Between the 2nd and 15th centuries maps of the world looked like this…
…but by 1570 the world view was far different.
How did famous explorers such as Columbus, Magellan and Vespucci navigate their way across treacherous oceans to expand the world view so significantly?
Explorers during the Age of Discovery used elegant but now antiquated ships, rudimentary navigation devices, and their courageous spirits.
Some ship types used were Caravels, Carracks, and Galleons.
Caravels were small, fast, maneuverable vessels used during the 15th and 16th centuries. Columbus’ Niña and Pinta were both caravels.
Carracks were larger ships, stable in high seas and roomy enough to carry cargo long distances. Columbus also had a carrack, the Santa Maria.
Galleons were multi-decked ships that came later than the caravel and carrack. They were faster, more stable, and more maneuverable than other ships.
Mariners used two primary methods of navigation during the Age of Discovery: Dead Reckoning and Celestial Navigation.
Dead Reckoning is calculating one’s current position by leveraging a known starting point. Mariners needed their compass heading, the ship’s speed, and the time spent travelling at each speed. The mariner’s compass shows direction.
Chip logs were used to estimate speed. A chip log is a wooden board attached to a line with knots at uniform intervals. Sailors would drop it overboard and count the knots as the line spooled out. Nautical miles per hour are still measured in “knots”.
Navigators used hourglasses to track time intervals then recorded their time spent at each speed on a traverse board.
Celestial Navigation is a different method of determining location on the open water. Explorers used celestial angle measuring instruments to find their latitude. Finding longitude was still out of reach during this time period.
Instruments such as the cross-staff, quadrant, and mariner’s astrolabe were used to measure the angle between celestial bodies and the horizon, which revealed latitude. These instruments later developed into the back-staff, octant and sextant.
Explorers from the Age of Discovery pushed the limits of what people thought possible, overcoming incredible challenges and finding new lands all over the globe.
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