A DORSET expedition leader is celebrating a successful sailing year after recreating the first circumnavigation of Africa in a wooden boat.

Philip Beale battled the odds to complete his dream quest of re-enacting the 20,000 nautical mile historic voyage, believed to have been undertaken by Phoenicians more than 2,500 years ago, according to Greek historian Herodotus.

It took two years and two months and involved in-depth research into Phoenician history, ship construction, design and building of a 20m wooden replica Phoenician ship in Syria and teamwork by international sailors to safely navigate through the pirate-infested waters off Somalia.

Now Beale, of East Chaldon, near Lulworth, has made history but rather than rest on his laurels, his sights are set on bringing the vessel back to the United Kingdom – and to its home port of Weymouth – in 2012/13.

Beale said: “Thankfully we got home in one piece.

“The whole trip took two years and two months almost to the day.

“We weren’t sailing all that time, for about six months we were waiting for the wind but I guess we were probably sailing for about 300 days.

“We came close to pirates, we had one suspicious boat following us just off Somalia but then a container ship came by and we lost them.

“We would have bumped into a pirate mother ship but luckily we knew they made an attack a few days before and diverted course.

“The following week that mother ship hijacked three ships, luckily we had good intelligence from Poole-based business risk consultants Drum Cussac.”

Among the crew was Weymouth sailor Ed Sadler who joined the vessel in the Azores in June and stayed with it until it finished in Syria in late October.

Beale added: “Our voyage certainly shows that this boat’s very capable of sailing, particularly offshore.

“Even in fairly rough and stormy conditions around the Cape it handled very well and the ship was still in fairly good condition when we got in.”

More than 12 different nationalities and more than 50 different individuals took part in the adventure.

Beale, who is about to lead another expedition to an island off Yemen in the middle of February, said highlights of The Phoenician Ship Expedition included an “incredible reception” in Syria and the camaraderie between the crewmates.

He added: “It was an enjoyable and great project to have done.

“We’re now working on creating a sailing foundation in the Middle East to enable young Middle Eastern people to visit the ship and some of the older ones will have the chance to sail on it.

“The ship is in Syria at the moment undergoing some maintenance but it’s our plan to bring it back to the United Kingdom in 2012 or 2013.

“The idea will be to sail up the Channel initially to London and then bring it to all the major ports – as Weymouth is the home port we’ll definitely bring it there.”

For more information, visit phoenicia.org.uk