Revolutionary Designs in Shipping that Contributed Towards the Age of Discovery

Development of flexible pintle-and-gudgeon rudder, that was attached to the sternpost by pivoting iron fastenings provided revolutionary ship design that could push boundary in shipping navigation

The lateen sails gave the caravel speed and a capacity for sailing to the windward (beating). Caravels were much used by the Portuguese and Spanish for the oceanic exploration voyages.

Factors that Expedited the Age of Discovery

  • In 1279 King Diniz set out to improve Portugal's emerging navy
  • King Diniz appointed Genoese sea captain to develop Portugal's mercantile and naval fleets
  • Atlantic coastline was planted with trees to provide timber for ocean-going fleets
  • In 1341 a fleet of three vessels sailed from Lisbon to explore Canary Islands
  • Portuguese navigators led Europe in captaining state-of-the-art maneuverable ships and applyied forward thinking innovations in the fields of navigation and cartography
  • 3 routes dominated trade to the east: 
    • Overland journey from China across Central Asia to the Black Sea
    • By ship from India to the Persian Gulf
    • Overland over Baghdad or Damascus to Mediterranean ports
  • Goods monopolized by the northern Italian city-states, especially economies of Venice or Genoa
  • Products distributed throughout Europe
  • Spices became a necessity more than a luxury to the Europeans, as they were used to complement process of preserving meat
  • The Portuguese hoped they could find their own route to the Indies and break the Venetian stranglehold.
  • Prince Henry the Navigator set Portugal on its course towards overseas expansion
  • He established a center for study of navigation, naval architecture, and astronomy at Sagres in southern Portugal, where they developed a powerful ship called the caravel. 
  • Its advantage over the older ships was its triangular sail, which could be trimmed to allow the ship to proceed in either cross or head winds. 
  • Prince Henry dispatched ships into the Atlantic with orders to proceed as far as possible, map the coast or any islands sighted, and return. 
  • Portuguese captains discovered the islands of Madeira and Azores.
  • When Prince Henry died in 1460, some 1500 miles of African coastline had been discovered and partially mapped, and the Azores and Madeira Islands were active colonies. 
  • Portuguese captains made significant progress, venturing down the northwestern coast of Africa past present-day Sierra Leone and Liberia into the Gulf of Guinea. 
  • Portuguese enjoyed significant advantage over other European nations in both ship design and navigation. 
  • Made gains in ability to determine latitude by sighting the North Star through an Astrolabe and measuring the apparent distance of the star from the horizon. 
  • Pursued exploration south of the equator where the North Star was not visible. 
  • Effected improvements in navigational instruments and methods led to refinements in the field of cartography
  • Portuguese maps of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries regarded as best in Europe, and foreign spies in Lisbon made attempts to buy or steal them. 
  • Portuguese safeguarded their maps by giving them the status of state secrets. Royal decree forbade the circulation of maps showing the sailing routes south of the Congo River in Africa.
  • In 1487 Bartholomeu Dias sailed from Lisbon with two caravels and a supply ship, and became the first to round the African continent.

"Cavalier's Call" Finds Voice on Historical Fiction Bookshelf

Writer Grant de Graf recently launched his historical novel, Cavalier's Call. The story captures the spirit and adventure of the era that led to the Age of Discovery. De Graf eloquently unrolls a tapestry of events to produce a work that depicts the mood and atmosphere of the time, where honor and courage meant everything. The story is gripping and intriguing. Cavalier's Call is a work of fiction, but clearly, a significant amount of research was conducted to produce a setting that accurately reflects geographical and descriptive accounts of the period.

The manner in which the novel was created is interesting. Readers must ponder over the fact that the book, in true cavalier style, was penned in a swimming pool. De Graf swims a mile a day, and it was during these long aquatic conquests that he was given to stretch his mind and formulate the plot for the novel. Reflective of the manner in which the seeds to the story were sown, the plot is stormy and combines true adventure with boundless passion.  De Graf quips that although the novel was penned in a swimming pool, he allowed for enough time for the ink to dry.

Cavalier's Call focuses on the early life of Joao de Aviz, father to Henry the Navigator. The novel describes his appointment in the Court of King Ferdinand I as a young courtier, his brilliant defense of a man accused of murderer, and how he tackles the prosecution led by the powerful Don Antonio Esteves. The romance between Ines Peres Esteves and Joao add pepper to this historical story. Ultimately, Joao de Aviz must lead Portugal in its battle for independence. In a thrilling conclusion that provides a twist, an army of five thousand troops march against de Aviz' struggle and threaten to topple his small, but brave force.

The richness of Portuguese history and the implications that it had on the discovery of the New World, augur well for the sequel that the author is in the midst of completing. Cavalier's Call provides readers with an opportunity to penetrate the lifestyle and adventure of the period, in a superlative account that makes this novel a compelling masterpiece.


After hanging up my goggles and a long hiatus from any serious swimming training, I was inspired by Dara Torres [who made an Olympic comeback at the age of forty years old] to return to the swimming pool. Spending an hour and a half each day and clocking up 25,000 meters a week, the initiative became an opportunity to contemplate and formulate the plot for my historical novel. Cavalier's Call will be released later this month, April 2010.

A Book Preview to Cavalier's Call

A preview of the finer points that contributed towards the writing of historical novel, Cavalier's Call. This is a story that penetrates some the core issues of Portuguese royalty at the dawn to the Age of Discovery.


An alternative trailer to Cavalier's Call, a celebration of Portugal's dawn to the Age of Discovery.

An Audio Excerpt to Cavalier's Call


Related Posts:

1) Interview with Grant de Graf [Part I]
2) Cavalier's Call, a historical novel celebrating the dawn to Portugal's Age of Discovery
3) 5 Facts About the Age of Discovery
4) Sparks that Ignited the Advent to the Age of Discovery
5) A Review of Cavalier's Call
6) Read an Excerpt of Cavalier's Call
7) Watch the Book Trailer
8) Cavalier's Call Untold Secrets video


A CONTINUATION ... - In this issue Grant de Graf provides a candid account of his personal life, his experiences in the South African Navy as a diver, and the factors that compelled him to later pursue a career in finance. [To read Part I CLICK HERE]

Do you think that that your experiences in the navy as a diver, afforded you a privileged perspective to the mechanics and mindset found in the military? 
When a person spends nearly two years in what is reputed to be a crack unit in the defense force, it’s hard not to emerge from the experience without embracing a changed perspective on life. The training that our team endured was physically and mentally draining, designed to push us to the limits. Only a small percentage of candidates qualified as a navy diver, after undergoing what was argueably one of the toughest courses in the defense force. A YouTube Video Clip highlights some of the criteria that are required to be accepted into the U.S. Naval Diving School. Similar guidelines were followed by the South African Navy. I don’t believe that given the parameters and choices that I had in life that I could have achieved a more intense exposure to the military.

"More than fifty percent of candidates on the course dropped out in the first month."

Can you give us some examples of what the training may have consisted? 
For the first month, the schedule was purely focused on physical fitness, typically for about twenty hours, with little sleep and few breaks. The program included long swims in the sea, marathon runs on the beach, rope climbing and night dives that became part of the evening entertainment. Every other day, without any regular pattern, the dickies, (diving instructors) would wake us at about 3am for a night swim. More than fifty percent of candidates on the course dropped out in the first month.

When did you actually start to dive? 
Our team was issued wetsuits after about a month of very aggressive physical training. Until that point, every day is a day closer to wearing the prized diving gear. A single day in a wetsuit knocked me to my senses and made me regret having ever felt an inclination to bare the diving gear. The suffocating heat that attacked us in the neoprene material, specifically constructed for heat retention, after spending hours of severe physical training on the beach and carrying logs, is just sheer torture. Several members of our unit including me, passed out from exhaustion and dehydration. I learned to appreciate the meaning of the term that the only easy day was yesterday.

"I learned to appreciate the meaning of the term that the only easy day was yesterday.”

After two weeks of receiving our wet suits, we were issued with full diving gear. That’s when the fun really starts. We never could anticipate the strikes, or when they would occur. The visibility was poor and when I did merit to view my hand in front of my face, I was considered fortunate. At depths of about a hundred feet, our instructors launched simulated enemy attacks against us. Our underwater breathing apparatus was cut and we were required to buddy breathe from team mates. In some cases, about six divers had to rely off the supply from one diver. Any attempt to surface, would immediately be classified as panic. In such a case a candidate would immediately be disqualified from the course and sent packing. Each day I lived with the hope that my diving buddies would not express a greater love for air, than the amount for which I needed to survive. In some cases we were required to dive in shallower depths, to avoid the need for decompression. In these instances we dived for periods that extended more than a straight twenty-four hours, without break for food or water. I have never experienced hunger and thirst like I knew then, given the energy which our anatomy needed to expend to maintain body temperature. As the minutes ticked by, the water became increasingly cold. The fact that at times we were diving in shark infested waters, was of our least concern.

Then there were the dry-dock dives, conducted through narrow underwater passages. Here there were no second chances and a turn in the wrong direction would mean no coming home. We were also commanded to jump off ships and cranes that extended over two-hundred feet in height from the water surface. A show of hesitation to perform a jump, would mean taking the royal salute and course termination. The concluding phase of the program was a course in explosives and demolitions. An accurate perspective of the course were words that one navy diver had related to me, prior to my decision to apply to become a diver. “I can tell you about the challenges that I experienced, but you will never be able to truly appreciate the hardship, until you experience the program first hand.” 

"...we were lowered by helicopter into the troughs of gigantic Indian Ocean rollers that were over eighty feet in height."

After you qualified as a diver, what duties did you perform? 
I was based in Durban, located on the east coast of Africa, where we would often receive calls from the 15 Squadron to conduct helicopter rescue operations for missing seamen. These SOS signals were typically from Taiwanese trawlers and yachts, positioned off the coast. Occasionally, squalls hugged the coast, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. During rescue missions we were lowered by helicopter into the troughs of gigantic Indian Ocean rollers that were over eighty feet in height. In one incident, our diving base received a call at dawn to conduct a helicopter search and rescue mission for a missing yacht. I tool the call. The yacht was apparently positioned off the wild coast, a few hundred miles south. On that occasion we were not able to locate the vessel. Fortunately, the yacht and seamen were later discovered a few days later. However, I had opportunity to view some of the most spectacular and breath-taking scenery that I have ever experienced, during that five-hour flight operation along the coast.

In other instances, we would conduct routine bottom searches on the naval fleet, for limpet mines and enemy explosives.

Do any of these experiences manifest themselves in Cavalier’s Call? 
Not directly. However, I would hope that my exposure to the navy afforded me the ability to provide an account of military matters, in an authentic manner, especially the dialogue.

After you completed your service, did you have any perspective on the direction in life that you were interested in developing, from a vocational aspect? 
My contemporaries from the navy all went to dive in the North Sea, where they made big money and retired after a few years. My intent was always to graduate from university and pursue a career in finance. I grew up in a home that broadcast a very strong entrepreneurial atmosphere. Even though my father was based in the hotel industry, he was in essence a serial entrepreneur. On several occasions I traveled with him to meetings at which he was seeking to conduct preliminary investigations into possible acquisitions. Our home was an operations room for various projects in their infancy stage. Proposals that were being piloted ranged from real estate projects to undertakings in the electronics industry. My father and uncle would bank roll these projects through to development, and from about nine years old I would sit in on the discussions with a keen ear. I listened to the presentations, the cross-questions and I observed the sparks fly. It was amazing, exciting and I thrived on every minute.

"The second rule was that no guest was permitted to have an empty glass."

My father had two rules. The fist was that no one was permitted to knock on the door to announce their arrival. They were required to enter on their own accord and make themselves at home. This was not as imposing as it sounds, because we had a sizable home with a homely entertainment area. The second rule was that no guest was permitted to have an empty glass. From a young lad I held the key to the bar and was commissioned to ensure that everyone’s glass was always full. The range of beverages extended from soft drink based concoctions to the full monty of alcoholic cocktails.

From the age of about seven or eight I was reading financial news reports and tracking my first dummy stock portfolio. Shortly thereafter I was buying and selling shares and commodities through a broker. Asset management or finance was the natural direction in which I gravitated and with that orientation in mind, I set off to obtain a university education. I certainly appreciated that achieving success does not simply comprise of education plus experience. I knew that the road ahead would be tough and trying, but I was committed to make the sacrifices necessary, to achieve those goals.



In this segment of the interview, Grant de Graf speaks about (1) his life-threatening account of fighting bush fires in Australia, (2) growing up in the Durban Point, and (3) how he was able to incorporate some of his personal experiences into his historical novel, Cavalier's Call.

Q. Do you have any impressionable memories, working as a jackeroo on a sheep station in Australia?
One incident that is difficult to forget, is the bushfire that the region experienced during my term. It was the most brutal fire to sweep the country in the decade. We received the call mid-morning. All hands rushed over to try and rescue sheep from the inferno and create breaks, so that we could contain spread of the fire. There were ‘roos everywhere, running in sheer panic and the poignant smell of mutton filled the air, a result of the casualties that the bushfire had claimed. A group of us had penetrated some dense bush with a ute (utility vehicle), in an attempt to create a break at the frontline. Suddenly, we realized that we were trapped. We were encircled with flames and there was no exit point. The pilot of a small plane hovered overhead and tried to direct us out the death-trap, through radio communication. I was knocked unconscious from smoke inhalation. Fortunately, one of our rangers managed to break through a field of low flying flames and rescue us from certain tragedy. It left me with a very high level of respect for fire and the potential damage that it can achieve. We were lucky to be alive.

Q. Were you able to see any parts of the Barrier Reef?
Yes. In fact I had a gig as a water sports instructor on one of the islands within the Whitsunday cluster near the mainland, given my experience in the navy as a diver. The Barrier Reef is actually much further out, at that point. The coastal waters near the mainland can be quite dangerous, as during certain periods of the year, the area is home to the box jellyfish, a venomous creature that can kill a man in a few seconds. However, within the cluster of islands there is greater level of protection and the dangers are not as prevalent. During my stay in Australia, I also covered as a bartender in several pubs in Queensland and Sydney, pulling beer. In Queensland it was make it a XXXX mate, and in New South Wales the call was Tooheys New served in a pony, midi or schooner.

"Wherever you have men with a little alcohol under the belt, you are bound to find a few loose steer on the top paddock."

Q. Did you have to deal with situations when the patrons of a pub became a little frisky?
Wherever you have men with a little alcohol under the belt, you are bound to find a few loose steer on the top paddock. But I had seen action before. When my father came to Durban from Johannesburg, as a qualified pharmacist and second generation hotelier, he was offered a lease on a derelict pub in the harbor in the Point, called the Criterion Hotel. My parents signed the lease and called the establishment the Smuggler’s Inn, because it was the only tavern in the world that boasted a custom’s gate in its courtyard. I can’t vouch for the sobrietry of the custom’s officers, but everyone had a good time. It attracted a very animated and vibrant clientele. In Durban you had the Point, which extended perpendicular from the Bluff on the opposite side of the bay. My father always used to joke that Durban was all bluff, until you got to the point. In about 1965, the tavern was considered a security risk and the property expropriated, due to the lack of control that was being exercised at the custom’s gate. My parents acquired the Alexandra Hotel, located at 124 Point Road, a few hundred yards away from the original tavern and on New Year’s Eve, to the beat of a lively band and much fanfare, hundreds of patrons marched from the old Smuggies, as it was nicknamed, to the new Smuggies. The Alexandra Hotel had also been the location at which President Paul Kruger resided, during one of his visits to Durban during the nineteenth century.

"Every sailor who had weathered the seven seas was my friend, with whom I had sparred in a bout of arm-wrestling."
In the harbor there was a lot of shunting – the trains. They were all steam driven. In those days, the docks was my playground, and I was on first name terms with every train driver on the block. I would hitch a ride on the old steam locomotives, from the bottom end of the Point across to Maydon Wharf, which was where the sugar containers were located, on the other side of the bay. The most enthralling part of the trip was when the driver would allow me to ring the train’s bell and whistle, as it expelled jubilant hissing sounds. Every sailor who had weathered the seven seas was my friend, with whom I had sparred in a bout of arm-wrestling. Of course they would always let me win, which made me think that I was the strongest man alive.

Q. Did you attend a nursery school or kindergarten?
Yes. It was called the Claire Ellis Brown Nursery School and situated on Point Road. I remember one incident that occurred when I was about four years old. A friend at the kindergarten enticed me to bunk and come to his home to view his toys. During the middle of break, we both secured our bags and hurtled down Point Road at full throttle. Fortunately for the teachers and us, a young student caught up with our trail. We were spanked, placed in a corner and prohibited from participating in the scheduled entertainment, a showman who made animal shapes with balloons. The principal, a Ms. Meinjies, sent us home with a note to our parents urging them not to punish us, as we had already been scolded. That was very graceful of her. Years later when I was at high school attending DHS, I paged through some old photos and immediately recognized the boy with whom I had participated in the foiled escape of my toddler days. He was a very bright student and we shared a place in the high school’s swimming team, under the guidance of Springbok lifesaver Alan Burt. His name was David Curry. When I recalled the incident to David who remembered the experience well, he claimed that I had attempted to solicit him to watch a show at the Smuggler’s Inn, which of course was not true.

Q. Did Smuggies attract mainly seamen?
In 1967, after the six day war and the closure of the Suez Canal, all shipping was diverted around the Cape of Good Hope. Business boomed, as the hotel’s clientele was principally seamen and stevedores. It was as if the old silk and spice route had been re-opened. There were literally hundreds of ships that were anchored off the coastline on a daily basis, waiting to enter the harbor for fresh supplies and to re-fuel. We could always tell how good business was, by counting the number of ships anchored offshore.

When our family was not hosting the famous Sunday braai (barbeque), we would venture down to Noddys, next to the paddling pool on the beachfront. This was the location where I had experienced my first swimming lessons, provided by a veteran coach who would wear a safari-style peaked cap, and who would ask me whether I had eaten my jungle oats that morning. Noddys was famous for its waffles and in between ice-cream, I would accost visiting seamen from the navies of the world with my friendly greeting. I had been instructed by my father that they were our friends. Every seaman that walked passed was a potential candidate to an arm-wrestling challenge.

"Of course there was Hellcat Margaret who was reputed to deal with ill-behaved customers by seizing their ear between her teeth and dragging them outside."

Q. Were there any interesting personalities that you knew?
I could keep you busy for a month of Sundays. Of course there was Hellcat Margaret (other versions of the story describe her as Hellcat Peggy) who was reputed to deal with ill-behaved customers by seizing their ear between her teeth and dragging them outside. It was rumored that as a warning to others she kept a jar of preserved ears, within close range. I knew Hellcat Margaret and was witness to her dealing with ill-behaved customers, but I never saw the infamous ears that had been kept in a jar of preservatives. Truthfully, I was too afraid to ask, because I didn’t have any doubt that she would produce the evidence on request.

In the early seventies, we had the John Rothman years. He was a male dancer-singer, who took the city by storm and later became a choreographer for South African Television. John performed to a packed house for nearly two years. Smuggies came into its own as a venue that was considered hip, frequented by a cross-spectrum of people from all walks of life, from seamen to professionals. It was attractive for three reasons: (1) the atmosphere was considered authentic and unpretentious, (2) it was a dare, and (3) there was always good entertainment. Certainly, not the place that you would take the new girl on the block, but it was fun.

Then my parents hit the restaurant industry with a bombshell. They started selling giant T-bone steaks for fifty cents, which by today’s standards would be like selling steak in a Manhattan restaurant for ten dollars. People came from everywhere and at times the lines extended to lengths of over a quarter of mile down Point Road. Smugglers was also know for its famous Xmas lunch. I have very fond memories of the lady patrons, sifting through Christmas pudding and helping me to find the hidden tickies (nickels) buried within. They said that it was like trying to find their men.

"Certainly, not the place that you would take the new girl on the block, but it was fun."

When my father passed away, my whole world was turned upside down. I was now ostensibly the man of the house and had to take my stand by my mother and sister. As a relatively young widow, my mother shouldered the responsibility of managing the hotel and entertainment operation, but I was given significant powers of command. The staff referred to me as Boss Grant and they were quick to act on my wishes. During the days that school closed early, I would take my friends to Smuggies for steak, chips and cabaret.

View of Durban Point today.

Q.  Have you used the benefit of these experiences in your novel, Cavalier’s Call?
Yes, in a peripheral way. I have several scenes that unfold in a vibrant tavern atmosphere. Action follows and expresses itself in a manner, which I believe is authentic and entertaining. In fact in one incident Joao, the lead character and Ines Peres, a woman for which he has strong aspirations, enter a tavern disguised as French cavaliers. When Joao is attacked, Ines Peres draws a sword and comes to his defense.

"She promptly pulled out a baby Beretta and tried to shoot me."

Q. Are your characters based on real life experiences?
I can’t say specifically. I have had the odd encounter. In one incident, I suggested to a friend that I had been dating that we terminate the relationship. She promptly pulled out a baby Beretta and tried to shoot me. “If I can’t have you, then no one else can,” she protested. Fortunately, I succeeded in wrestling the weapon from her grip. Of course, I did the noble thing and confiscated the gun. After the experience my friends called her six-gun Kelly.*

The Durban July
"It is reputed that on days that they would fire the flame, the poignant aroma of curry would waft across the entire Durban Berea."

Q. It seems that you have an appreciation for entertainment?
In the right context, yes. I can recall in later years, a friend and I hit on an idea to host a marquee at the Durban July, South Africa’s premier racehorse event. I don’t know if it’s the same today, but then, everyone who was anyone attended. My friend was Ian Rout, or Trouty as we knew him. The Rout family was known to have access to a closely guarded and secret recipe in curry. It is reputed that on days that they would fire the flame, the poignant aroma of curry would waft across the entire Durban Berea. For the Durban July event, Trouty and I had a very low budget so the marquee that we hired was second grade and the cheapest obtainable. After workmen had hoisted the tent, it looked a poor and sorry sight, poised to collapse on the hint of a slight breeze. “You need to pray hard,” I suggested. “If anyone sneezes, she will probably go.” I secured the services of the famed singer and guitarist Josh Sithole, who was playing at the Umhlanga Sands. The event was an incredible hit. No one sneezed and there was a buzz that carried on late into the night. This was the springboard for other such events that were hosted in the years that followed.


Related Posts:

1) Interview with Grant de Graf [Part I]
2) Cavalier's Call, a historical novel celebrating the dawn to Portugal's Age of Discovery
3) 5 Facts About the Age of Discovery
4) Sparks that Ignited the Advent to the Age of Discovery
5) A Review of Cavalier's Call
6) Read an Excerpt of Cavalier's Call
7) Watch the Book Trailer
8) Cavalier's Call Untold Secrets video 

* Not her real name

Book Club Discussion/ Questions (Cavalier's Call)

1) Did the relationship which João enjoyed with his father have any bearing on his personality?

2) Ines Peres fled from her father’s home to be with João. Should she rather have hearkened to the voice of her father and refrained from making contact with João?

3) The crown was responsible for some underhand manipulation in dealing with the accused Carlos Carreira. What duty did they have towards making full disclosure and coming clean?

4) Was the action of Ines Peres to come to João’s defense when he was under attack in the Santa Clara tavern, proper?

5) Should the crown have come to João's defense when he was being pursued from Don Antonio Esteves’ bondeleros, instead of taking a passive stance and turning a blind eye?

6) Should João have attempted to make contact with his friend, Nuno during the period that he was in hiding, at the risk that his assassins would establish his location?

7) Was the apprehension that the consortium of Lisbon merchants expressed about entering into an agreement with the Castilians, when King Ferdinand I died, justified?

5 Facts About the Age of Discovery


1) The Age of Discovery was ignited in the 15th century, and triggered one of the most significant initiatives in history, with the establishment of a connection between the Old World and the New World.

2) Giovanni de Plano Carpini preceded Marco Parlo in securing a trade route to Mongolia in 1241.

3) The explorations of Marco Polo were conducted throughout Asia from 1271 to 1295, in which he was a guest at the Yuan Dynasty court of Kublai Khan

4) An advancement in navigational instruments and the development of new ship designs in the form of the caravel, acted as catalysts in facilitating the Age of Discovery.

5) Henry the Navigator, son to João de Aviz, was able to initiate his conquests in exploration, through funding that he had secured from wealthy monarchs and the church.


The author of Cavalier's Call provides a candid account of his personal life and writing his historical novel.

What prompted you to write Cavalier's Call?
Mostly, I was encouraged by friends and colleagues, who were always egging me on to complete a novel. But, more than anything, I actually enjoy writing and articulating aspects about life's experiences.

Do you have any formal training in writing?
No. However, I came from a family that was rooted in entertainment. My parents were impresarios who were probably the first to bring out international artists, singers and dancers to South Africa. This was a greater achievement than it may appear. Forty years ago we didn't have the access to air travel that we do today.

"I was weaned on song and dance."

Were flights less frequent?
That's an understatement. Travel was much more expensive and not as common. By comparison, about twenty years ago a train trip from Durban to Cape Town, which is about a thousand miles, took three days. International travel was a major undertaking, rather than the bus ride that it is today. As South Africa was much more isolated, even before sanctions, bringing out international celebrities to a local venue was a novelty. I recall very fondly, the regular Sunday braais (barbeques) that my parents would host. There would be well over a hundred guests at each event. I was weaned on song and dance. Also, when my father passed away, I was pulled into the family business for a brief period. So the entertainment industry is not something new to me.

Do you see writing as entertainment?
I would categorize it as entertainment on a sophisticated level. If a novelist can't hold or grab an audience within the few first pages, the writer has probably lost them. Obviously, I very much aspire to engage my audience, in a way that has them hanging and desperate to turn the next page.

Why did you choose the dawn of Portugal's Age of Discovery, as the backdrop to Cavalier's Call?
Really, I wanted to write a historical novel that involved the development of the mining industry in South Africa, and the Cecil John Rhodes and Barney Barnato conflict. However, that topic has been extensively covered. When I started to turn the pages of South African history, I was taken back to Portugal, to Joao de Aviz, Henry the Navigator and Bartholomew Diaz who was the first explorer to set foot in South Africa.

What motivated these explorers to sail towards Southern Africa?
They were essentially seeking a new passage to India, which previously was fixed on an arduous land route through the Middle East. The Venetians held somewhat of a monopoly over this turf. Additionally, the cost that caravans had to pay to third parties was prohibitive.

" had every man with a compass and piece of timber trying to make his way around the Cape of Good Hope."

Did discovery of the new trade route to India change things?
It was revolutionary, beyond all imagination. Obviously silk, spice and the host of goods that originated from that region were able to find its way to the European market, quicker and at a much lower cost. The Portuguese initially held a monopoly over the route, given their expertise, silver-lined pockets and sovereignty of the high seas. As a consequence of their success and the profits they generated through colonization, you had every man with a compass and piece of timber trying to make his way around the Cape of Good Hope.

Did other countries follow?
Certainly. Castile (Spain), France, Holland, and England jumped on the bandwagon. The mood for exploration changed the entire ship building industry and the way people thought. Every mother suddenly wanted her son to be a navigator – my son, the navigator. Suitable candidates attended Henry the Navigator's school of navigation at Sagres on the Algarve, which was like going to Harvard.

Can we find any active remnants of the mind-set or process that existed in the days of Portuguese explorers, today?
That's a very interesting thought. I think that we can say that America (U.S.A.), as a country, has probably been the most significant driving force in technological advancement in history. There are several factors that have helped advance the process. These include (1) creativity, (2) the ability to source and to commit capital to projects, and (3) the ability to bring goods to market. It was precisely these very factors that initially drove the Portuguese to achieving the success that they did, in establishing an alternative to the existing silk and spice route. The same entrepreneurial qualities found in the United States today, responsible for the technological boom that is being experienced, were precisely the qualities that inspired the search for the new route to India.

Can you be more specific?
When Joao de Aviz and his son Henry the Navigator first inked the idea of a new sea passage to India, people sincerely believed that that they had lost their mind. Such an initiative had previously been unthinkable. The cost of constructing the vessels that would survive such a trip was astronomical. The navigational skills that were necessary, would need to be of a sophisticated standard and were literally off the map, and the possibility that a ship could be wiped-out by a storm, had to be seriously considered. Additionally, any attempt to group together a crew that would embark on such a voyage was met with failure. There just were no takers for love or for money. In short, they had to source funds for a task that was impossible. I don't doubt that the Bill Gates' and Steve Jobs' of this world, had to endure similar hurdles in their quest for success within their industry.

How were the Portuguese ultimately able to succeed in soliciting the funds?
Henry the Navigator had several qualities that earned him his title. Firstly, he had an extensive range of contacts from which he could draw. These existed in the church and extended within economic, political and social circles. Secondly, he could talk a good game. He had the gift of the gab. Initially, he approached wealthy monarchs who were able to commit themselves to his cause, but then he found a rainmaker – the church. He made them an offer they couldn't refuse. "You provide us with the funds, and we'll convert the rest of the world to Christianity." It was a no-brainer.

Do you cover these issues in Cavalier's Call?
Not directly. I was interested in capturing the spirit and mood that existed, immediately prior to the Age of Discovery. I wanted to identify the aspects of the era that facilitated the initiatives on which Henry, the Navigator embarked. The re-creation of those details is subtle. Also, Cavalier's Call is Volume I of a two-part series. Initially I have dealt with Joao de Aviz' impressionable years, growing up in the royal palace in Coimbra as a rookie courtier, where he is commissioned to defend a villain and argue his case against the bench of the prosecution led by the talented Don Antonio Esteves. Joao's escape from a band of bondoleros follows. His love for Ines Peres Esteves ensues, daughter of his most vehement opponent, climaxing in his appointment to lead Portugal to independence. Of course there are many twists, turns and mystery to keep readers hanging onto the edge of their seat. It's an engaging, easy read. Remarkably, this specific era in history has not been extensively covered by historians or novelists.

I'm aware that Joao de Aviz lost his father, the king, as a boy. How were you able to relate to this and articulate the emotions that he felt?
I lost my father when I was fourteen, so hopefully I was able to suitably describe and identify with the feelings that Joao may have experienced. Readers will find it interesting, because the emotions for me anyway, were not entirely what one may expect under those trying circumstances.

"...I would gallop into the setting sun at breakneck speeds..."

Are you able to describe any specific incidents that you've experienced, which helped you in creating and relating certain aspects of Cavalier's Call, to your readers?
It's hard to say, because as you know we are all products of a chain of experiences, rather than one incident. However, the novel does provide detail of the advanced horsemanship and polo games in which Joao de Aviz and his childhood friend Nuno Álvares Pereira participated. This facet of the novel was cultivated from the fond memories that I have as a boy of about ten, of visits to my grandfather's property in Paarl, near Cape Town, and to my uncle's farm in Wepener, near the Lesothu border. On these occasions my cousins and I would gallop into the setting sun at breakneck speeds, as if there was no tomorrow. My grandfather was a thoroughbred enthusiast who for several years held the South African champion title for his show of Cameos Thunderbird. The horse was a stallion of the American Saddler strain, a magnificent creature.

Have you ever worked on a ranch?
During a visit to Australia about twenty years ago, I worked as a jackeroo on a sheep station in Yarrawongo-Mulwala, which is on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. It was real Ned Kelly country. The owner of the property was a cockie by the name of John Sloane. I established my relationship with John when we traveled to Australia on the same plane. It was an amazing experience.



The Age of Discovery was the source of several epic developments during the fifteenth century. This included the discovery of a new sea passage to Asia that would circumvent the need for merchants to travel the arduous and costly route via the Middle East. It was dangerous and a costly traveler's tax had to be paid to officials, operating under the auspices of the Otterman Empire, in order to gain entry through foreign lands. This added to the expense of popular silk and spice products that were brought to Europe. The spread of the Black Death, a bubonic plague, which occurred during the fourteenth century, also inhibited travel.

Henry the Navigator, son to Joao de Aviz aggressively pursued his vision of establishing an alternative passage to Asia, around the Cape of Good Hope. He successfully lobbied the church and wealthy monarchs, to provide him with the capital that would be needed to embark on his sea voyages. The seaward bound initiatives were dangerous and not without risk. Securing a new passage to Asia would provide Portuguese merchants with a significant advantage, as they could bring their goods to market quicker and at more competitive prices. To this end, Henry the Navigator set about promoting an entire industry that would be committed to his vision. He developed a school of navigation in Sagres, along the Algarve, which would be a hotbed for aspiring explorers and seamen. The entire country became involved in a cause that gained popularity and captured the hearts of the street. Any person that became part of this effort gained instant fame and recognition. The construction of new ships became a vibrant industry. These pioneers were the venture capitalists of the middle ages.

Given the success that Portugal was able to achieve in its conquest of the high seas and redrawing the map of merchants, Castile (Spain), England and Holland soon followed. Such was their success that they ultimately removed Italy from the trader's equation. The Most Serene Republic of Venice or Las Serenissima, as it was known then, was a powerful entity that had to a large extent held the monopoly over the silk and spice route. The merchants of Venice were able to secure more favorable tax rates for their caravans and had a stronger handle on the land route to Asia that they had pioneered. The travels of Marco Polo was an example of the precedent that Venice set, in its ability to establish new trading partners. Castile's motivation to enter into the fray was inspired by the country's will to compete with Portugal, for its command over the high seas. Castile wished to expand its sea exploration initiatives, hence their sponsorship of Christopher Columbus' exploratory voyage to America.

Several other factors prompted the advancement of the Age of Discovery. Firstly, the development of new technologies in instrumentation and navigation facilitated voyages that were more ambitious. Consequently, the percentage of vessels that returned from an exploration increased significantly. The ability that navigators achieved in drawing more accurate maps, was also influencial. Secondly, a new ship design in the form of the caravel and later the nau, made the Portuguese fleet more agile and easier to navigate. These boats were mounted with a stern rudder that was revolutionary, and which brought seamanship to a new level.

The implications of the new discoveries and the initiatives of Henry the Navigator were broad and significant. They ultimately resulted in the colonization and development of Southern Africa and the Americas.

Book Review: Cavalier's Call

By Benjamin Colepepper

Author Grant de Graf snaps the ribbon with the launch of his historical novel Cavalier's Call (ISBN 978-0-557-22972-7), in early spring. The story, which is based on fact, is set towards the end of Portugal's fourteenth century, an era that immediately precedes the Age of Discovery. Ironically, it is a period that has remained relatively unexplored by the writing fraternity.

Historians have also exhibited a certain restraint in conducting any meaningful research on Portugal's conquests of the high seas. Clearly, de Graf had to dig deep for the facts to fully absorb how the country came to be a powerhouse amongst the nations of the world. He is appreciative of the remarkable manner in which their initiatives laid the foundations for widespread colonization. This was a strategy that Spain, the English and Dutch followed, enacted in the hope that explorers would return to their shores with precious bounty and merchandise from foreign lands.

Colonization, as de Graf is aware, is not free from controversy. The author of Cavalier's Call is a native South African, who is familiar with the cries of disdain that echoed across the savannahs of Africa during the days of apartheid. He knows well the struggle and tears of protest against the legacy that colonization had fathered. Nevertheless, the policy of exploration and conquest became a hallmark amongst the leading nations of the time, and laid the playing field for the discovery of Southern Africa and the Americas. There are probably few nations in the world today, including China, that are unaffected by the impact that it carved on their soil.

As a prelude to a first read the author offers his audience a video clip. It is an enchanting introduction of the early venture capitalism that motivated Portugal to search for a new trade route, and pursue exploration. It allows one to appreciate the serious implications of decisions that were volleyed across the nation's drawing boards during that era. However, Cavalier's Call deals primarily with the period prior to the Age of Discovery, as it was de Graf's intent to capture the mood and spirit that led up to Portugal's coming of age and true independence. An outline of the plot may be viewed on the Official Website

The interplay of different personalities is commendably constructed. At the outset of the novel, the relationship that the main character Joao de Aviz enjoys with his father, the king, is touching, even admirable. De Graf has clearly used accounts from his own personal experience, having lost his father at an early age, to bring to the table some meaningful and candid insights. The author's ventures in life, which extend from a stint as a jackeroo on sheep stations in Australia to a position as a trader on Wall Street, do not make him a candidate who will need tissues to wipe the back of his ears. De Graf warmly captures the childhood relationship that Joao de Aviz and Nuno Álvares Pereira enjoy during their impressionable years, as they gallop across the sierras of Portugal and Castile in quest of their trophies.

The appointment of Joao to defend a man charged with murder in the royal court, moves the story to a new pace. De Graf is a master at recreating the mood and play for power that existed in the legal battles of the time. The tone is enthralling and intriguing.

Ines Peres is the daughter of the all-powerful Don Antonio Esteves, the courtier who leads the bench of prosecution in the royal court, and Joao's bitter opponent. Joao falls for the feisty and strong-willed Ines Peres, and the couple elopes with henchmen in hot pursuit. Although the plot is uncomplicated, chapters are filled with twists that come at the most unexpected moment, adding to the energy that drives the pace. A sample read of the first chapters of Cavalier's Call is available for review, and provides a good example of de Graf's style of writing. It is sophisticated and engaging, consistent with that of a historical novel.

The first edition is in English, but translations into Spanish and Portuguese are sure to follow. A sequel is also in the making. The book trailer, which is available for review on YouTube, is a strong appetizer and makes the prospect of reading Cavalier's Call, compelling. Although no film rights have yet been secured, if the videos are anything to go by, it is difficult to comprehend why the novel will not be snapped up by the circuit.

De Graf joins a line of novelists that are entering a changing industry and pioneering their own path to publication. No attempts were made to identify an agent or secure a publisher to represent the author. "Such initiatives would have just protracted the process of publication," says de Graf. "I was keen to see the book go to print in an expedited fashion." The novel will be listed through Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and all major distributors. It will also be available as an EBook from LuLu, and accessible via Kindle and iPad.

Cavalier's Call makes its entry onto the successful and appealing bookshelf of historical novels by veteran writers. The author, Grant de Graf, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. De Graf currently freelances for a number of news channels and tabloids, and has a strong interest in history and wildlife. He is a seasoned globetrotter who speaks at charity events regularly. Additional contact information is available on his Google Profile and Official Website.


Cavalier's Call is a novel, which captures the spirit and atmosphere that prevailed at the dawn to the Age of Discovery.

During the period preceding the Age of Discovery, the powerful and wealthy Don Antonio Esteves serves in King Ferdinand I's court as chief prosecutor. His adversary is Joao de Avis, the Infante, half-brother to the king, who defends those charged by the crown. Contrary to royal protocol, the Infante elopes with the beautiful Ines Peres. Don Antonio Esteves dispatches a band of bondoleros to bring his daughter home and seek vengeance against the Infante. 


Through efforts that were made to find a new trade route to India, the idea of explorations to the tip of Africa was inked. A new passage would circumvent the high fees that merchants had to pay to travel through foreign lands, in their journey to the east.

Traders were disillusioned with the fact that they were prisoners to the gatekeeper's toll. They viewed these third parties as racketeers and opportunists who had pushed their horses too far.


They pursued a vision with great determination and furness. They flamed the sparks of exploration and discovery of the New World. They were known as the navigators. The search for a new trade route to Asia to bypass the protracted journey over land through the Middle East, facilitated the Age of Discovery.

A new passage around Africa to India would make it possible to circumvent the high fees that merchants had to pay to third parties, in order to travel through foreign lands. The quest to crack the monopoly that was held over the silk and spice route, facilitated a mood of discovery and the battle for control of the high seas.

In order to pursue these seaward bound explorations, the navigators would need to solicit large amounts of capital to realize their ambitions. These men were the venture capitalists of their generation.


The video trailer for "Cavalier's Call" scheduled to be released in early 2010, is now available for review. This is a historical novel set in Portugal during the 14th Century, providing a meticulously researched glimpse into the period that set the stage for the Age of Discovery.


Grant de Graf reveals the secrets behind the trail of Cavalier's Call and what motivated him to write a historical novel celebrating Portugal's independence of 1385.

The Kruger National Park, South Africa's premier game reserve is the setting for the stage in which this honest, unpretentious account of what inspired the author to write such a novel is revealed. This is the first video in a series, which will follow.


A snapshot of Cavalier's Call from author Grant de Graf, a novel celebrating Portugal's independence of 1385, and the era that proceeded the Age of Discovery. For more detailed information check out the Official Website.