Voyages of Discovery

There was a growing desire to find routes to the east during the middle of the 1400’s because the previous routes were either unsafe or blocked off. The eastern countries played a key role in the trade industry contributing with gold and the spices essential for flavoring and preserving food. The Mongol Empire collapsed which made most routes to the East unsafe to travel. Also during this time, Constantinople was taken over by a group called the Ottoman Turks, who blocked the train routes to the East and denied access to the majority of merchants. This is when people realized that they needed to find another route to get to the East. From here people took another option, the sea. If they could find a route to get past Africa then they could reach India by ship. This is how the art of navigation evolved.

During the mid 1400’s, long voyages at sea became possible as a result of improvements in technology for both the ships and the navigation process. At this crucial time, most sailors had the same aim – to find a new trade route, by sea, from Europe to India and other Eastern countries. To do this they had to sail past Africa, which required the improvements in ship and navigation technology. In this field, Portugal lead the way as it was ideally located on the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea as well as being experienced with the rough seas of the Atlantic Ocean. Here, new ships were being designed and instruments were being updated. One of the men who led this revolution was Prince Henry the navigator.

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Prince Henry, The Navigator’s aim was to teach others and pass on his expertise in shipping. From here he formed crews to sail to India and the Far East, circumnavigating Africa. Henry hired navigators, cartographers and sailors to aid him with teaching and planning his voyages. Not only did he want to reach the East for much-needed spices, the people settled here didn’t have a religion therefore wanted to spread Christianity before others were able to do the same. Prince Henry never went on any voyages, he just planned them. During 1444-1446 his development intensified and sent over 30 fleets on missions but the furthest only reached 1500kms. Henry died in 1460 and his crew has only reached the Canary Islands on the west coast of Africa but as he worked so hard on teaching and technology his expertise was passed on to other sailors.

In 1487, Bartholomew Diaz sailed down to the tip of Africa and named it the Cape of Storms. The reason for this was Diaz was hit by a huge storm when near this point and was forced to sail what he thought was eastward. Although this was a mistake, Diaz overcame a big obstacle in finding a new trade route by sea to reach India as he established a way of getting around the most southern point of Africa. It was later re-named the Cape of Good Hope by the King John 11. This achievement made it possible for Vasco Da Gama to continue the expedition by sea to India. Da Gama took a different route to avoid any strong coastal currents. This route was a large arc that took the crew out to see without seeing land for three whole months. He brought his ships back near land at the Cape of Good Hope and then sailed northwards up the east coast of Africa to Mombassa where they took directions from the natives on how to get to India. This was the first trade route to India ever undertaken.

Christopher Columbus as we all know discovered America but at the time he thought that he had discovered a trade route to the East. Columbus first went to sea at the age of 14. Once settled in Portugal, he married a woman of a noble background and had a son. When she died in 1485 Columbus and son Diego moved to Spain. Columbus had previously tried to convince the Portuguese king and Spanish monarchs to give him the right to obtain a grant to travel to Asia by traveling west, through the Atlantic Ocean. He had theorized that the world was a sphere and India could be reached by traveling west. Once in Spain, King Ferdinana and Queen Isabella gave Columbus a grant to travel west after promising to bring back gold spices and silk, along with spreading Christianity to the East.

His first voyage set of in 1492 in Palos, Spain. There was a crew of 104 aboard the three shits, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, Columbus’ flagship. These ships traveled approximately 150 miles a day. Two major problems encountered were the sailors were very superstitious and still believed that the world was flat. They also thought that in places, the sea was full of monsters and that in other areas the sea was at boiling point. Also a sailor’s life was difficult, and many died from disease, hunger and thirst. After 30 days of sailing the crew were eager to go back to Spain even if that meant returning empty-handed. Columbus persuaded them to keep going for a few more days. This was a clear sign of his determined character. Two days later, land was sighted. What Columbus thought was the east of India was actually the Bahamas on the east coast of America. He called the natives, Indians. He didn’t obtain the riches expected here and decided to travel further west to Cuba, what he thought was China. It was here that they encountered another problem. The captain of the Pinta sailed away for his own exploration and about a month later the Santa Maria was wrecked off the coast of Hispaniola. This forced Columbus to leave 40 men behind who couldn’t fit onto the Nina. These men stayed at a fort named Navidad built especially for them. Columbus set sail for Spain in early 1943.

Columbus returned with adequate discoveries but lacking in the spices, gold and silk as promised. On arrival in America, Columbus was quite friendly to the native Indians but some have said that brutality soon followed. When Columbus eventually approached King Ferninand and Queen Isabella, as part of the grant they promised that Columbus himself would govern all land discoveries. In 1943 Columbus set out on another journey, west this time, with 17 ships and 1200 crewmembers. Columbus was aboard the flagship the Marigalante. The purpose of this trip was to pick up the 40 crew members left at Navidad, to find the great riches which he believed to be in the Far East and most importantly to colonise America. On reaching Hispaniola where the Fort of Navidad was, Columbus found his crew dead and the fort destroyed. This had occurred because they had mistreated the natives. Columbus and his crew eventually overtook the island of Hispaniola after much resistance from the natives. This was the first colony governed by Columbus. The King and Queen had heard of the brutality and had concerns however, they allowed Columbus to return to Spain and encouraged him to continue with further explorations.