The Ship’s Construction

The Ship’s Construction

The area of Mesopotamia was heavily engaged in the shipping trade and in commerce.
The area of Mesopotamia was heavily engaged in the shipping trade and in commerce.

 

Noah had lived in a region that engaged in boat building- near seas, rivers, and lakes.  The area of Mesopotamia was heavily engaged in the shipping trade and in commerce.  Boat building techniques were known in Noah‘s time as were woodworking techniques.  In fact, Noah was likely a boat builder in his younger life.  He may have planted, pruned, and later harvested trees suitable for boat building.  Then, with his lumber, built boats, sold boats, and actively engaged in trade.  Yet nothing the size of Noah’s biblical ship had ever been built.

Noah had likely accumulated wealth in some measure.  His wealth must have afforded him time to work on a long-term project such as the construction of a ship.  How long did it take?  He had as much as 120 years to plan and build his ship.  Unlike most people, he did not have to devote all of his time to his families sustenance.

How was Noah’s ship constructed?  Since Noah had no modern technology, no modern fasteners, no power tools, the ship was constructed of manually hewn timbers.  He worked with copper, bronze, and iron and made his own hand tools.  With his hand made tools, he could cut, hand plane, and drill holes in lumber.  In addition, he could cut, drill holes in, and then move stones that weighed tons.  He may have made his own rope.  Most people in modern times could not do these things, or build a ship, even with modern tools and equipment.  For Noah, he was applying skills that had been essential to his family’s survival in his day-to-day life.

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Mortise and Tenon Credit: Luigi Zanasi / CC-BY-SA-3.0
Mortise and Tenon Credit: Luigi Zanasi / CC-BY-SA-3.0

How does one construct a wooden plank ship without modern fasteners?  The answer- mortise and tenon joints for the framing, and dowels instead of modern screws to pin planks to the framing- among other possibilities.  Although inconvenient, joints of this fashion are the strongest available even in modern times and simply required labor and workmanship.  It is also possible he used a sort of riveting process on the ship’s internal beams.  He could have driven long brass or copper rods through drilled holes in joints, and added washers on each side.  Then, by flattening the ends of the rod, he would have accomplished a riveted joint.  Joints of this type are not watertight but he may have used them inside on structural members.  His plank-to-plank connections could have been stitched or dovetailed.  Like modern pocket-hole connections, planks could have been diagonally nailed to each other and doweled to frames.

At the ship’s completion, a hard bitumen coating may have been applied in layers over the entire outer hull- except for the door seam.  These were all known processes in Noah’s time.  Noah may have designed some of these boatbuilding techniques in his younger life.

Wood, stone, pitch, animal skins, fur, hemp, copper, bronze, and iron were among the only materials available to Noah.  It is reasonable to expect Noah had a mastery of their use.  He had learned (perhaps from Cain’s descendants) to make full use of all available materials and likely had many more options for their use than one could imagine.

He already knew which parts of a tree were suitable as planks, beams, and dowels.  Although each board was completely coated with pitch before installation, the swelling of the dried lumber planks as they became saturated

saturated with water provided the ships primary water tightness.  He no doubt understood that dried wood swells when wet.  The lumber had to be uniform in thickness.

After careful planning, construction probably began at the center of the ship, including the upper and internal decks, and then continued toward the ends.  The keel was first laid on the leveled foundation stones, and then the framing was jointed together.  As construction progressed, the ship looked somewhat like a dead animal’s rib cage.  After a portion of the ship was “framed up,” decks were installed.  Planks were first installed on the internal decks and then on the outer or upper deck.  This would keep rainwater from flooding what would be the ship’s bilge had bottom planks been installed first (assuming Noah anticipated brief periods of rain during the ship’s construction).  Simultaneously, the internal bulkheads or rooms were installed.  The ship had become a very rigid structure before the leak critical bottom and side planks, or strakes, were scribed to fit and installed.  No other construction method seems feasible for a large ship.  Many ancient construction methods for small boats are not applicable to large ships.

Finally, beginning at the ship’s keel, planks were added to the outer hull.  As planks were fitted, frames were faired by shimming or trimming and then stringers were fitted between frames.  The transverse (side-to-side) framing was likely on one-cubit centers down the length of the keel.  As the outer hull plank installation had begun, the wooden blocks and wedges of the ship’s foundation were first temporarily moved out of the way, and then planks in that area fitted.  After planks were fitted, covered with pitch, and attached, the wooden blocking was reinstalled and re-tightened with wedges.

Small areas of the ship had to be temporarily unsupported while bottom planks were added.  Noah would have gained a strong sense of the fragile nature of his ship’s hull as he reinstalled blocking and wedges to re-support his ship.  He would have taken care not to overdrive his wedges and punch a hole in his ship’s bottom (even if the planks were thick).

After an outer area of the ship was covered by wooden planks and re-supported, Noah may have attached external framing in addition to the existing internal framing.  This framing may have “backed up” or “strong-backed” every other or every second internal frame.  This would have served to stabilize the outer planks.

One can imagine Noah’s sons standing on the ship’s deck, looking down on Noah as he walked about preparing and then passing lumber up 50 feet with ropes to his sons at upper deck levels.  The planks were masterfully planed to thickness.  Unlike small boats, the planks were not cut into curved shapes of varying thickness.  Prepared planks were bent around the frames as strakes.  The ship did not look like a log cabin.  Variations in plank thickness would cause leaks and failures as the planks soaked up water and expanded during the flood event.  The ship’s bottom planks were Noah’s hand selected best.  Inferior lumber found use as flooring and petitions (bulkheads) inside the ship.  Compartments or rooms were throughout the ship.  The compartments contributed structurally to the ship’s strength since they were, in effect, longitudinal (end-to-end) and transverse (side-to-side) bulkheads.

A water storage cask was built into the ship’s middle and was open to the atmosphere through the upper deck.  Like a water tower, the cask probably extended down from the upper deck through the ship to the lower deck level.  Noah likely had a means of measuring the stored water depth in his built-in cask.  He would have watched the water level carefully while being prepared to ration water if necessary.  A simple sounding stone could have served as a means of measuring the cask’s water depth.  Even more likely, a series of plugged holes in the cask would have worked as well.  Plugged holes would have allowed Noah to tap the cask at all of the ships levels making it easy to distribute the water to his living cargo.  The cask could have served as a perfect rain gauge.  Water depth increase in his cask is probably the source of the 15 cubits of reported water level increase.

A means of bucketing water out of the bilge and then dumping it out of the ship’s sides was built in.  With it would go much of the animal wastes.  Leaks were a certainty, especially as the ship sat on its foundation before it floated free.  The ship may have set on its foundation for weeks or more after the rain had begun.  Leaks might have seemed unmanageable at first, but a few days into the flood event as the lumber tightened from swelling, leaks were easily managed or they stopped completely.

A great deal of time was required to build a ship meeting the biblical specifications.  Long before the ship’s completion, an ecosystem had developed inside including, spiders, insects, lizards, snakes, birds of many types, rodents, a bilge with water from dew, and algae, and everything else that would tend to inhabit a safe, mostly dry, sheltered environment.  During construction, the ship would likely have had some water in the bilge from daily dew accumulation.  This ecosystem might later help sustain Noah and his family during the flood.

  1. Terry

    Could you please explain what you mean when you wrote “Water depth increase in his cask is probably the source of the 15 cubits of reported water level increase.”

  2. Juan

    I am curious about one thing and maybe you can explain furter. You wrote “the swelling of the dried lumber planks as they became saturated with water provided the ships primary water tightness.”
    I was wondering about leaks due to swelling. What’s your thoughts on this?

  3. Terry,
    This is really speculation on my part. Truth is, it is unclear how Noah could know how much rain had fallen or how deep the water was in his ship’s area as the flood event began. Noah was sealed up inside the ship before it ever floated away. He might have known how much water was required to float it off its foundation but that requires that he know its weight and buoyancy. Nevertheless, it makes complete sense that he had a water cask on board, and it makes sense that rain was used to fill it- rain from off the ship’s deck. In addition, Noah would have had taps in the cask for convenient access on multiple levels. With multiple taps, he had a rain depth gauge on board.

    Thanks for the question.

    Mike.

  4. Philipe

    Curious about your comment on how long Noah had to build the ark. You said he had up to 120 years to plan and build the ark. How did you come up with this figure?

  5. Philipe,
    Gen 6:3 suggests that God had made a decision to destroy life on Earth in 120 years. It is assumed that shortly thereafter Noah was notified of his shipbuilding task. If 120 years is indeed correct, Noah had time to plant, prune, and harvest trees suitable for his ship’s construction, although he may have simply purchased lumber and material.

    Thanks for the question,

    Mike.

  6. Juan,
    I do not completely understand your question. I will assume that you are curious about planks swelling and moving in such a way as to cause leaks. This could happen if the lumber was not planed to consistent thickness. Thick planks would swell with force adequate to buckle thin planks and could cause failure. However, planked boats usually leak until planks have swollen tight. Boats are often allowed to sink for a few days to allow swelling, then when pumped out, they float without leaks.

    Thanks for the question,

    Mike.

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