Importance of the Science of Navigation

Sailing became global; it ceased being local.
Discovery of the American continents by the rest of the world was inevitable.


  1. A little known Genoese mariner (named Christopher Columbus) who frequented the Azores-to-Africa route for Portugal, took the increasingly westward route followed by Portuguese boats after Bartholomew Dias in 1487, and ran into several Atlantic islands--which would become known as the Caribbean.
  2. Two Portuguese navigators--the Gonzalo Coelho brothers--in 1501 and 1502--discovered the existence of two vast continents--North and South America--mapping most of the coastline of Brazil and a good portion of eastern Canada. (See the Maggiolo map.) A pushy publicity seeker who had traveled on a Gonzalo Coelho expedition announced in print that he had found new continents. Since the Portuguese king judged all scientific information about sailing to be state secrets he forbad the public release of any information. Thus the continents became named America for their publicist, Amerigo Vespucci.

A Navigable Globe

  1. Once the South Atlantic had been mastered, all the world's oceans, were potentially navigable. A Portuguese navigator known as Fernão Magalhães, better known as Magellan, in 1519-1521, became
    1. the first to sail around the southern tip of the Americas (latitude 52' 50" south) and
    2. the first to navigate the entire Pacific Ocean from West to East.

    Magalhães (Magellan) thus became the first to prove the world was, in fact, a navigable globe.


Africa's narrow continental ledge | South China Sea's Coastal Shelf | Ocean Currents | Atlantic Ocean Winds | Home page

Magellan was killed in a battle with Philippine natives in 1521, but not before he had first overcome all the major obstacles to circumnavigation. The route from the Philippines to Indonesia could be navigated by traditional methods , and the voyage from Indonesia to Lisbon had become routine. An exhaustive history of his life can be found on line in English.