Sunday, May 11, 2014

Oaks,firs and beeches for the old boats structures

Pedunculate oak(Quercus robur) in Etxarri Aranaz (Sakana,Navarra)
If you have  been in the Irati forest you maybe watch  that mostly  is a beech forest (Fagus sylvatica) , and  in a part of the Salazar / Zaraitzu valley,and inSoule / Xiberua valley ,we have also white fir (Abies alba), in the southwestern limit distribution of Europe.
What fewer people know is that until the nineteenth century , much of the south sides of the mountains , were mainly groves of pedunculate oak (Quercus humilis), and in acid soils of  Aezkoa valley,sessile oak (Quercus petraea ), and often hybrids of both species.
Nearby from Orreaga / Roncesvalles , we have some specimens of  pedunculate oak (Quercus robur ) more adaptated to oceanic climate .

Why were substituted for the beech ?

The economic value of oak has always been higher than the beech . With oak  timber, is posible to do all the things that we can do  with the beech , but  for its high strength and durability, is used for the construction of wooden structures too, while with the beech , as the Spanish proverb say : " Use beech when to dont have another thing" y is usually used as a cheap alternative , and never for structures , at least traditionally .
Beech  was used to make wood tiles , called in these valleys , in basque" oholak ", but when they could , oak was used, as the old roof of the old church of Orbaizeta, until it was replaced by zinc tiles .
Oaks growth  slower than  beeches , and if we also add that oaks have been cut whitout the minimum conditions for their good regeneration , we have that pioneer species, as  the pine(Pinus sylvestris), or the beech in our area, have replaced the old inhabitants.

 Centennial oak in  Irati forest( Mendilatz mountain,  Aezkoa valley)
Quercus petraea inTxangoa(west side of Irati)
In the history of the weapons factory of Orbaizeta(XVIII century) one of the biggest of Europe,  appear the complaint that the spanish soldiers of this factory put to two neighbors of Orbaizeta,whe they were cutting an oak on Mount Mozolotxiki , located beside the Irabia reservoir water.
Today is a magnificent beech , with a few oak trees on its southern slope .
The residents to the Aezkoa valley had  forbidden for the Spanish crown  cut wood from their own forests , due to a document signed between the  Aezkoa  valley and theSpanish crown , which in the late eighteenth century yielded the forests to produce coal for the owens of the munitions factory .
The Aezkoan people , who did not understand spanish ,because their language was basque, apparently they trusted  in a priest and a teacher to sign the document , clearly better to the crown, and ruinous to Their.

Have been also used in the Irati forest the beeches to make oars to the navy. Until the twentieth century was a oars workshop inOtsagabia (Salazar/Zaraitzu valley) , and white firs were  used for masts of ships, due to  his great righteousness .

White firs(Abies alba) in Irati forest of Salazar Valley

 But the oaks also had a very important use in shipbuilding, and in Navarre were oak forests expressly used  to get special parts for different types of boats, which they were  very well paid .
When you should to make a curved piece of wood, you can do by two ways:  joining several pieces of wood to get the bend, or creating that curve with a branch of a tree with ropes and selective pruning. Do not miss this fantastic link (later come back here , ha, ha ! )
With the first one , the joints of the piece will be weak points where it can break , while the second one break will be much harder . Basque vessels were known to be very resistant , and therefore were often sold to other countries. It is the case of a ship that sank in the Severn River in 1465 from New port (Wales ) and thanks to the analysis of dendrochronology has been known that the wood was from the Sakana Valley in Navarre. ( More information at
In the wikipedia we can read that the ship was portugese, but itz was  a theory because it seemed the merchandise was  from Portugal.
Source: (prof..Nigel Nayling,Archaeologist,University of Wales,Trinity Saint David, School of Archaeology, history and anthropology.Lampeter,Ceredigion, Wales.)

Today we can see many of these trees until the twentieth century were used to draw different pieces of wood, which were carved in situ and  transported by oxen to the coast of Gipuzkoa, where specialized carpenters  fit them in the structure of the boat. 

Mikel, from Albaola foundation showing one of the pieces.
The Albaola foundation is currently building with wood from Irati (Keel beech and fir masts) and from Sakana valley(with oak for the rest of the structure), an exact copy of a fifteenth century boat called Nao  San Juan, a whaler which was found underwater in Newfoundland (Canada) in a very amazing conservation, and will serve to represent Donostia / San Sebastian as the capital of European culture in 2016, which will navigate to European ports representing city​​

 Is not a coincidence the right angle of the right branch.

Among the threat of invasion of American oak, of fastest growing and introduced in the twentieth century to replace our old oak, we can still see stunning examples of hundreds of years and several meters of circumference in the oak forest of northern of Navarre (Orotz Betelu ,Aezkoa, Ultzama, Baztan ..), and in this case, I would highlight  Altsasu / Alsasua and Etxarri Aranaz for its high number of specimens and their old age. 
Members of the "oak commission" for scientific and tourism development  of the oaks forests in Navarre 
Imagine the size of this giant!
This really is a great top!

Some are hollow and fit several people.
Fantastic oak tinder, 5 or 6 years old, depending on the rings.