Aboard the Jewel of Muscat

The Jewel of Muscat is in Georgetown for its last stopover before heading for her final destination, Singapore! Today, I got a chance to go aboard the Jewel of Muscat and talk to project director Dr. Tom Vosmer to get an idea of the inner workings of this replica of a 9th century Arab ship and the journey from Oman thus far.


More pictures and videos after the jump!

The Jewel called to port about a week and a half ago, and the crew is enjoying a well-deserved rest after a harrowing run from Sri Lanka. Besides taking a well-deserved break, they’re also making some repairs to the ship before embarking for Singapore at the end of the week. Dr Tom Vosmer, a marine archaeologist and project director for the Jewel of Muscat project met me at the ship to give us an introduction to the ship:

[youtube oa5NBy5A6aI]

The Jewel of Muscat at Tanjong Marina in Georgetown, Penang
The Jewel of Muscat at Tanjong Marina in Georgetown, Penang
The stern of the Jewel of Muscat. This section of the ship was less reliably accurate because the original shipwreck was too encrusted with coral to be examined. Based on artwork of the period, they built a two-rudder system common for the time.
The stern of the Jewel of Muscat. This section of the ship was less reliably accurate because the original shipwreck was too encrusted with coral to be examined. Based on artwork of the period, they built a two-rudder system common for the time.
The Jewel was reconstructed using traditional methods, and the boat was literally sewn together with timber and hand-made rope.
The Jewel was reconstructed using traditional methods, and the boat was literally sewn together with timber and hand-made rope.
The crew also used a tool called the Kamal, a block of wood on a string to keep track of the height of stars. But the ship also carried a full suite of modern tools, such as a radar, GPS, weather monitoring equipment and an on-board camera (pictured).
The crew also used a tool called the Kamal, a block of wood on a string to keep track of the height of stars. But the ship also carried a full suite of modern tools, such as a radar, GPS, weather monitoring equipment and an on-board camera (pictured).

The Jewel of Muscat was surprisingly small – only 18 metres long – but I was surprised to hear that it had a cargo capacity of 25 tons, which in turn hints at the volume of trade that must have taken place during this period over such great distances. We also got to hear from Dr. Vosmer about life aboard the ship and gain an idea of how the crew lived and operated on a day-to-day basis.

[youtube loz4Bv3Zbv8]

The interior deck of the Jewel. The original Belitung shipwreck did not have a deck, and this feature was added for the ship.
The interior deck of the Jewel. The original Belitung shipwreck did not have a deck, and this feature was added for the ship.
The crew carved the prayer 'Allah Akbar'; ('God is Great') along one of the mast's crossbeams.
The crew carved the prayer ‘Allah Akbar’; (‘God is Great’) along one of the mast’s crossbeams.
The cargo hold underneath the deck in the video, that smells like rotten eggs.
The cargo hold underneath the deck in the video, that smells like rotten eggs.
Unfortunately, the hold also contains some of the sleeping quarters!
Unfortunately, the hold also contains some of the sleeping quarters!
Ever wondered where the toilet was on board the ship? There are two basket compartments at the ship's stern, near the rudder where crew members can relieve themselves. No, I didn't try it. But now you know!
Ever wondered where the toilet was on board the ship? There are two basket compartments at the ship’s stern, near the rudder where crew members can relieve themselves. No, I didn’t try it. But now you know!

It was a real treat to step aboard a pretty accurate reconstruction of a 9th century trading vessel – I suspect once the ship becomes a museum piece in Singapore there won’t be any more opportunities to do so! After the ship lands in Singapore, the data collected about the ship’s behaviour will enhance our understanding of the trade between China and Arabia from a technical standpoint, but I also hope to hear from the sailors their insight about what it means to be trader sailing the seven seas and the kind of mettle required to undertake such a journey.

The Jewel of Muscat sets sail again on June 18 to Singapore, where it will reside as a gift from the Sultanate of Oman to the island republic. You can learn more about the Jewel and its progress in the official website, www.jewelofmuscat.tv

If you have access, more information about the Belitung shipwreck can be found in Michael Flecker’s A Ninth-Century AD Arab or Indian Shipwreck in Indonesia: First Evidence for Direct Trade with China in World Archaeology (2001), vol 32, no. 3.

Special thanks to Dr. Tom Vosmer, Kat of Oman Sail and Chan Jee Kei of Opal Asia for facilitating access to the Jewel of Muscat.

Related Posts

Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

One thought on “Aboard the Jewel of Muscat”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *