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Thassa: Thassa is the Gorean name for the vast ocean to the west of the known world of Gor. Thassa simply means "the sea." Thassa extends westward an unknown distance. The part of Thassa a hundred pasangs or so west of the islands of Cos and Tyros is known as the World's End. It is a legendary place as no one has ever sailed there and returned. Some believe that Thassa is endless while others say the end of the world is sheer and a ship will plunge over the edge. In the maelstroms southwest of Tyros, shattered ship planking is sometimes found. Like any ocean, Thassa can be calm in places and at different times, but it can also be very fierce. Numerous ships ply the waters of Thassa and also the rivers and waterways of the land.
Ships: The word "ship" is the same in Gorean as it is in English. There are two basic types of ship on Gor, round ships and tarn ships. Both types are commonly double ruddered and shallow drafted vessels. Most sailing, except by round ships, is done in the spring and summer. In Se'Kara, especially later in the month, there are often high seas on Thassa. It is also a common custom for ships to remain within sight or in clear relation to the shore. It is also common to beach crafts at night and launch again in the morning. In the open sea, ships keep one another, where possible, on their port sides, thus passing to starboard. Signal flags, pennons and squares, in mixed colors and designs, are flown on the stem-castle and stern-castle lines. They are used for communication between ships while at sea.
Round ships: A round ship, also known as a merchant ship, has a deep hold for merchandise. It is an oared vessel with a heavy, permanent rigging. It is generally two-masted and the masts are not removable. It also has more sail than a war ship. The main mast is a bit forward of amidships and the foremast is some four or five yards abaft of the ship's yoke. Both are lateen sails and the yard of the foresail is about half the length of the yard of the mainsail. The rowing areas is closed to the air and commonly carries from one to two hundred or more slaves in the rowing hold. Slaves commonly row in round ships though some cities have begun to experiment with using free men. A round ship is not actually round but has a much wider ratio of its beam to its length of keel, about one to six. A war ship will have a one to eight ratio. Round ships are slower and less maneuverable than war ships but can still be used in a naval battle. They do not carry rams but their decks can hold numerous other ship weapons like springals and catapults. Round ships differ among themselves considerably. They can be broken down into three basic categories: light galley, medium class, and heavy class. A medium class ship can freight about 100 to 150 tons below its decks. A merchant ships is commonly identified with their name at three points on the ship, starboard bow, port bow, and stern.
Tarn ships: Tarns ships are also known as long ships, ram-ships, or war ships. There is a great variety of ram-ships varying in their dimensions, lines, rigging and rowing arrangements. Usually, war ships have a removable mast with its long yard. It most commonly sails only with a fair wind. The principal weapons of the ramship are the ram and shearing blades. The ram in usually in the shape of a tarn's beak, shod with iron. It rides just above the waterline. The freeboard area, between the water line and deck, is five Gorean feet. Behind the ram is the spread crest of a tarn, a shield to prevent the ram from going too deeply into another ship. Most ships have a concave bow to facilitate the placing of the ram mount and ram. A ship is built so the combined strength of the keel, stempost and strut-frames centers at the ram. Shearing blades are huge quartermoons of steel, fixed forward of the oars, and anchored into the frame of the ship. The ship slides along another ship and shears off their oars. Most maritime powers use shearing blades. Its deck width is twenty-one Gorean feet. The rowing deck is open to the air. The oars are set in groups of three and three men sit a single bench. The benches slant obliquely back toward the stern castle. The three oars are usually of varying lengths, the most inboard being the longest. The oars weigh about one stone a foot and their length varies from 27 to 30 Gorean feet. Unlike the round ships, a war ship is never rowed by slaves. Tarn ships come in many different varieties and may also be divided into light, medium and heavy class. Medium class is determined not by freight capacity but by keel length and width of beam. A medium class war ship will have a keel length of eighty to one hundred and twenty Gorean feet and a beam width of ten to fifteen Gorean feet. A heavy class would have a keel of 128 Gorean feet and a beam of sixteen Gorean feet.
Lower Hold: Beneath the first hold of a ship is the lower hold. This is a tiny crawl space, about eighteen inches, between the deck of the first hold and the curved hull of the ship. It is divided by its keel. It is unlit, cold and damp. It commonly contains sand for ballast and the sump, or bilge. The foul and briny water accumulates there and the bilge is pumped once a day in calm weather, more often in bad weather. It may be used for the storage of perishables or to keep items cool. It may also be used to punish slaves. A slave, placed into the lower hold with its darkness and the urts that live there, will quickly learn to be obedient.
Sails: Ships carry different sails for different conditions. The yard itself, from the mast, must be lowered and hoisted so the sails can be removed or attached. There is no practical way to take in, or shorten, a sail as in square rigged craft. But, lateen sails permit sailing closer to the wind, great maneuverability and great efficiency in tacking. The triangular lateen sail, on its single sloping yard, is also beautiful and that means a lot to Goreans. There are three main types of sails and all lateen. They differ mainly by their size. The largest is the "fair weather" sail which is used with light winds. A smaller sail is the "tarn" sail used with strong winds astern. It takes its name from the tarn ships where they are commonly found. It is also called a "storm" sail as it is an escape sail to flee heavy storms. There is also a "tharlarion" sail, a smaller version of the tarn sail. It is more manageable and used most often in swift, brutal, shifting winds.
Eyes on ships: All ships have eyes painted on them, either in a head surmounting the prow as in tarn ships or on either side of the bow. It is the last thing done to a ship before it is first launched. It is done by the shipwright. The eyes reflect the belief that the ship is a living thing and needs to see its way.
Sea Men: A Keleustes is the man who marks time for the rowers. He strikes a great copper drum with a leather cushioned mallet to call time. He may also use a pounding block instead of the drum. He can mark a variety of different types of time, depending on how fast the ship needs to go. He is also known as the hortator. He reports directly to the oar-master. The oar-master reports to the captain. Only free men row war ships. Slaves may row on merchant ships. Gorean seamen recognize ships with the same ease they recognize faces.
Pirates are a threat on Thassa and the rivers of Gor. Green is the color of pirates because in the bright sun, reflecting off the sea, green ships are nearly invisible. They make their entire ships green including the hulls, sails, oars and ropes.
The exact expressions port and starboard do not exist in Gorean though there are equivalent expressions. Sailors of Cos refer to the left side of the ship by its port of destination and the right side by port of registration. This changes when both ports are the same and then the left side is the "harbor side."
There is a common ritual done before a ship leaves port. They say "Ta-Sardar-Gor and then "Ta-Thassa" and finally pour wine, oil and salt into the sea. This is to wish the ship luck on its journey.
Tersites: Tersites is a half-blind shipwright, considered to be mad by most Goreans. He has been long scorned on Gor though he may be a genius. His radical ideas on ship design have been sometimes accepted and sometimes ignored. He created shearing blades which are used by many different navies. He also created a new ship design, one extremely different from conventional Gorean ship design theory. The ship is deep-keeled and square rigged as most ships are not. It carries a foremast though it was a ramship. It also possessed great oars that requires multiple men to handle rather than a single man per oar. It carries a single oar slung at the vessel's sternpost and not the normal double rudders. Its ram is carried high out of the water. This ship was intended to sail beyond the World's End. Samos of Port Kar believes Tersites to be a genius and commissioned him to construct that ship. Before the ship can be completed though, Tersites burns the ship, destroying all of the ship's plans as well. He then vanishes afterwards. No one knows why he did what he did. That mystery is never resolved in the books.
Women on Ships: The presence of free women on a ship makes some sailors uneasy and they are usually regarded as bad luck. Free women though do travel on merchant ships. Female sailors do not exist on Gor. Slave girls on a ship though are welcomed. Many ships even have a Luck Girl, a special slave who acts as mascot and is regarded as good luck. Most slaves on a ship available to the crew for their pleasure. This helps make a long journey pass much more pleasant.
Slaves may be kept above or below the decks. On the deck, girls are kept in small deck cages that are fastened on the deck. At night and in rough weather, they may be covered with a tarpaulin. The girls kept below the decks are in slave platforms that essentially have a wooden top and bottom and all four sides covered by mesh. Each space is about twenty-five inches wide, eighteen inches high, and six feet inches long. Urts are a problem below decks so the mesh is meant to keep them away from the girls. Being kept above decks is the preferred place for slaves.
Ship Warfare: Tarn ships are the primary war ships on Thassa. Merchant ships try to avoid war if at all possible. They will normally try to be accompanied by tarn ships if they feel the situation will be dangerous. The primary weapon of the tarn ships is their ram. Their secondary weapon is their shearing blades. The medium and heavy class ships carry the shearing blades. They are huge quartermoons of steel, seven feet high and five inches wide. Ships then have a variety of items that serve as tertiary weapons.
When entering battle, war ships take their masts down and store their sails below decks. The bulwarks and decks of the ship are often covered with wet hides to prevent fires from starting or spreading. War trumpets and message flags are used to send signals between ships. Various weapons are placed upon the deck such as springals, catapults, and cahin-sling onagri. Springals fire javelins. Catapults fire a variety of items such as clay globes filled with burning pitch or flaming oils. Bowmen are also common. They protect themselves behind wicker shields and may fire torch arrows. The ship bow is a short bow, stout and maneuverable. Its rate of fire is superior to the crossbow and it is easy to use in the tight quarters of a ship.
Other Water Craft: There are a wide variety of other water craft used on the rivers, lakes, marshes and canals of Gor. Barges, coracles, skiffs, river galleys, punts and more exist. Barges are often used on rivers and are simply constructed of layered timbers of wood. They are commonly towed by teams of river tharlarion. Marsh barges are different from normal barges. They are narrow ships with high, curved prows. They are anchored at both stem and stern. The anchor hooks are curved and three-pronged, lighter than would be in other ships. They are oared vessels, rowed by slaves. They do not use a keleustes. Instead, the oar-master verbally counts for the rowers. Marsh barges are used mostly by those of Port Kar. Coracles are like leather tubs propelled by the thrusting of a pole. They are used by the poor in the canals of Port Kar. The rencers of the Vosk delta often use rush craft. They are formed of pliant, tubular, lengthy Vosk rushes and bound with marsh vine. They have a slightly curved stern and prow. They are small, light and narrow, barely large enough for one man. They are rowed by a triangular bladed tem-wood paddle. A punt is a small, square-ended, flat-bottomed boat. It is poled and commonly kept on larger vessels for small chores.
Ports: Most Gorean ports and islands are not managed by the Merchant's Caste but by magistrates appointed by the city council. Exchange islands, also known as free islands, in Thassa are administered as free ports by members of the Merchant's Caste. Such islands include Teletus, Tabor, Farnacium, Hulneth, Asperiche, Anango, Ianda, Hunjer, Scagnar, and Skjern.
Torvaldsland ships: The ships of Torvaldsland are different from most of the other Gorean ships that exist. Their ships are smaller craft, clinker built, with overlapping, bending planking. They are also known as serpent ships. They are more seaworthy than other Gorean ships. They must be baled frequently and are not well suited for cargo. They are better raiding vessels. Their sails are square and cannot sail as close to the wind as lateen sails. But, the square sail makes it possible to do with a single sail. You can take in and let out the canvas as needed. The ships have a prow on each end, making it easier to beach them. The steering oar, on the starboard side, is most effective in the normal "forward" direction. It is very hard to ram their ships because of their small size and ability to rapidly reverse direction. Torvaldsland ships are fast. With a fair wind, they can cover 200 to 250 pasangs in a day. On some light raiding galleys, the tarnhead at the prow is hinged. This helps to remove the weight from the prow's height and gives greater stability in high seas. It is always at the prow in harbor or when the ship enters an inlet or river so it can make its strike. A white shield hung on the mast is a sign of truce.