Tim Severin

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Tim Severin : biography

1940 –

Sohar left Oman on 21 November 1980. Navigating by the stars, Severin and his crew of 25 traveled nearly 6,000 miles (9,600 km) in eight months. From Sur they sailed east across the Arabian Sea, south down India’s Malabar Coast to Lakshadweep and on to Kozhikode, India. The next phase of their voyage took them down the coast of India to Sri Lanka. They were becalmed in the doldrums for nearly a month, suffered broken spars, and were nearly run down by freighters, but arrived in Canton, China on 6 July.

The Jason Voyage (1984)

The epic poem Argonautica, first written down by Apollonius of Rhodes in Alexandria in the late 3rd century BC, became the basis for Severin’s next expedition. He began his research into ancient Greek ships and the details of the text in 1981. Master shipwright Vasilis Delimitros of Spetses hand built a 54-foot (16.5 m) replica of a Bronze Age galley based on a detailed scale model of the Argo. In 1984, with twenty volunteer oarsmen, Severin rowed and sailed from northern Greece through the Dardanelles, crossed the Marmara Sea, and passed through the Straits of Bosphorus to the Black Sea—a voyage of 1,500 miles (2,400 km). Along the way they identified many of the landmarks visited by Jason and his Argonauts, and found a likely explanation for the legend of the Golden Fleece. Severin recounted the expedition in The Jason Voyage (1985).

The Ulysses Voyage (1985)

Once again making use of the Argo from The Jason Voyage, in 1985 Severin followed the route of Ulysses’ voyage home in The Odyssey, from Troy to Ithaca in the Ionian islands. Along the way, Severin made tentative or conclusive identifications of The land of the Lotus-eaters, King Nestor’s palace, the Halls of Hades, the Roving Rocks, and the Sirens Scylla and Charybdis. The Ulysses Voyage, published in 1987, tells the story of the expedition, the historical research that went into it, and the discoveries Severin and his crew made along the way.

In Search of Genghis Khan (1990)

While still a student at the University of Oxford, Severin wrote his thesis on the first European travelers in Central Asia during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. With this background, to commemorate the 800th birthday of Genghis Khan he rode with Mongol herdsmen along the route once used by couriers of the Mongolian empire, mingled with camel herders in the Gobi Desert, and ate with Kazakhs in their yurts. In addition to finding evidence that the bubonic plague had been introduced into Europe by Mongolian traders, Severin gave the world a rare view into this little-known country. His story, part travelogue, part research paper, was published in 1993 under the title In Search of Genghis Khan.

The China Voyage (May–November 1993)

Ancient Chinese texts tell the story of Hsu Fu, a navigator and explorer sent by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, in 218 BC into the "Eastern Ocean" in search of life-prolonging drugs. Hsu Fu completed the voyage on a bamboo raft, which some believe took him to America and back.

Severin set out to prove that such a voyage really could have been made. On the beach at Sam Son, Vietnam, he oversaw the construction of a 60 foot (18.3 m) long, 15 foot (4.6 m) wide raft built of 220 bamboos and rattan cording, and driven by an 800 square foot (74 square metre), junk-rigged sail. After leaving Asia in May 1993, Severin and his crew faced monsoons, pirates, and typhoons before the rattan began rotting and the raft began falling apart in the mid-Pacific. After traveling 5,500 miles (8,850 km) in 105 days, they were forced to abandon the raft about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) short of their destination.

Although the Hsu Fu, as the craft was named, did not complete the trip, Severin believed the voyage had accomplished its purpose. In The China Voyage, published in 1994, he wrote that the expedition had proved that a bamboo raft of the second century BC could, indeed, have made a voyage across the Pacific, just as Hsu Fu’s account recorded.