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.