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Discussing: River deltas and ocean-going ships

River deltas and ocean-going ships

We all know that there is significant ship traffic on the lower Anduin, going from river to ocean and back.

What would the delta be like, where river and sea meet?

Compare to great rivers like the Nile, the Amazon, the Mississippi, the Ganges, the Yangtze - what are they like when they pour into their oceans?

How would tides affect river traffic and passage to/from the sea?




Re: River deltas and ocean-going ships

This is quite an enormous topic.

All river deltas have one thing in common: they silt up. In Middle-earth, they would not be using dredgers to keep the passages clear [!] so there would be specific channels that the larger ocean going ships would have to use, which would change over the years. It would take quite a bit of skill to navigate the delta. These passages would have to be learned. Running aground would be common.

The Anduin delta is pretty simple, because there is a large bay , the Bay of Belfelas, that acts as a buffer between the river and the sea. That would minimize the affect of the tides on the river -- the tidal action would be mostly in the bay. By the time you get to the river itself, the saline content would be low, almost "normal." The bay on the other hand would be semi saline, and would have exactly the same tidal action as the open ocean [but not the waves]. You could still expect the tides to affect water levels in the delta by a couple of feet however. If there was an extremely high tide in the ocean, the effect would be greater, perhaps as much as six to eight feet during a severe storm.

A good "real life" bay to compare it to would be San Francisco Bay. The size is similar, as is the length and size of the river that drains into it [Sacramento river].

Even within the enormous SF bay there are narrow channels that are used by the larger ships. It would not be reasonable in your story for a large ship to go all over the bay, or near the shore -- it would have to stick to certain areas, and traffic between the shore and the larger ships would be by smaller boat, unless a very extensive dock was built.

The area that would be a real mess to navigate is that between the Bay of Belfelas and the Anduin, the Mouths of the Anduin. That is the delta, so to speak. This is precisely the same as San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento river -- the delta is quite far inland because of that large bay.

That would be an area where superb seamanship would be required, or you would end up high and dry.

Undoubtedly high tide would be the optimal time for large ships to navigate that nasty area. Remember there are two high tides a day -- and of course two low tides. That could be a matter for suspense, someone getting stuck in the delta waiting for the high tide...

Within the bay itself, the center would be quite deep [don't forget about that island in the middle of it, where there would be some nasty tides] but along the shore the water would be shallow for a very long distance out, a mile or even more. That's where the small boats come in, to get to the bigger ships.



Re: River deltas and ocean-going ships

I mostly agree...*but*...the sort of ships we're talking about would not necessarily be as affected by a delta. Tolkien's conception of seafaring is confused, but he specifically mentions dromonds (in ROTK), which are a type of Mediteranean galley, have a very shallow draft, and are pulled up on shore at night and during rough weather. He also describes vessels of "great draught" (or something like that), which on the other hand would have difficulties in the delta. But I suspect that those ships would be in the minority; they would be strictly ocean-going sail vessels, and much less useful in the sort of situation that Gondor's coastline presents (esp. since there has been a distinct lack of interesting places to go off-shore ever since Númenor sunk.)

You might want to see the essay I'm working on, Ship-building and Sea-craft in Arda, for more...but I haven't gotten past the 1st age yet. Will probably have 2nd & 3rd age stuff up in a day or two.




Re: River deltas and ocean-going ships

Thanks to you both for interesting comments! I took a look at the essay and am eagerly waiting for more. This should be very useful - Lyllyn knows about this one, yes?

I'm struck by JRRT's insistence that M-e ships have oars, even ocean going ones. "The Ar-Parazon hardened his heart, and he went aboard his mighty ship, Alcarondas, Castle of the Sea. Many-oared it was and many-masted, golden and sable..." This has always made me curious.

Is there a reason why there wouldn't be some (unstable) deep water channels that daring ship captains with deep-draught ships might use, but that the majority of ship traffic would be small craft and shallow-draught ships?

I think it is pretty obvious that Umbar is a deep-water port - what about Dol Amroth? Citations? Opinions? I have been thinking of it as a small deep-water port much like the one at Angra in the Azores.




Re: River deltas and ocean-going ships

Is there a reason why there wouldn't be some (unstable) deep water channels that daring ship captains with deep-draught ships might use, but that the majority of ship traffic would be small craft and shallow-draught ships?

A: It would be perfectly reasonable for a daring ship captain with a deep draught ship to use a deep water channel in the delta or bay...particularly during high tide.

Not sure what you mean in regards to the oars -- all ships manuevered by oar as well as sail back in the day before steam powered ships. Had to, to dock, for instance. The ships that did not have oars would be towed by smaller boats that were manned by rowers.



Re: River deltas and ocean-going ships

We know the Anduin is passable by deep-draughted ships a significant way up the river, as some of the ships that Aragorn captures at Pelargir are described that way and he sails them all the way to Harlond.

I'm still working on what sort of draft different ships would draw, but I believe a galley (trireme, dromund, &c.) draws 3-6 ft., and a caravel 10-12 ft.

Most early European (Scandinavian & Mediterannean) ships were duel oar and sail ships. The sails would be used while making long passages, while the oars would be used when there was no wind/the wind was in the wrong direction, during battle, and for maneuvering. After lateen (fore-and-aft/triangular) sails were borrowed from the Arabs sailing ships became much more maneuverable, and the need for oars diminished. At that point ships split into the galley-type, which remains oar/sail right through the 17th C, and caravel-type, which goes to mostly sail (oars only for maneuvering, if at all) and is used mainly on the high seas; culminating in the galleon.

I think that the later type of ship (carrack /-> galleon) was present by about 750 of the 2nd age, when the Númenóreans began to make extended voyages to M-e, but I suspect it's use would have declined in the 3rd age. By the time of the War of the Ring, Gondor has no interest in exploration, and we have no evidence of extensive trading to the South. Merely ferrying goods along the coast of Gondor, or to Umbar, would not require a deep-sea capable ship. You'd be more likely to see trading-galleys or cogs, which have shallow drafts so that they can be drawn right up to the beach to be unloaded. So my personal opinion is that ship-technology has probably been reduced back to the medieval level, and what would to a Gondorian be a "deep draughted" vessel would not necessarily be all that deep, just deep enough that it could not be beached like the galleys they are used to.

As for Dol Amroth - I envision it as the largest and wealthiest trading port on Gondor's coast, with a large navy and ship-building facilities. The Princes are evidently Very Important People, and of all Gondor's lords they send the most aid to Minas Tirith during the siege, even though they are at risk for raiders on the coast themselves. If I dig up any evidence to back that opinion up I'll LYK. ;)




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