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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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