The other evening I gave a talk at Verwig and was happy to meet Nick Newland, who was heavily involved in the building of the Holgar and in the voyage filmed in August 2012 by the Discovery TV Channel. We had a chat about it, and Nick promised to send me the only material ever written about the boat and the voyage -- it was published in a boatbuilding magazine but has never, apparently, been put online.
I wrote a previous report here:
Much of the article is on the technical aspects of building Holgar, modelled quite closely on the Ferriby Bronze Age boat -- which must have been built at least a thousand years later than any boats that might have carried bluestones from Pembrokeshire to the other side of the Bristol Channel.
Although the boatbuilders tried to be as authentic as possible in the boatbuilding methods used for this "lashed planking" vessel, there were all sorts of ways in which modern methods were substituted for ancient ones. For a start, the planks were smooth and the cuts were as accurate as modern methods would allow -- within a millimetre or so. The main planks running the full length of the boat (42 feet long) were not made with rough oak or yew, but with three laminations of Douglas fir glued with epoxy resin. Laminated strips were also cut on jigs and then glued up and used for the main frames. Plywood formers were used, and modern fixes had to be used to achieve the bow and stern curves. The overlapping joints between touching planks were cut with modern saws. All of the holes for the lashings that held the planks together were made with modern drills. The lashings were made from artificial fibres. Screws were used to hold things together while glueing was in process, and then removed when the glue had set. Caulking was done with a natural moss, but it was inserted with a modern "caulking iron." Many other technical details are given in the article, but the conclusion is inescapable that Holgar was vastly more sophisticated and more seaworthy than anything that could have been made in the Bronze Age, let alone the Neolithic......... And if anybody tries to tell you that the Holgar project demonstrated that a boat like this could have carried one bluestone or lots of them, it did nothing of the sort. It simply showed that this particular "imitation" boat, built with the use of a wide range of modern materials and methods, was capable of carrying a single bluestone monolith weighing about a tonne.
The loading of the bluestone onto the boat was done quite smartly, involving a strange ramp-like structure made of logs lashed together and positioned between the tide marks at Gwbert in the Teifi Estuary. The idea was that the stone would be put into position on a cradle on the beach at low water, lifted up with the aid of a "rolling log" on top of the structure, and then let down onto the bottom of the Holgar when it was manoevred into position on a rising tide. Then the ropes would all be released, and the boat with the stone on board would be allowed to float free. In reality, on the day when the stone was supposed to be loaded, there was a Force 6 gale blowing, and a certain degree of technical interference was needed before the stone was properly positioned on the boat. The author of the article does not go into detail on that, but let's assume that the use of a JCB might have been deemed unsporting........
Then we come to the voyage, which was flagged up at the time as demonstrating that a bluestone could be carried by a Neolithic boat all the way from the North Pembrokeshire coast to Stonehenge. In reality, the Pembrokeshire coast was not tackled at all. The boat with its bluestone on board was taken by road to Loughor and then paddled most of the way from there to Burry Port -- with safety boats in attendance and with a tow being provided when the 12 paddlers found that they could make no headway against the tide. Then the boat went back onto the lorry again for the journey to Barry, where it restarted its voyage to Cardiff Bay. There was a further weather delay, and the boat was lifted out of the water for assorted repairs and for the replacement of caulking. The voyage was then resumed, and the crossing was made to Portishead on the other side of the Severn Estuary. Once again there was a tow, across the central part of the channel, so as to avoid any interference with commercial shipping.......... The paddlers then took the boat to Avonmouth and up the river on a flood tide to the Clifton Suspension Bridge and on into Bristol Harbour. The final leg of the journey took the boat upriver, struggling against a powerful river in flood, as far as Keynsham. There the journey was abandoned, and the Holgar let the river carry it back to Bristol Harbour.
All in all, this was an interesting piece of experimental archaeology. But there were so many modern technical fixes in the boatbuilding, and interventions (relating to weather and tides) during the "bluestone voyage" itself, that in my mind, just as in the "Millennium Stone" fiasco, the conclusion has to be that sea transport of large bluestones, even in the Bronze Age, would have been well nigh impossible.
Here is a description of the building of the other "Ferriby replica" -- called "Morgawr" and built by a large team in Falmouth. Here the methods used were more authentic, but not totally so -- and there were episodes during which the temptation to use modern technology proved too much............
This boat was rather leaky and cumbersome, by the sound of it. I think the conclusion must be that the Ferriby boats were probably used for sculling about in shallow coastal waters and maybe on rivers and lakes and in marshy areas, where the boats could be grounded quite easily for baling out and for repairs.