The Men of the Sea: Part II

seas 2

The second of an article in two parts I had written a while back …

The Númenórean fleet and the voyages throughout Arda

3.0 Aldarion – the Great Captain

As I said in the introduction (Part I), a large section of this article will be dedicated to the work and voyages of Aldarion, since a discussion on the Númenórean voyages would not be complete without analyzing this most fascinating character.

From his adventures in the ‘Unfinished Tales’, we are able to find quite a substantial amount of information on the ships of Númenor.

3.1 His Character

Reading the “unfinished” account of his story, one immediately realizes the strong desire for the sea that Aldarion was born with. Unlike his father (Tar-Meneldur) he longed to sail upon the oceans of the world and explore new lands (all Aldarion and Erendisquotes are taken from the chapter ‘Aldarion and Erendis’):

 “From the first he loved the Sea, and his mind was turned to the craft of ship-building… and spent all the time … by the shores of the sea, especially near Rómenna, where was the chief haven of Númenor, the greatest shipyards, and the most skilled shipwrights… Before he was full grown he could captain a ship of many men, sailing from haven to haven.”

During his stay at the haven he would have learnt much about the way ships were built and how best to sail across vast stretches of water. All this would prove of much use when Aldarion would captain more than one ship at once and sail upon long voyages in unknown seas around Arda.

3.2 His Voyages

Already we have been told that he used to sail from haven to haven around the island but, Aldarion’s first voyage outside the borders of Númenor took him to the shores of Mithlond with the renowned mariner Vëantur:

“in the bright spring of the seven hundred and twenty-fifth year of the Second Age … [Aldarion] sailed from the land [of Númenor] …”

We get to know also the name of the ship upon which Aldarion sailed to Middle-Earth:

“There was joy in Rómenna and Armenelos when men saw the great ship Númerrámar (which signifies ‘West-wings’) coming up from the sea…”

Sea 3

Slowly, we can see Aldarion’s character starting to evolve – where whilst his craft of seafaring improves, so does his restlessness for travel and indeed this results in two more voyages:

“Within three years Aldarion begged leave to go again, and he set sail for Lindon. He was three years abroad; and not long after another voyage he made, that lasted for four years, for it is said that he was no longer content to sail to Mithlond, but began to explore the coasts southwards, past the mouths of Baranduin and Gwathló and Angren, and he rounded the dark cape of Ras Morthil and beheald the great Bay of Belfalas, and the mountains of the country of Amroth where the Nandor Elves still dwell.”

It is clear therefore that the second voyage took Aldarion further down, along the coasts of Middle-earth – steadily venturing South into unknown territories.

Up till now his voyages had taken him to Elf colonies situated at various havens and regions to the West of Middle-earth; but it will soon become apparent how Aldarion would travel much farther than anyone else.

3.3 Knowledge Obtained

Since we are mainly focused on the Númenórean fleet, it would be interesting to mention an important factor that helped Aldarion devise better and faster ships, which would ultimately lead the way to becoming one of the best fleets in Middle-earth history.

After Aldarion’s return (at age 39) from the above-mentioned voyage, Tar-Meneldur became King. We are told that his son:

“… in those days he put forth his knowledge he had gained of Círdan concerning the making of ships, devising much anew of his own thought, and he began also to set men to the improvement of the havens and the quays, for he was ever eager to build greater vessels.”

As seen in ‘The Silmarillion’, Círdan was based in the Bay of Belfalas and Aldarion, having travelled to that region, gained much knowledge about the art of seafaring by the Teleri.

It is a known fact that out of all the Elven Kindred, the Teleri were the most skilled and accustomed in sea-affairs, therefore, knowledge obtained from such people would have been of crucial importance to Aldarion and his ship-building plans – not least, having been taught by one of the greatest (yet least mentioned) Elf in Tolkien’s mythology, Círdan.

Had this not been the case, Númenor certainly would not have advanced its naval power as it eventually did (greatly impacting the outcome of the wars against Sauron a few hundred years later). 

3.4 New Voyages

Aldarion’s heart was always tied to the sea and in fact, he was soon ready to depart again: 

“But the sea-longing came upon him anew, and he departed again and yet again from Númenor; and his mind turned now to ventures that might not be compassed with one vessel’s company.”

Guild of VenturersThis is the instance where multiple ships came in use. The sheer distance of certain voyages would not have been successful with a single vessel.

The amount of stored provisions needed for maintaining the men on landless waters would have had to be stored on other ships. And this is where we may begin to discern the growing might and power of Númenor’s fleet.

“The ships of the Númenóreans became ever larger and of greater draught in those days, until they could make far voyages, carrying many men and great cargoes…”

The size of the ships and the amount of resources would have allowed for long voyages on vast distances, allowing the men on board to stay afloat for months and months without need to come to shore.

This further helped in the exploration of new territories and lands far beyond what was previously explored.

“Seven years passed before Aldarion came back … [he] passed his days upon the ship Eämbar in the company of the Venturers, and in the building of a vessel greater than any made before: that ship he named Palarran, the Far-Wanderer.”

Aldarion’s strong desire to return to the sea cannot be quenched, and thus he begins building a greater ship than the one he currently has, allowing for even longer voyages. 

As the narrative continues to unfold, Aldarion’s feud with his angered father increases and therefore immediately departs once again – not returning back to the Island for another 14 years.

Numenor 1

The following quote gives us a very interesting explanation of his whereabouts during the long voyage at sea:

“He had sailed first to the haven of Vinyalonde, and thence he had made a great coastwise journey southwards, far beyond any place yet reached by the ships of the Númenóreans; but returning northwards he had met contrary winds and great storms … Three times he was driven back from the crossing of the Great Sea by high winds out of the West, and his own ship was struck by lightning and dismasted; and only with labour and hardship in the deep waters did he come at last to haven in Númenor.” 

Although over a decade would have passed since leaving the Island, one has to take into consideration the time spent fighting against the wind and the heavy storms (a fascinating similarity with the events in ‘The Odyssey’).

Still, such a long span of years would have allowed Aldarion to travel far, around the coasts of Middle-Earth and most probably south-east towards the vast continent of the Dark Land itself and the Gates of Morning.

But there are other times when Aldarion took years to return home. In one of his voyages, we are told, it took him “six years and more”:

“for he had found the haven of Vinyalondë now wholly ruined, and great seas had brought to nothing all his labours … Then when he would turn for home a great wind came out of the south, and he was borne far to the north. He tarried a while at Mithlond, but when his ships stood out to sea once more they were again swept away north, and driven into wastes perilous with ice, and they suffered cold.”

One would be tempted to say that Aldarion might have traveled in and round the icebay of Forochel and as far as the regions close to the Helcaraxë itself – but such a statement cannot be wholly proved.

Nonetheless, one cannot deny the importance of Aldarion and his contributions to the Númenórean fleet. His voyages, while not clearly stated, would have stretched far and wide around Arda (mostly to the East), reaching lands where no one else had ever dared to venture. 

4.0 Of later Kings

We know that the rulers who succeeded Aldarion still made incredibly long voyages around Arda and achieved high, sea-faring statuses. Not surprisingly, therefore, were kings like Tar-Ciryatan given the name of “the Shipbuilder”.

Ar-PharazonUnfortunately, the Ban of the Valar soon retained a strong hold on the Kings of Númenor, and as Tolkien describes in the ‘Akallabêth’:

“The first sign of the shadow that was to fall upon them appeared in the days of Tar-Minastir, eleventh King.” 

We find another quote, further explaning the above situation in Appendix A of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (Annals of the Kings and Rulers):

“The Númenóreans had now become great mariners, exploring all the seas eastward, and they began to yearn for the West … ” 

What happened next is history. The Ban of the Valar was broken and the Númenóreans, being proud of their surmounting power, lost everything.

Still, their legacy remains due to their numerous voyages and the gathering of knowledge on the vast seas and unknown lands that existed in Arda during the Second Age.

5.0 A List of the named Ships of Númenor

The following is a short list of names of some of the ships that were built by the Númenóreans in the Second Age. Note that all of them are in Quenya (the High Elven Language), as was tradition:

– Entulessë (“Return”) – achieved the first voyage to Middle-Earth under the command of Vëantur

– Númerrámar (“West-wings”) – carried Aldarion on his first voyage outside Númenor

– Eämbar (“Sea-Home”) – the dwelling place of Aldarion and meeting site for the ‘Guild of Venturers’

– Palarran (“Far-Wanderer”) – built by Aldarion for his voyages

– Hirilondë (“Haven-finder”) – also built by Aldarion and used for voyages after marrying Erendis

6.0 References:

– ‘The Silmarillion’

– ‘Unfinished Tales’

(Copyright of all images illustrations shown here belong to the respective artists)

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