Magazine

Good Hope

Photo sent from the boat Newrest - Matmut, on November 12th, 2016 - Photo Fabrice AmedeoPhoto envoyée depuis le bateau Newrest - Matmut le 12 Novembre 2016 - Photo Fabrice Amedeocoucher de soleil

In the fifteenth Century, the major trading nations deployed all the means at their disposal to find new routes to India and Asia, following in the footsteps of Marco Polo, exploring to the Caspian steppes, the deserts of Kazakhstan, the foothills of Afghanistan, the plains of the Indus and Ganges remained perilous and extremely long.

While there were already sea routes between China and India towards Arabia, via the Persian Gulf, then Baghdad, or via the Red Sea and Alexandria, there were still great dangers and the Venetians, who controlled the shipping routes from the time of the fourth Crusades (fall of Byzantium in 1204), did not always deliver on time, and the caravans may have been pillaged anyway.

Edward the Eloquent and Henry the Navigator

In Roman Lusitania, the eleventh King of Portugal was finally able to work on the expansion of his kingdom after his father, John the First conquered the Spanish (1385) and after the signing of the first alliance treaty with Great Britain, while the French and English were tearing themselves apart in the Hundred Years war and Spain was conquering the Kingdom of two Sicilies, Edward the First turned towards sea voyages and raids in Africa. By taking the Port of Ceuta to put an end to the pillaging by the Moors (1414), the Portuguese discovered the Sahara trade route.  The king's brother and governor of the Order of Christ (the successors of the Knights Templar), Prince Henry was inspired by the legend of Prester John, which spread the belief for two centuries that a Christian kingdom existed in the East, «beyond Persia and Armenia,» a marvellous country «boasting emeralds, sapphire and rubies»… An opportunity to overcome the Muslims. In Roman Lusitania, the eleventh King of Portugal was finally able to work on the development of his kingdom after his father, John the First conquered the Spanish (1385) and after the signing of the first alliance treaty with Great Britain, while the French and English were tearing themselves apart in the Hundred Years war and Spain was conquering the Kingdom of two Sicilies, Edward the First turned towards sea voyages and raids in Africa. By taking the Port of Ceuta to put an end to the pillaging by the Moors (1414), the Portuguese discovered the Sahara trade route.  The king's brother and governor of the Order of Christ (the successors of the Knights Templar), Prince Henry was inspired by the legend of Prester John, which spread the belief for two centuries that a Christian kingdom existed in the East, «beyond Persia and Armenia,» a marvellous country «boasting emeralds, sapphire and rubies»… An opportunity to overcome the Muslims.

In the fifteenth Century, chart and map-makers became extremely important in drawing the world, roads, cities, rivers, bays and seas.  Prince Henry the Navigator understood that and created a maritime university in Sagres in 1416 with an arsenal, a geography and navigation school, an observatory with the famous map-maker, Jafuda Cresques, who came up with a picture in his mapamundi in 1375, representing Western Europe from Ireland to Cape Bojador, showing remarkable precision… From the neighbouring port of Lagos the first caravels, the caravela latina with their Lateen sails and the caravela redonda with their large square mainsail and lateen sails, twenty metres in length with a tonnage of 50 tonnes, could transport forty sailors or soldiers.  Light, easy to handle with  small draft, these boats could sail upwind and therefore return from Africa, in spite of the headwinds…

From islands to capes

Henry's compatriots also set sail towards the south looking for gold and slaves, new lands and the Terra Incognita… João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz were the first to discover the islands of Madeira (1419-1420), and Gonçalo Velho Cabral the Azores in 1427.  While the Atlantic islands were soon colonised, they still wanted to know what lay beyond the « Sea of Shadows», beyond Cape Bojador, the Eastern tip of the Canaries (currently Cape Juby near Tarfaya). After this headland extending from the Sahara, «human skins turned black and a fatal current would take the boats towards the Equator, where the air and sea boil like a big stewpot … » Gil Eannes was the first Portuguese explorer to attempt the adventure in 1434, then Alfonso Goncalves Baldaya reached  the Bay of Rio de Oro the following year, Nuno Tristão reached Cape Blanc in 1441 (the present day Nouadhibou). The first black slaves were brought back to Portugal with some gold and a fort was built in Arguin Bay in 1448 - the start of African colonisation…

Around this time the theories about a passage between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans developed, that sailors had compasses and even a sextant to know their latitude, that the caravels enabled ships to stay longer at sea and develop the triangular route called the  volta: heading down the African coast returning via the north west until they found the lows and headed back north-eastwards to Portugal… It was now possible to sail away from the coast.  Dinis Dias sailed down to Senegal (Cape Verde) in 1444 then Alvise Ca’da Mosto discovered Gambia and the Cape Verde Islands (1456): gold started to flow and the ships sailed to Sierra Leone in 1460, when Henry the navigator died.

The Cape of Storms

The new King of Portugal, John II, continued to encourage and finance expeditions to Africa giving  Diogo Cão the responsibility of exploring the river Congo then the coast of Angola to 13° South (1483).  With each conquest, the explorers planted a cross in a pillar of stones: hence the name " padroes".  Bartholomew Diaz, the King's Knight was sent to find a way through to India: with two caravels, a boat loaded with supplies, two black men and four women taken prisoner by Diogo Cão on a previous trip, he left Lisbon in August 1487, stepped ashore in Namibia in December and headed further south… before being hit by a storm pushing them away from land. After drifting around for thirteen days, he managed to head north-eastwards and landed at Cape Vacca near Mossel Bay. Continuing his expedition eastwards, he sailed along the coast of Africa until he reached Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth), but his crew revolted: he had to turn around, but he had proved that there was a way through under Africa.

Following the coast back, Bartholomew Diaz returned to Portugal mapping the relief and discovering the Cape of Storms that King John II decided to call the Cape of Good Hope when the expedition returned  to Lisbon in December 1488…He set up a padroe that he recognised nine years later when he returned  with Vasco da Gama in 1497 during his first voyage to India. In 1500, the first navigator to pass the extreme tip  of Africa was part of the expedition carried out by Pedro Álvares Cabral, who discovered Brazil, a voyage he was to continue to India, but during a storm off Tristan da Cunha, Bartholomew Diaz's boat was lost at sea…

The sentinel of the African continent, a headland marking the meeting of the cold marine currents from the west and the warm flows from the NE, a few kilometres south of Cape Town, Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles, the Cape of Good Hope is not in fact the southernmost tip of South Africa. Located at 34°20 S and 18°30 E, the Cape of Storms remains the symbol of a new era for maritime trade.  However, the real separation point between the Atlantic and the Indian is found at Cape Agulhas, 120 miles ESE of Cape Town, at 34°50 S and 20° E…

 

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