                                                                                                                             recognised in the contemporary day jabega. To prove   pine trees growing in the Sierra Bermeja near Estepona.
                                                                                                                             the point naval engineering students at the Astilleros
                                                                                                                             Nereo in Málaga, one of the oldest shipyards in Spain,   This method of construction predates clinker build that
                                                                                                                             are building a replica of a Phoenician jabega based on   developed in northern climes between 1000 and 100 BC,
                                                                                                                             the Mazarron II wreck.                              the Viking long ships are probably the most familiar
                                                                                                                                                                                 example, and was long before carvel build that evolved
                                                                                                                             The hulls are constructed in a way that is part carvel and   in the Mediterranean during the 14th and 15th centuries
                                                                                                                             part clinker. Carvel construction is where the hull planks   AD.
                                                                                                                              Astilleros Nereo is at the west end of Pedregalejo and on the east side of Los Baños del Carmen, Malaga. It is
                                                                                                                                                       open to the public 10 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 7 pm.

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