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Overcoming the South Atlantic Creating The Science of Navigation

More About the Science  of Navigation

First European sailors would have to lose their fears of the open ocean.
Contrary to popular legend this did NOT begin with Christopher Columbus. Sailors on Portuguese expeditions during the early 1440s lost their fears of the open ocean as they learned to trust astronomy and mathematics (science) to guide them safely to and from their destinations. The process occurred in two steps.
  1. Beginning in the early 1400s the first European sailors to venture out onto the South Atlantic reached the Azores. But the Azores could be reached following traditional navigation practices--following currents, winds, and the path of sea birds. But once Portuguese ships began to try to sail past the Bulging Cape (Cabo Bojador) there were neither winds nor currents nor folk knowledge of the skies to guide them.
  2. From 1434 whenGil Eannes first crossed the Bulging Cape until the end of the fifteenth century, Portuguese leaders would draw upon the great Judeo-Arab tradition of astronomy and mathematics to invent the science of celestial navigation--the application of mathematics and astronomy to the practical problems of navigation.
    The success in launching ships thousands of miles across open oceans gave ordinary sailors and merchants belief that a scientific solution could safely guide them home.

 Second, Technical Challenges Would Have To Be Overcome

  1. Ships had to be reengineered to meet the challenges of South Atlantic exploration: navigating both shallow waters and extraordinary high seas. The size and combination of sails had to allow ships to travel during periods of virtually no winds near the Equator, yet endure near gale force winds in the Southern Ocean.
  2. Astronomy Knowledge of the patterns of stars would have to be created from scratch, because there were no indigenous nautical star maps for the South Atlantic.
  3. Oceanography Information regarding currents, ocean and coastal hazards all would have to be obtained.
  4. Weather Wind patterns, the timing of seasonal shifts in winds and storms all needed to be investigated.