Once Upon the Erythraean Sea

Design Note: the area known in the 13th century as the Erythraean Sea reflects the modern day Arabian Sea or western edge of the Indian Ocean, correlating with the Arabic Bahr al-Hind. This area links the “Mythic Arabia” chapter of the Cradle and the Crescent, the “Ethiopia” chapter from Lands of the Nile and “Sorcerors of Soqotra” chapter from Rival Magic. This article is one of several gazetteer style posts intended on ultimately linking these sources together.

Dhow
A typical dhow

The dhow (Arabic or Swahili: daw) is the predominant style of ship on the southern waters constructed from teak from far off mythical al-Hind. Unlike the ships of the north detailed in City & Guild, page 84-85, these ships are literally sewn together with coir, a tough woven cord formed from palm or coconut fibres soaked in seawater.

In the thirteenth century, these ships have double-ended hulls that come to a point at the bow and stern – the much later square stern is an innovation influenced by European ship designs.

The generic word for ship in Arabic is markab or safiinah. Although named variously badanbuumjalba, and zaaruq depending on the region they are found, all ships share the common hull features of carvel design (planks laid end to end) providing them with flexibility to manage the surf or shallow coastal shoals and rocks of the Red Sea or Arabian Sea at the expense of their overall structural integrity.

Each ship is so-called lateen rigged, using a near triangular trapezoidal sail (or corectly a settee sail) with an additional luff as opposed to the true triangular sail seen in the Mediterranean. This hybrid design still allows the ship to tack before the wind, unlike the square rigged ships of Europe, but the extra area provided by the leading edge or luff helps catch a greater amount of wind than the regular triangular shape use in the north. Most used for coastal trading have two masts with basic rigging, the larger sail on mizzen and a smaller sail aft, although smaller craft only have a single mast.

Unfortunately, very few of these sewn ships have closed holds or decks, requiring passengers to brave the elements and settle themselves amongst the cargo and any sported animals as best they can. This and their pliant hull design makes them ill-suited to rough weather – the standard practice for regular sailors of these vessels when confronted with a storm at sea is to pull down the mast, jettison the sail and pray for deliverance. Unsurprisingly, the nakhodas or “dhow-masters” often name their ships with fatalistic names that effectively translate as: “By Allah’s Deliverance”, “In Praise of Mohammed” and “As Allah Wills”.

The Magic of Sewn Ships

Unlike northern ships which use bronze or iron nails in their construction, the woven coir binding method and teak or coconut wood construction means that dhows are composed entirely of material derived from plants. This makes them virtually immune to Hermetic Terram spells, but exquisitely sensitive to Herbam based magics.

Historically most dhows were built in India, the eastern source of the teak and coconut used in their construction. Although well known in the thirteenth century to Muslim merchants, in Mythic Europe canonically there is no such land as India, only the rumoured Faerie land of al-Hind. This suggests that the ships of the southern seas may be all built with the aid or permission of exotic  Faeries or may even be Faerie Objects obtained through bargains…

Even if otherwise mundane such ships are rumoured to be crafted using planks sourced from Faerie teak trees in their construction, which if the correct incantations are muttered whilst building them may provides the resultant ship with a small amount of resistance to magics intent on warping or twisting it out of shape, providing a defensive bonus to Herbam style magics equal to the boatbuilder’s Craft: Shipwright score.

Teak wood has the following Shape & Material bonuses:

  • +3 resist rot or disease
  • +2 Rego

Additional Resources

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