The Gaiassa and Felucca: Egypt’s Trading Boats

Posted in Boats, Engineering, Transport, Travel on Thursday, 17 February 2011

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This edited article on Egypt’s gaiassa and felucca trading boats originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 903 published on 12 May 1979.

Egypt has enough money and know-how to have the most sophisticated ships and machines. But when it comes to the traditional movement of goods on the river, her sailors cling to the old craft and familiar ways.

Felucca Boat on The River Nile
Felucca Boat on The River Nile

Trading boats on the Nile have remained unchanged for centuries. The large gaiassa, ideally suited to take advantage of the slightest breeze, and the smaller felucca, may look romantic, but they also perform a very practical service. The Nile is the longest river in Africa, flowing down from the Equator into Egypt and forming a natural trade route. Traditionally these wooden craft ply along its length, bringing food and other supplies to the communities along the river banks. They have low hulls to enable them to dock easily even where there is a shallow draught, and a sharply-rising prow to give impetus when running on to sand. But perhaps the most interesting feature is the rigging.

There are two masts with a large lateen, or triangular, sail, in front and a similar, but smaller one, to the rear. These are carefully designed to catch any breath of wind which might waft over the river banks. The gaiassa is a long-haul boat; for shorter journeys the more manageable felucca is used.

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