FoNS ‘hook up’ with the Society of Basque Batel Sailors


During the recent FoNS visit to Albaola in the Basque country, we met up with another maritime heritage group whilst visiting the coastal town of Zumaia.  We were introduced to Benat Ibaieta, the young chairman of Euskal BatelEroak Elkartea (the Society of Basque Batel Sailors)(EBE).  The group highlight the fact that they are crazy for batels – traditional wooden-hulled, single-masted sailing vessels, between 4 and 6 meters in length and able to carry up to 12 crew.  The sail is similar to ‘gaff-rigged’ and is known as Zapi Heren, as the yard is hoisted asymmetrically.batel

Benat showed us the group’s workshop where they are restoring a number of these boats and gave us a tour of the moorings where their completed vessels were secured.  He was only able to give us their leaflet written in the Basque language – which has only now been translated by friends to allow us to publish this update.

Less than 200 years ago, the Basque coastline was filled with sailing vessels, men working their boats to fulfil their daily needs – fishing, transportation and trading.  In the last 100 years, these boats have been absorbed into the leisure industry; have been updated to house engines, many now have no masts or sails at all.  But their history goes back much further, as these sturdy vessels were used for fishing and whaling off Newfoundland – before the time of Columbus and the other explorers!

This group are determined to hold onto their heritage in case the batel is lost due to the carelessness of modern society – they are part of the greater maritime heritage movement across the Basque country, preserving their history and boat-building skills for future generations.

Would the Newport Medieval Ship have carried such boats? I would expect that the San Juan (or Red Bay Wreck) that Albaola is currently replicating (full scale at 27metres length overall) would have carried up to 6 of these for her whaling expeditions in Newfoundland in the 1560s.

At the Medieval Ship Centre we will proudly display the small flag that they gave us, to remind us of the determination of all maritime heritage groups to preserve their past.

I hope that FoNS and EBE continue to keep in touch, perhaps through our mutual friends at Albaola.

Come and visit us at the Newport Medieval Ship Centre – we are still open every Friday and Saturday until the end of October, and then Saturdays only until 10 December.

Our Troublesome ‘Knee’


Conservation of the Newport Medieval Ship consists of three broad phases: iron-salt decontamination, treatment with PEG (polyethylene glycol) and, finally, freeze-drying.

In August – and as reported in the South Wales Argus (18th) and on this blog – the penultimate PEG tank, Tank 2, was emptied so that the wet, PEG-saturated, timbers could be transported to York Archaeological Trust for the final phase of freeze-drying. However, it was realised that one timber in Tank 2 was simply too large to fit into York’s freeze-dryer.


The troublesome ‘knee’: the last timber to be removed from Tank2

This Ship’s timber is technically called a ‘knee’. It is part of an assemblage that would have cross-braced the Ship so helping the hull to withstand the crushing inward pressure of the sea. It would also have supported the decking.

The timber is ‘V’ shaped, approximately 130cm deep by 265 cm wide, and weighs in (on its pallet) at a massive near-400kg (actually, 399.5 kg).


The knee: wrapped for protection and on the weighing scales

The Newport Ship’s colleagues in Portsmouth, the Mary Rose Archaeological Services (MRAS), stepped in. On Friday 07 October, a Friends’ work-party helped the Project Curator to remove the ‘knee’ from the Medieval Ship Centre’s timber store and to weigh it.

The knee was then left out of the store for the regular opening on Saturday so that visitors could see the sheer scale of the timber.

On Wednesday 12 October, the Friends accompanied the transportation of the knee to the MRAS conservation facilities in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where it will undergo the final phase of conservation over the coming months.


The knee dwarfed by the MRAS freeze-dryer

A splendid bonus for the Friends was a personal ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Mary Rose Archaeological Services’ facilities and a glimpse inside the famously successful Mary Rose Museum: what an inspiration for the future of the Newport Medieval Ship!

We are hoping that this timber will be ready for collection by the end of 2016 – fully preserved and ready for the eventual reconstruction of the Ship.  The other timbers are scheduled to be back with the project by the end of 2018.

Do come down and see the timbers that we already have back – some of which we will be putting together as proof of concept for the final re-assembly.  The Medieval Ship Centre is opened by the Friends of Newport Ship every Friday and Saturday until the end of October, and then Saturdays only until 10 December.  2017 opening will restart over Spring Half Term – check our website for details

Model Building – Progress


When we were our visiting our friends at Albaola in the Basque region of northern Spain earlier in September, our esteemed patron indulged in a large model of the Mataro Votive Ship.  This obviously came in a ‘flat pack’ box which we carefully brought back home with us.

This model is of a medieval vessel that is of similar date the Newport Medieval Ship, having similar lines albeit built for the Mediterranean.  It effectively demonstrates the concepts behind ship design in that age and is among a handful of artworks that accurately depict medieval ships that we can study to get some insight into how they actually appeared.

The original model, probably built circa 1450, was hung as a Votive offering in a chapel in the town of Mataro, near Barcelona , Catalonia, Spain and has a history all of its own.

So who do we – in this case, Charles – know who could do a really good job of assembling our model?

We were recommended to Dave and Gregg Heathfield,  a father and son team from Barry Model Boat Club who meet every Sunday morning to sail on Cold Knapp lake.  They are held in high regard as being the best around in the model building fraternity.  They build models on commission and have a large number in their dining room at their home in Dinas Powis.  Large scale models of tugs and highly detailed large lifeboats seem very popular.  They are also working on a large scale model, maybe 7 ft long of HMS Illustrious which will be powered by an engine taken out of a mobility scooter.

Our Charles got in touch and they’ve said they are delighted to help out The Newport Medieval Ship and will assemble our Mataro Votive in between their larger works.

We will aim to keep readers informed of progress, and when completed, its installation in the Newport Medieval Ship Centre as part of our growing exhibition.

Royal Naval Association Donation to FoNS


The Friends of Newport Ship have received a donation of £200 from the Newport branch of the Royal Naval Association (RNA) at the monthly RNA meeting in early September.

George Blackborow, president of the Newport RNA handed the cheque to Phil Cox, chairman of the Friends of Newport Ship.

Steve Mogg, secretary to the RNA branch said, “We are all former serving members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.  The Friends of Newport Ship need support for their project here in Newport and we thought it was right to raise some money for them.  Anything related to the Ship we will help towards, and if any new ship comes into Newport we try to support that as well.”

Phil Cox explained that this money will go towards evenlogo-nmsts at the Medieval Ship Centre, which will help draw more visitors to the exhibition.  At each event where these funds have helped to support the programme, we will proudly display the RNA emblem and hopefully have the RNA flag flying high.

The Ship Centre is open from 10am until 4pm every Friday and Saturday until the end of October, after which we will reduce to Saturdays only until early December.  Please see our website for more details.

Volunteer Eric Recognised Again


Amazing Eric Channing has worked tirelessly for the Newport Medieval Ship project since its inception fourteen years ago.  Clocking up thousands of hours in his green apron, scrubbing the ship’s timbers with cold fresh water and toothbrushes, Eric has probably seen all the individual artefacts passing through his hands.

Eric is a regular volunteer, and comes along most Saturdays to do all the odd jobs that we can find to keep him busy.  Whether it’s pushing a broom, sharpening drill bits or helping to hang displays, he’s there!

The Friends of Newport Ship nominated Eric for the annual GAVO Newport Volunteer Achievement Awards specifically for his enduring dedication to the project.  Regrettably we didn’t manage to get him onto the short list and a free celebration dinner – but at least he has another ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ to add to his collection.

Thank you Eric for all your continuing work at the Medieval Ship Centre.  It is hugely appreciated by all the FoNS crew.

If you are inspired by Eric’s dedication, come and have a chat with the crew whenever we are open.

The Newport Medieval Ship Centre is opened by the Friends of Newport Ship every Friday and Saturday until the end of October, and thereafter on Saturdays only until mid December.  Check our website for more details

Honorary Captains for September 2016


The Friends of Newport Ship have appointed Leonard Cole and Robert Gibbs, horologists and watch repairers of Stow Hill, Newport, as Captain and Commander of the Newport Ship for the month of September in recognition of their continuing support of the Newport Medieval Ship over the years. Both Leonard and Robert were delighted with the award and are finding space on the wall behind where they can proudly hang the certificate.  their names have been added to the ‘Roll of Honour’ displayed in the Ship Centre for all our visitors to see.


Phil Cox, Charles Ferris, Leonard Cole and Robert Gibbs

Phil took the opportunity to get his watch fixed (new battery required) and to have it properly reset to the right time zone, day and date!  Charles’ antique half-hunter is still running well and just requires winding!

You can come and visit the Ship Centre any Friday or Saturday until the end of October, and then Saturdays only until mid December. Entry is free, but we welcome your donations. We would love to see you there and tell you our stories!

Friends of Newport Ship visit the Basque Region


The Friends of Newport Ship have been strengthening their relationships with maritime heritage group Albaola, based in Pasaia, near San Sebastian in the Basque Region of Northern Spain.


Barrels of Pine Tar

FoNS were specially invited guests to celebrations surrounding the arrival of the convoy bringing the year’s crop of pine tar from the forests near Burgos, some 300 km away from Pasaia. The tar was transported in barrels loaded onto ox-carts that had already taken 18 days to make the journey.

The arrival of the caravan was celebrated at an event at San Sebastian Town Hall, watched over by the mayor and leaders of several heritage groups. The final segment of the journey took us 4 miles over the hill into Pasaia with the FoNS team in company – with Phil Cox, Charles Ferris and Rob Kenny in appropriate medieval outfits.

En route, we were welcomed into Pasaia by their mayor and we continued through the town, along the river to the Albaola shipyard; following the three ox-carts.


Ox carts in the streets of Pasaia

Albaola, the local maritime heritage group is currently building a full size replica of the San Juan. The original vessel was found on the sea bed in Red Bay, Newfoundland. Built in 1563 by the Basques; this whaling ship was 27m long and had perhaps 6 attendant 11m whalers, each with a crew of 7 to go and catch whales, and tow them back to Red Bay where they would be rendered down and the primary product, whale oil, recovered.  The original vessel was preserved by the freezing waters of Red Bay, recovered and researched by Parcs Canada, and now being faithfully replicated by Albaola.

This project has so many synergies with our own Newport Medieval Ship; together creating greater understanding the way that both ships were built. Our own Newport ship predates the San Juan by 114 years, and is a magnificent example of large Basque clinker-built vessels. By the time that the San Juan was built, the technology had changed; she was carvel built, with her frames assembled first and clad with the oak planking.

However the challenges of growing the oak trees, working the timber to create the shapes needed, fixing them with iron rivets and treenails and making a ship strong enough to survive the Atlantic Ocean, are the same.

The San Juan project undertaken by Albaola is ground-breaking and massive. In a town where there is no tourism, they have welcomed 50,000 visitors this year, generating a direct income of over 200,000 Euros.  They have created 23 permanent jobs, some welcoming and guiding visitors, but the majority rediscovering skills lost for generations as they work with huge oak trees to create the components for the San Juan.

The project is supported by both local and regional governments, and with a sizeable contribution from corporate sponsors.

Is this a model for the future of the Newport Medieval Ship?  The Basques are indeed very keen to follow the San Juan project with another, using our plans – recreating the yet bigger clinker vessel that we have here in Newport.

With all the other attractions that Newport has to offer, it has been estimated by the Council’s consultants, that we might expect over 150,000 additional visitors each year to see the Newport Medieval Ship, potentially generating some £7million to the local economy.  Now that’s a huge boost for Newport!

Future collaboration between FoNS and Albaola is likely to take the form of a series of visits and seminars, where each organisation and our members and followers can learn from the experiences of the other.


Charles Ferris (FoNS patron), Xabi Agote (Albaola CEO), the Mayor of Pasaia, Rob Kenny (FoNS Events Coordinator & Phil Cox (FoNS Chairman)