Equi's Fish & ChipsTo be honest, I do not enjoy eating fish. Well, the notable exception is the excellent Fish& Chips from Equi’s in Hamilton, Scotland. Their Fish & Chips are light, fluffy, not oily, no bones – absolutely wonderful.

But in all other cases, is it the taste, or the bones, or the smell or the skin that I find offensive?

Probably “Yes” to all the above.

However, my better half has a deep felt appreciation of a good fish meal. I encourage her to indulge and have fish whenever she so desires; as long as I do not have to join with her, I am happy. But she is not keen on preparing two different meals – the old cost – benefit calculation: the cost (preparing two different meals) against the benefit (having a fish feast) generally results in her not having fish as often as she may like.

Maybe, just maybe, having fish less frequently enhances the pleasure when she is able to partake of it.

However, if we ever go out for a meal, it is a prime opportunity for us to have something different, without the hassle. Well, there is always the hassle of the bill, but that is a different story.

Recently we were blessed by two young people who came down from the UK to help with the refugee ministry. They may not appreciate being referred to as ‘young people’ but at less than ⅓ of my age, to me they are young people – full of vim and vigour. Therefore, although they are older than I was when I married my wife, and they are in full time education in University, for the duration of this blog, they will be referred to as ‘young people’.

They helped in preparing the bags of food stuffs, in loading the lorry and in the distribution of the food to the Syrian refugee field workers living in the fields northeast of town.

They also helped with the children’s work, both in the city and out with the refugee children. They do not speak either Turkish or Arabic, but the children responded to the attention, playing games and interacting with adults who have time for them.

They also dug a pit in the middle of our courtyard, ½ metre deep and roughly 1½ metre by 1¾ in size.

the holeYes, we wanted the hole dug.

So it seemed only right that on the day before their departure, after all their diligent labours and as a small way to say ‘thank you’, my wife and I took them to see a few of the local sights.

We had suggested a walking tour of the so-called Titus Tunnel – this amazing civil engineering feat; a tunnel dug, with hand tools, through solid rock, roughly 2,000 years ago, in the time of the Roman Empire.

Seleucia & AntiochThe tunnel was initially commissioned by Titus’s father Vespasian as a water diversion project to protect the harbour of Seleucia – the harbour of Antioch. Antioch is twenty odd kilometres inland, and Seleucia acted as the harbour of Antioch and from time to time hosted elements of the Roman navy.

The project consisted of a dam, upper approach channel, the first tunnel, a short intermediary channel, the second tunnel and a very long discharge channel to take the waters to the sea – all to by-pass the harbour and the inevitable slitting that resulted. The whole series runs roughly 1.4 kilometres in length.

The work was begun by Vespasian, carried on by his son Titus and, finally, it was fully finished some thirty years after it was begun by Antoninius Pius.

This amazing undertaking was designed by engineers of the Tenth legion Fratensis, and built by Roman legionaries, sailors, and, unavoidably, prisoners. Some scholars believe that Jewish slaves, who were taken by Titus in the siege and destruction of the city of Jerusalem in AD 70 – as recorded by Flavius Josephus, a Roman-Jewish historian – were employed in the construction of this channel.

The works began with a dam to divert the waters of the gorge to the tunnel. The dam was constructed of a masonry structure 16 metres high and was 5 metres wide at the crest. From the dam to the tunnel there was a 55 metre long approach channel.

Upper Entrance - 06-09-08 Titus Tunel Samandag DSCF2769The tunnel itself was to be forced through the base of the intervening hill – a rocky spur of the mountains from which the flash floods would torrent down the narrow ravine and, before this civil engineering marvel, deposit their debris into and silting up the harbour.

Here is where it becomes truly amazing. Using just hand tools, the living rock of the mountain was excavated, creating a channel 6.3 metres wide, 5.8 metres high and for a length of 90 metres and that is just the first tunnel.

This tunnel is high and wide enough for two articulated lorries to pass side by side!

After the first tunnel, there is an intermediate channel which connects the two tunnel sections. This channel is still deep under the hill, being 5.5 metres wide, 64 metres long, but, significantly, 25-30 metres high and with just a narrow slit, 2 metres or so wide, open to the sky.

Following this is the second, shorter tunnel which is 31 metres in length, 7.3 metres wide and 7.2 metres in height.

Thus, to traverse under the mountain spur required tunnelling for a distance of 185 metres through solid, rock-hard rock. But this, in and of itself, was not the solution to the problem.

Once on the opposite side of the hill the flood waters still had to be safely directed away from the harbour. Hence, a discharge channel to the sea was constructed. This was 635 metres long, with varying widths ranging from 3.8 to 7.2 metres and the height of the walls of this channel vary from 3.7 to 15 metres. This, once again, was hand chiselled out of the unbroken bedrock. The course of the discharge channel travelled towards the Mediterranean Sea, following the hillside and bending to the right to carry the waters well away from the harbour mouth.

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It really is an awe-inspiring structure and I felt, well worth sharing with our visiting young people. One of the young people is reading engineering and this is a good example of Roman engineering, and the other is reading architecture and funnily enough, this is a good example of Roman design.

They seemed to appreciate it. Mind you, I did get a bit lost – how do you get ‘a bit lost’?

This is how: after we exited the tunnel on the topside, I struck out to find the overland trail that takes you back over the top of the hill – something I’ve done numerous times in the past. Initially things went well, but after a while, it became clear to me that we had passed the point where the stream bed, where we were walking, and the trail intersected. This would be the ‘little bit lost’ bit, as I did not know where we were, where the path was, but I did know how to go back if it came to that…

Over Top Trail - 06-09-08 Titus Tunel Samandag DSCF2790In the end I did find the trail head! We returned via the overland route, standing above the entrance to the tunnel which was at the bottom of a vertical drop from the trail side and cresting the hill, seeing the expansive view of the Mediterranean Sea with an incredibly long, straight stretch of sandy beach for kilometres going south ending in the spectacular, in Turkish `Kel Dağı’ being translated as ‘Bald Mountain’ – in ancient times it was known as Mt. Casius now is also known as Jebel Aqra – rising out of the sea and the far slopes of the mountain demarcating the border of Turkey and Syria. It was a bit a palaver finding the start of the trail, but I think well worth the effort. Not sure what the young people thought….

After our walking tour through the tunnel and back over the hill – and after looking down through the 1½ – 2 metre wide slit at the top of the 64 metre interconnecting channel of the two tunnels – we took a short excursion to the local necropolis Beşik Mağara – The King’s Grave, an ancient graveyard carved, once again into the solid rock, with rooms, and rooms off rooms, and chambers and graves filling all the spaces.

When all was said and done, we returned to the ticket booth at the entrance to the combined site. It was time for lunch.

As we were by the sea shore and in the small village of Çevlik, I asked what the young people would like to eat for lunch.

Actually, what I asked was if they enjoyed ‘fish’ – I already know my wife does and this seemed like a natural opportunity.

Our young people enthusiastically said they very much enjoy fish.

So I asked the man in the ticket booth if there was a ‘good’ fish restaurant nearby. He had a recommendation. He also left nothing to chance, he made a call and the owner of the restaurant hopped on his motorcycle and sped up to the entrance of the Tunnel to guide us back to his restaurant.

Good thing, too, as I would never, ever have found it otherwise – it was past all the restaurants in the village proper, and a good ways down a road that led to the harbour side.

The restaurant was right on the harbour front, one side facing the road, the opposite side was the concrete apron of the harbour.

The building consisted of a large, high roof with open sides, gravel floor, simple tables and the ubiquitous plastic chairs which are normally white, but in this instance they were brown – on the left, under the large roof a small kitchen area had been created and with a cement floor.

To be honest, it wasn’t the most attractive of places and if it hadn’t been heartily recommended and if the owner himself had not collected us and brought us here, I would never have darkened the doorway.

My first question was if they had any alternatives to fish.

I’m a diabetic, the others were understandably hungry and they wanted to eat, however, I needed to eat. Happily they cater for the odd non-fish eater.

We sat down a bit away from a party of what looked like dock and boat yard labourers. There was no one else in the, er, restaurant.

Also, there was no menu.

When asked what they had, he said he had two kinds of fish and he rattled off their names – in Turkish. Now, not being a regular fish buyer, I knew the words to be some kind of seafood, but what kind, I hadn’t the foggiest notion.

A quick recourse to my ever present dictionary (smartphones can be very helpful), I presented the two offerings to the fish-eaters; bass or sea bream. Not being a fish-eater, knowing the English names didn’t mean any more to me than the Turkish names.

They opted for bass, and for me, I took the chap’s recommendation for the non-fish alternative – never get clever and make suggestions in a restaurant like that.  Let them make what they know, are comfortable with and have the ingredients for.

My kebab came and it was fine. They will receive no prize for portion size , presentation nor flavour, but it did the job, seemed to be well cooked and safe meat – what more could I want?

IMG_2110The bass platters came and I was assured by those who heartily partook that it was not just good, but very good. The owner assured me the fish was not 24 hours out of the water caught in that general vicinity and landed in this harbour the previous night.

As we were sitting there, letting our meals settle, there was progressively intruding loud and distinctive noise coming from our left as we were looking at the harbour. Slowly, a massive and I mean a really, really, really big crane came crawling into sight.

No doubt there are larger such monstrosities in the world, but this was happening before our eyes and it was, for us, a very, very large crane.

IMG_2116It was moving along the harbour front; well, by ‘moving’ I mean it was slowly creeping along.

Nevertheless, because of it’s size it was mesmerising. As our guests seemed to be interested in the slowing passing sight, we remained at our table – I suppose it was our after dinner entertainment.

I counted the counter-weights on the back of the crane, it was carrying 100 tonnes of counter-weights in addition to its already impressive bulk.

One of our young people was now standing, staring, fascinated by the sight before him when the man guiding the machine forward saw him and called him over. He immediately ran over in front of the trudging mega-crane.

The modern, it looks brand new, machine shuddered to a halt and he scrambled up the broad, one metre wide steel tracks, then he moved along the top of the track and finally up to the control cab mounted on the front of the machine.

Not long after, our remaining young person, was encouraged to join him on the massive machine. She, too, scrambled up the steel track and was encouraged to sit inside the control pod – an operators view of the proceedings.

Whilst they were there, looking at all the controls they saw a multitude of monitors which showed various aspects of the machine and it was clear from what they saw and what the operator was able to communicate that these various monitors would show the angle, tilt, lifting, weight and a myriad of other technical and essential data that would be indispensable for a safe lift… maybe you noted that I said ‘would show’, this is because the operator indicated that these various monitors and sensors had not been ‘calibrated’ and hence they all were “kaput” (his word). He was operating this ginormous machine by his innate skill, his experience and fundamentally, by the seat of his trousers…

Nice to know.

Once again the machine was set into motion, slowly crawling towards some fishing trawlers which previously had been hoisted out of the water and were now sitting dock side for maintenance and repairs.

IMG_2330The operator indicated he was going to pick up and move the fishing trawler on his right and move it into the harbour.

To turn this massive creation, it uses the standard track vehicle technique, either stopping one track and the other continues to move causing the machine to pivot around the stationary track, or, when necessary, one track reverses as the other drives proceeds forward for a faster pivot. At diverse times, he used both methods to reorientate the machine.

There was a small fishing boat on the quayside, and this goliath had to be pivoted to its right to avoid it. Mind you, he could not go too far right as there was a line of parked vehicles there.

He pivoted and continued his trudge down the quayside. Finally around the boat, he pivoted back and straightened his path towards his destination – leaving massive white friction dust from pivoting such a mammoth machine on the concrete.

He came once again to a grinding halt to enable our young people to abandon the cab and they scrambled down the stationary track. They then came over and joined us on the water’s edge to watch the proceedings.

For our young people, the machine was stopped to enable them to climb on and off, but in the course of its travels we witnessed a couple of times young men clamouring on the moving track to chat with or get cigarettes from the operator before disembarking via the still moving tracks.

The operator then began moving forward once again but this time he opened it right up and it was moving along at twice, even thrice it’s initial speed. It was veritably sprinting down the quayside.

Truly, however, it was still slow moving – but such a beast at any speed is a marvel to behold.

He arrived and his prey, the fishing trawler was on his right hand side, the harbour – the watery destination – on his left.

The crane swung over to the right, massive cables were hanging from a rig suspended from the crane. These cables were unlinked and two cables were passed behind the trawler and their matching cables in front. There were people onboard the trawler helping to move the cables to their appropriate positions. The positioning of the cables seem to be selected by the ‘eye-guess’ methodology.

Once the cables were on either side of the fishing trawler, men clamoured underneath the ship to link the cables together, ensuring the linking point was exactly under the keel. The linking device was a massive ‘u’ shaped steel fitting with the open end being closed by fitting a huge pin. This device was to rest directly under the keel and hence they planned to lift the ship, basically from two points under the keel.

It was not easy to wrangle the unwieldily cables into the fittings, and then to manoeuvre the heavy, large pins to close the open ends. There was a considerable amount of time that the men struggled and laboured underneath the trawler and underneath the keel.

All the while this 75 tonne fishing trawler was being supported on some wooden beams beneath the keel and the sides of the ship held in place by eight or ten (per side) round wooden props, leaning against the side of the ship to hold it upright. Friction, it seems, is a powerful force.

In the fullness of time the men succeeded in getting the fittings fitted. The men onboard used ropes to secure the cables in the right place along the ship – then they disembarked.

The crane operator began the lift, monitors of no value, he trusted what he was seeing and his experience.

Tension was applied.

The precise lifting points under the keel had been selected by the ‘eye-guess’ method as well – so as the tension increased it was becoming evident if the correct locations had been used. The trawler lifted a bit, moving slightly forward and back, but, basically remained level.

A bit more lift, and all the supporting props on either side fell away – the massive trawler was now fully airborne. Once free of the supports, it immediately swung backwards towards another trawler on the dockside.

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This trawler too was ashore for maintenance and repairs and was supported in the same manner by resting on beams under its keel and with supports propped up on either side. It was at 90º to the first trawler, and so the back of the airborne trawler was swinging backwards and towards the broadside of the other trawler.

One touch and it was my fear that the trawler would toppled over, and then to probably collide with the trawler parallel to it, which would have toppled and onwards…. There were about five or six trawlers side by side on the quayside…. trawler dominos…

It was close. Well, it looked very close to me. It was a 75 tonne dead weight swinging on the cables – but by talent, efforts, planning or just dumb luck, it refrained from nudging the other trawler.

Whilst it was hanging there I noticed a number of workmen scampering around with paint rollers in their hands. Wherever the ship had been supported by various props for the repairs and maintenance, it could not have been painted. Now the supports had all literally fallen away and here was the only opportunity to paint where the supporting posts had once been – and oh, also painting where the keel had rested on massive wooden beams.

So these men, in their construction ‘flip-flops’, safety ‘hair gel’, busied themselves, scuttling around and under this massive, moving target to complete the paint job. Health and Safety must have been busy elsewhere on this day… for what could possibly go wrong…

Now the ship is lightly swinging in the air and they are getting ready to change its orientation; it is sitting parallel to the water and in order to move it across the quay to harbour waters it must be swung 90º. Meanwhile, the workmen continue to scurry around the underside of the trawler, feverishly painting any unpainted bit, or the bits that were scraped by the cables during the initial lift. They must get right underneath the vessel in order to paint under the keel.

Additionally, there are men, hanging on to ropes fore and aft of the trawler, who, through brunt man-force swung it 90º so now the trawler is parallel to the other trawlers on the dockside.

Slowly, this massive ship is moved across the dock, and to make matters a bit more challenging, it must pass through a narrow opening between the propped up trawlers and a smaller fishing boat resting on the dockside near the water.

To achieve this the crane is swinging as these machines do, on its central ring, but the machine must also be moved, forward and the machine itself must be turned towards the harbour – all while holding the trawler in the air, with men fussing around underneath and others hanging onto ropes to control the orientation of the vessel.

The men holding the rope off the aft of the trawler – the ship is moving aft first towards the water – are running out of quay to stand on and are on the far side, between the moving trawler and the propped up trawlers.

I am wonder what happens next, when they scramble underneath the still moving, swaying trawler, to our side, bringing their rope attached to the aft of the ship with them.

IMG_2355Also at this point I was puzzled as to how they were going to put the trawler into the water – it kind of looked like it was going to go aft in.

I was moreover, curious as to how they would get the cables out from underneath the ship – it was clear, once in the water, no one would go down to release the massive pins.

Then the men holding the aft rope, there were just two men, on the quayside, with the rope to the aft, were straining with all their might, pulling for all they were worth and relentlessly being slowly drawn towards the waters edge.

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They resolutely held on, in this tug of war; man versus 75 tonne fishing trawler.

Slowly, the back of the trawler began to pivot towards the harbour side, slowly moving to become parallel to the quayside – ultimately the men were victorious.

At the start, the trawler had begun parallel to the harbour but on the far side of the dockside. It had been brought 90º to move across the quayside, and now another 90º to realign it once again, parallel to the harbour side and ready to be deposited in the water.

A space, large enough, well, just large enough, had been cleared of the little fishing boats moored to the harbour wall to receive the trawler. Mind you, the space so created was just able to accommodate the trawler. Indeed, whilst the lowering the trawler was happening, a workman was diligently holding the nearest small fishing boat out of the gap. Slowly the trawler was lowered into the water.

Once in the water, the cables were relaxed and as the tension was removed, people quickly boarded the trawler and began moving the still connected cables along the side of the ship to pass underneath and come out on the aft end. The pins joining the cables would be undone, later, on land, where it would be eminently more feasible.

The trawler was free.

75 tonnes of ship lifted up, painting topped up and swung into the harbour, now back in its proper environment, fully supported by the water and ready to be about it business on the open sea.

For us, the show was over – and what a show it was; talk about dinner time entertainment. Evidently the other trawlers are to be lifted and deposited in the harbour waters – whether on the same day, or later, we didn’t know. For us, what we had seen was sufficient.

This was one ‘fish meal’ that I was more than happy to be part of! Sometimes, it is in the things that we would not normally choose to do that surprise blessings and intriguing situations develop – need to be ready to move our of my comfortable routine from time to time.

As we departed, leaving behind this most powerful and modern of machines we made our way to visit, among other sites, the Monastary of St Simon the Stylite, a ‘saint’ who lived 68 years on top of a pillar in a quest to know God – what a dramatic contrast.

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