Fri 23 Nov 2012 13:06
POSITION :  28°07'7 N , 015°25'•5 W , 10:00 UTC


On Sunday the 18th of November was the official opening of the ARC 2012, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers ( see also which will start on the 25th of November at 14:00h UTC.  And what an event it was. All the national flags from all the participating boats and people, so of course I had the venetian flag waving and cheering. My sailing club in Venice, Compagnia della Vela, should be proud !


We are here in Gran Canaria now for one week. And it was a busy week indeed. Checking the boat and preparing it for the long journey to the Caribbean, in our case to Saint Lucia, is quite an undertaking. 2800 nautical miles are ahead of us, without stoppage. So we have to take all provisions, food , water, whatever, and find storage space on the boat.  But Fati, our "Food Manager" has everything under control ! The least we will do on this trip is starving, I can assure you of that. On top of that the boat has to be in prime condition for the journey, so checks on the safety equipment, the rigg, the sails, and others is a necessity one has to go through with. And I start wondering how those guys way back in time coped with all of this, was health and safety on top of their list whilst discovering the most common sailing routes available by season and favourable wind direction, not only in the Med, but worldwide ? 

Because sailing is as old as mankind, in one way or the other. But let's go about it step by step, ie let's start with our current location.

The Canary Islands are a tourism centre of great proportions, with more than 12 million yearly visitors . It also celebrates a daily "Reincarnation of the battles of the Bulge, Dunkirchen and El Alamein together" : "The war of towels" , the means to stake one's territory for the best places at the pools of all the resorts on the 12 islands in this famous archepelago. But I don't want to bore you too much with 'post-war' rivalries,  most of you know the islands anyway, and let's not get involved into the bad habits of "binge drinking" at the beaches of Maspalomas either.

So I thought in length about what to write this time, and have come to the conclusion that most of the hard facts about the islands can be read in tourist guides or on the web. I would therefore like to do 2 things. First, I will concentrate a little bit indeed on the history of the Canary Islands and Gran Canaria in particular - just to warm up - but also put the story of these islands into the greater context of a period in our history, that finally led to the discovery of a new world. In order to do that we have to include as well the islands of the Azores as much as Madeira - or better the neighbouring island Porto Santo - , and whilst I keep it to historical facts , I would also like to explore the possible connections from a sailing perspective, without claiming that what I describe has actually happened . But then it might have, who knows ? As this could turn out to be a long story, I will also cut it into 2 blogs, so it is still easy reading.

                                                                                                                                                      PART I : THE BEGINNING OF THE END

The Canary Islands is a spanish archipelago off the north western coast of Africa.   It consists of 13 islands of various shape and size , with Mount Teide on Tenerife as the highest mountain in Spain, actually it is the third tallest vulcano in the world measured from the seabed. . It remains active and is constantly monitored as a major eruption would not only create a disaster for the immediate surroundings, but due to its seabed connection can create a tsunami that would basically overrun Florida. Did you see the film "The Apocalypse" , at the end when this big wave arrives before New York ? That's what I call the "Mother of all Tsunamis" ! Seriously, it would be very very bad, and it is not a futuristic Hollywood based block-buster script either. Dear Mount Teide, remain calm for the next 6 months. I don't want to be interrupted and overtaken by a tsunami on the Atlantic. I have better things to do.

We know that the islands were visited by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Carthaginians, but the first full discovery for the western world happened under Cesar Augustus via one of his proteges, King Juba of Numidia. When he landed on what today is Gran Canaria, he found a large amount of wild and large dogs roaming it, so he called the island 'Canariae Insulae' , or for all of you who only speak "classical Greek", the " Island of Dogs ". I don't know whether four legged dogs were meant or 'canis marinus' , the equivalent for seals,  but the name stuck and was later used for all the other islands as well.

As a result, and surely to the despair of many bird lovers all over the world, I officially support the view that these cute little birds of mostly yellow colour who roam the islands whilst singing beautifully , have not, and I repeat, have not given the islands the name, but rather the other way around. I hope you can forgive me for this fundamental revelation.

To finsih quickly the story of these islands, they were inhabited by quite a fiery people called Guanches. And only after more than 100 years of constant incursions by fleets from Portugal and France ( not Spain at the beginning ! ), the islands and specifically Gran Canaria were only and finally conquered on April 29, 1483, after a campaign that lasted 5 years, by the Kingdom of Castile under the monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and his astute wife, Isabella I of Castille. Tenerife followed a couple of years later.

The conquest of these islands under the Spanish flag proved important for not only the consolidation of a unified and freed ( from the Moors ) Spain, but created the beginning of Atlantic exploration and the discovery of the " New World".  An important hub and starting point became available as the main stopover for Spanish sailing ships ( Galleons) on their way to the Americas, because of the favourable easterly winds. So the question remains  why did this all come together at basically the same time, what  World Events had happened that triggered this all off. Aha, dear Reader, I hope I have hooked you on, because I have finally arrived at the beginning of my story. Sorry for this long introduction. But if you hang in, and continue reading, you will see why I am here, in Gran Canaria, right now, and why I believe that the island is much too undervalued in its contribution for a new era of mankind and civilisation.

However the beginning of this story has all to do with.......... Venice of course, you ......lot !!!!!!!!!!  Do you see the pattern of my brain ? Sailing and Venice. nothing else ! But for good reasons ! So ket's get started.

The first people who recorded prevailing winds and resulting sailing routes were the Phoenician traders ( 1500-300 BC ) in the Mediterranean , both in the very East as much as to the West. In those days rowing supplemented sailing, as much as the engine does today on a sailing boat. But the prevailing winds according to the seasons of the year were recorded, and helped all other sailors thereafter to find the best conditions and to avoid the often much more hazardous and enduring land travel. 

This knowledge , extended by the Romans even further East ( west and east coasts of India ) created the basis for the Venetian success story. Whilst this knowledge had been previously accessed  by all the appointed "Repubbliche Marinare" ( Maritime Republics) of which there were initially 4 : Venice, Genoa, Amalfi and......Pisa ! Pisa ? Yes, Pisa ! 

it was between Genoa and Venice to sort out influence and power in the following centuries. The result was a geographical order  of influence and trade, Venice more to the East, Genoa more to the West. Amalfi only contributed later by providing the maritime world with a common standard of practice called "Tavole Amalfiane"( recognised until 1570 ), and one of their citizens, Flavio Gioia, is considered to have introduced the first mariner's compass to Europe.  You can still see one example today in the maritime museum in Amalfi. A beautiful place ! Just next to it is a very nice caffetteria, enjoy the cappuccino. And Pisa ? Well , have a look at their tower, they were never able to straighten things out. And you can't have that at sea !( Folks, I am joking, I am joking ! )

As the connection between the East ( Byzantine ) and the West , the Venetians were definitely in the right place at the right time. And their trade extended by land routes far into the East of what was loosely called in those days "the Indies", ie India, China and South-East Asia. In contrast, Genoa played more on the military side, participated in the Crusades , and established a shady image for being the centre of the slave trade in those years. But its mariners were well respected as I will come to tell later. Any difference to modern times ? 

So for the merchants of Venice it was all "merry go around for ever and ever and..." , until a major disturbance caused an uproar in the East. The rise of the Ottomans Empire at the beginning of the 15th century. And with it war,  although at the beginning I think it was probably more piracy than all out war. Daylight robberies of caravans , like today's pirates off Somalia and Jemen, stealing the riches of a spoilt western world and demanding hefty ransoms for their return. Piracy that suddenly interrupted the well established trading routes over land to the main ports where Venetian boats were waiting to bring the load back to the West. And the West and its rich families, being used to the delivery of spices, jewels, silks and other fashion items of those days, became gruntled. "What to do, where do we get our "gooddies" from ?" ,  was probably the most asked question of those years . And the call for new trading routes to be discovered both overland as much as over seas became louder and louder. 

The Venetians must have shuddered. Their trading world trembled. Things were about to change. They saw it coming, I am convinced. They tried as many other before and after to hold on to their world, Do you know the book " Who moved my cheese ? " by Spencer Johnson, written in 1998. Same thing.  Instead of adapting and re-focusing, they held on , including the use of military force. But the world turned west, to the Atlantic, and venetian boats were both by general design as much as by their latin sail plan, not capable to sail in these ocean waters.   The most serene Republic had no answer, it was THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

But like many other things, as a result, it created a new power, a new beginning, out of ashes there is always something that follows. But this dear reader, I will talk about in my next blog. Hope you will join me. 

Master Mike


1. History of Gran Canaria

2. Atlantic Islands in a broader context
Columbus, Martin Behain, Mercator,Venice dominating the east plus monopoly on the eastern trade routes ( land). Otomans disturbed. New lines thought. etc.

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo. There are no known authentic portraits of Columbus.[1]

Toscanelli's notions of the geography of the Atlantic Ocean, which directly influenced Columbus's plans

Voyages of Christopher Columbus

U.S. stamps reflecting the most commonly held view as to what Columbus's first fleet might have looked like. The Santa Maria, the flagship of Columbus's fleet, was a carrack—a merchant ship of between 400 and 600 tons, 75 feet (23 m) long, with a beam of 25 feet (7.6 m), allowing it to carry more people and cargo. It had a deep draft of 6 feet (1.8 m). The vessel had three masts: a mainmast, a foremast, and a mizzenmast. Five sails altogether were attached to these masts. Each mast carried one large sail. The foresail and mainsail were square; the sail on the mizzen was a triangular sail known as a lateen mizzen. The ship had a smaller topsail on the mainmast above the mainsail and on the foremast above the foresail. In addition, the ship carried a small square sail, a spritsail, on the bowsprit.[36][37]

Christopher Columbus (ItalianCristoforo ColomboSpanishCristóbal Colón; before 31 October 1451 – 20 May 1506) was an Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer, born in the Republic of Genoa, in what is today northwestern Italy.[2][3][4][5] Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that led to general European awareness of the American continents. Those voyages, and his efforts to establish permanent settlements on the island of Hispaniola, initiated the Spanish colonization of the New World.

In the context of emerging western imperialism and economic competition between European kingdoms seeking wealth through the establishment of trade routes and colonies, Columbus's speculative proposal, to reach the East Indies by sailing westward, eventually received the support of the Spanish crown, which saw in it a promise, however remote, of gaining the upper hand over rival powers in the contest for the lucrative spice trade with Asia. During his first voyage in 1492, instead of reaching Japan as he had intended, Columbus landed in the Bahamas archipelago, at a locale he named San Salvador. Over the course of three more voyages, Columbus visited the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Central America, claiming them for the Spanish Empire.

Though Columbus was not the first European explorer to reach the Americas (having been preceded by the Norse expedition led by Leif Ericson in the 11th century[6]), Columbus's voyages led to the first lasting European contact with the Americas, inaugurating a period of European exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for several centuries. They had, therefore, an enormous impact in the historical development of the modern Western world. Columbus himself saw his accomplishments primarily in the light of the spreading of the Christian religion.[2]

Never admitting that he had reached a continent previously unknown to Europeans, rather than the East Indies he had set out for, Columbus called the inhabitants of the lands he visited indios(Spanish for "Indians").[7][8][9] Columbus's strained relationship with the Spanish crown and its appointed colonial administrators in America led to his arrest and dismissal as governor of the settlements on the island of Hispaniola in 1500, and later to protracted litigation over the benefits which Columbus and his heirs claimed were owed to them by the crown.

Under the Mongol Empire's hegemony over Asia (the so-called Pax Mongolica, or Mongol peace), Europeans had long enjoyed a safe land passage, the so-called "Silk Road", to China and India, which were sources of valuable goods such as silk, spices, and opiates. With the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the land route to Asia became much more difficult and dangerous. Portuguese navigators, under the leadership of King John II, sought to reach Asia by sailing around Africa. Major progress in this quest was achieved in 1488, when Bartolomeu Diasreached the Cape of Good Hope, in what is now South Africa. Meanwhile, in the 1480s, the Columbus brothers had developed a different plan to reach the Indies (then construed roughly as all of south and east Asia) by sailing west across the "Ocean Sea", i.e., the Atlantic.

Geographical considerations

Washington Irving's 1828 biography of Columbus popularized the idea that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because many Catholic theologians insisted that the Earth was flat.[25] In fact, most educated Westerners had understood that the Earth was spherical at least since the time of Aristotle, who lived in the 4th century BC and whose works were widely studied and revered in Medieval Europe.[26] The sphericity of the Earth is also accounted for in the work of Ptolemy, on which ancient astronomy was largely based. Christian writers whose works clearly reflect the conviction that the Earth is spherical include Saint Bede the Venerable in his Reckoning of Time, written around AD 723. In Columbus's time, the techniques of celestial navigation, which use the position of the sun and the stars in the sky, together with the understanding that the Earth is a sphere, had long been in use by astronomers and were beginning to be implemented by mariners.[27]

Where Columbus did differ from the view accepted by scholars in his day was in his estimate of the westward distance from Europe to Asia. Columbus's ideas in this regard were based on three factors: his low estimate of the size of the Earth, his high estimate of the size of the Eurasian landmass, and his belief that Japan and other inhabited islands lay far to the east of the coast of China. In all three of these issues Columbus was both wrong and at odds with the scholarly consensus of his day.

As far back as the 3rd century BC, Eratosthenes had correctly computed the circumference of the Earth by using simple geometry and studying the shadows cast by objects at two different locations:Alexandria and Syene (modern-day Aswan).[28] Eratosthenes's results were confirmed by a comparison of stellar observations at Alexandria and Rhodes, carried out by Posidonius in the 1st century BC. These measurements were widely known among scholars, but confusion about the old-fashioned units of distance in which they were expressed had led, in Columbus's day, to some debate about the exact size of the Earth.

From d'Ailly's Imago Mundi Columbus learned of Alfraganus's estimate that a degree of latitude (or a degree of longitude along the Equator) spanned 56⅔ miles, but did not realize that this was expressed in the Arabic mile (about 1,830 m) rather than the shorter Roman mile with which he was familiar (1,480 m).[29] He therefore estimated the circumference of the Earth to be about 30,200 km, whereas the correct value is 40,000 km (25,000 mi).

Furthermore, most scholars accepted Ptolemy's estimate that Eurasia spanned 180° longitude, rather than the actual 130° (to the Chinese mainland) or 150° (to Japan at the latitude of Spain). Columbus, for his part, believed the even higher estimate of Marinus of Tyre, which put the longitudinal span of the Eurasian landmass at 225°, leaving only 135° of water. He also believed that Japan (which he called "Cipangu", following Marco Polo) was much larger, farther to the east from China ("Cathay"), and closer to the Equator than it is, and that there were inhabited islands even farther to the east than Japan, including the mythical Antillia, which he thought might lie not much farther to the west than the Azores. In this, he was influenced by the ideas of Florentine physicianPaolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, who corresponded with Columbus before his death in 1482 and who also defended the feasibility of a westward route to Asia.[30]

Columbus therefore estimated the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan to be about 3,000 Italian miles (3,700 km, or 2,300 statute miles), while the correct figure is 19,600 km (12,200 mi),[citation needed] or about 12,000 km along a great circle. No ship in the 15th century could carry enough food and fresh water for such a long voyage, and the dangers involved in navigating through the uncharted ocean would have been formidable. Most European navigators reasonably concluded that a westward voyage from Europe to Asia was unfeasible. The Catholic Monarchs, however, having completed an expensive war in the Iberian Peninsula, were desperate for a competitive edge over other European countries in the quest for trade with the Indies. Columbus promised such an advantage.

Nautical considerations

Though Columbus was wrong about the number of degrees of longitude that separated Europe from the Far East and about the distance that each degree represented, he did possess valuable knowledge about the trade winds, which would prove to be the key to his successful navigation of the Atlantic Ocean. During his first voyage in 1492, the brisk trade winds from the east, commonly called "easterlies", propelled Columbus's fleet for five weeks, from the Canary Islands to The Bahamas. To return to Spain against this prevailing wind would have required several months of an arduous sailing technique, called beating, during which food and drinkable water would probably have been exhausted.

Instead, Columbus returned home by following the curving trade winds northeastward to the middle latitudes of the North Atlantic, where he was able to catch the "westerlies" that blow eastward to the coast of Western Europe. There, in turn, the winds curve southward towards the Iberian Peninsula.[31][32][33]

It is unclear whether Columbus learned about the winds from his own sailing experience or if he had heard about them from others. The corresponding technique for efficient travel in the Atlantic appears to have been discovered first by the Portuguese, who referred to it as the Volta do mar ("turn of the sea"). Columbus's knowledge of the Atlantic wind patterns was, however, imperfect at the time of his first voyage. By sailing directly due west from the Canary Islands during hurricane season, skirting the so-called horse latitudes of the mid-Atlantic, Columbus risked either being becalmed or running into a tropical cyclone, both of which he luckily avoided.[30]

Quest for support

In 1485, Columbus presented his plans to John IIKing of Portugal. He proposed that the king equip three sturdy ships and grant Columbus one year's time to sail out into the Atlantic, search for a western route to the Orient, and return.

In 1473, Columbus began his apprenticeship as business agent for the important Centurione, Di Negro and Spinola families of Genoa. Later, he allegedly made a trip to Chios, a Genoese colony in the Aegean Sea.[20] In May 1476, he took part in an armed convoy sent by Genoa to carry a valuable cargo to northern Europe. He docked in Bristol, England[21] and Galway, Ireland. In 1477, he was possibly in Iceland. In 1479, Columbus reached his brother Bartolomeo in Lisbon, while continuing trading for the Centurione family. He married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, daughter of the Porto Santo governor and Portuguese nobleman of Genoese origin Bartolomeu Perestrello. In 1479 or 1480, his son Diego Columbus was born. Between 1482 and 1485, Columbus traded along the coasts of West Africa, reaching the Portuguese trading post of Elmina at the Guinea coast.[2] Some records report that Filipa died in 1485. It is also speculated that Columbus may have simply left his first wife. In either case, Columbus found a mistress in Spain in 1487, a 20-year-old orphan named Beatriz Enríquez de Arana.[22]

Ambitious, Columbus eventually learned Latin, as well as Portuguese and Castilian, and read widely about astronomy, geography, and history, including the works of Ptolemy, Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly's Imago Mundi, the travels of Marco Polo and Sir John MandevillePliny's Natural History, and Pope Pius II's Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum. According to historian Edmund Morgan,

Columbus was not a scholarly man. Yet he studied these books, made hundreds of marginal notations in them and came out with ideas about the world that were characteristically simple and strong and sometimes wrong, the kind of ideas that the self-educated person gains from independent reading and clings to in defiance of what anyone else tries to tell him.[23]

Throughout his life, Columbus also showed a keen interest in the Bible and in Biblical prophecies, and would often quote biblical texts in his letters and logs. For example, part of the argument that he submitted to the Spanish Catholic Monarchs when he sought their support for his proposed expedition to reach the Indies by sailing west was based on his reading of the Second Book of Esdras(see 2 Esdras 6:42, which Columbus took to mean that the Earth is made of six parts of land to one of water). Towards the end of his life, Columbus produced a Book of Prophecies, in which his career as an explorer is interpreted in the light of Christian eschatology and of apocalypticism.[11]

Columbus also requested he be made "Great Admiral of the Ocean", appointed governor of any and all lands he discovered, and given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands.

The king submitted Columbus's proposal to his experts, who rejected it. It was their considered opinion that Columbus's estimation of a travel distance of 2,400 miles (3,860 km) was, in fact, far too low.[30]

In 1488, Columbus appealed to the court of Portugal once again, and once again, John II invited him to an audience. That meeting also proved unsuccessful, in part because not long afterwardsBartolomeu Dias returned to Portugal with news of his successful rounding of the southern tip of Africa (near the Cape of Good Hope). With an eastern sea route to Asia apparently at hand, King John was no longer interested in Columbus's far-fetched project.

Columbus traveled from Portugal to both Genoa and Venice, but he received encouragement from neither. Columbus had also dispatched his brother Bartholomew to the court of Henry VII of England, to inquire whether the English crown might sponsor his expedition, but also without success.

Columbus had sought an audience from the monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who had united many kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula by marrying, and were ruling together. On 1 May 1486, permission having been granted, Columbus presented his plans to Queen Isabella, who, in turn, referred it to a committee. After the passing of much time, the savants of Spain, like their counterparts in Portugal, replied that Columbus had grossly underestimated the distance to Asia. They pronounced the idea impractical and advised their Royal Highnesses to pass on the proposed venture.

However, to keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, and perhaps to keep their options open, the Catholic Monarchs gave him an annual allowance of 12,000 maravedis and, in 1489, furnished him with a letter ordering all cities and towns under their domain to provide him food and lodging at no cost.[35]

After continually lobbying at the Spanish court and two years of negotiations, he finally had success in 1492. Ferdinand and Isabella had just conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, and they received Columbus in Córdoba, in the Alcázar castle. Isabella turned Columbus down on the advice of her confessor, and he was leaving town by mule in despair, when Ferdinand intervened. Isabella then sent a royal guard to fetch him, and Ferdinand later claimed credit for being "the principal cause why those islands were discovered".[38]

About half of the financing was to come from private Italian investors, whom Columbus had already lined up. Financially broke after the Granada campaign, the monarchs left it to the royal treasurer to shift funds among various royal accounts on behalf of the enterprise. Columbus was to be made "Admiral of the Seas" and would receive a portion of all profits. The terms were unusually generous, but as his son Diego later wrote,[citation needed] the monarchs did not really expect him to return.

In the "Capitulations of Santa Fe", King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella promised Columbus that if he succeeded he would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and appointed Viceroy and Governor of all the new lands he could claim for Spain. He had the right to nominate three persons, from whom the sovereigns would choose one, for any office in the new lands. He would be entitled to 10% of all the revenues from the new lands in perpetuity. Additionally, he would also have the option of buying one-eighth interest in any commercial venture with the new lands and receive one-eighth of the profits.[30]