Prince Henry the Navigator
Dom Henrique of Portugal, Duke of Viseu – (March 4, 1394 – November 13, 1460)
The son of Portuguese King John I and his wife Philippa of Lancaster, Henrique was probably native to Porto, Portugal. King John, Henrique and his brother laid the foundation for the Portuguese Empire in Africa when they captured the Moorish port of Ceuta, which is along the Moroccan Coast on the northwestern coast of Africa. The port had served as a base for pirates that raided Mediterranean Coast capturing people to sell in the African slave market.
Henrique used this success to undertake further explorations along the unknown African coast. He wanted to stop pirate incursions from other African ports and discover the source of gold on the continent. Portuguese ships at this time were heavy, slow and not very maneuverable. Henrique began the development of a smaller, more maneuverable ship called a caravel.
The Portuguese, probably influenced by the Arabic ship called the qarib and early Portuguese fishing boats, designed and built the first caravel in or about 1541. The earliest caravels had two or three masts that could support either square rigged or lateen sails. They also featured hulls using the carvel construction method, as opposed to the clinker type construction used on earlier vessels. In clinker construction, the boards used for hull construction overlapped, like shingles, and the builders used wooden pegs to fasten the boards to the hull frame. In carvel construction, the boards used to cover the hull were edge to edge with nails used to fasten them to the hull. Using carvel construction, ships could be built longer and were much sturdier than the older clinker type construction. This construction method was used in later ships, like the carrack, galleon and frigates. Navigators used the lateen sails to maneuver near the coast or up rivers. The square rigged ocean sails found use on the open Atlantic. The small, powerful ships also had shallow drafts which enabled them to navigate into shallower coastal waters and up rivers. Many of the early explorer, like Christopher Columbus, favored the vessels for their explorations. The limited cargo capacity eventually paved the way for their replacement by the larger carrack.
Volta do Mar
The caravel made it possible for Henrique’s ships to range further from home. He sponsored explorations that hugged the West African coast, however some ventured further out to sea. The discovered the pattern of trade winds that they would call the North Atlantic Volta do Mar, or “Return of the Seas”. This pattern was a dependable flow of winds that blew from the east African coast near the equator and the westerlies, that blew from west to east just north of the equator. It was knowledge that Christopher Columbus would use to his advantage almost a half century later.
Prince Henry the Navigator
Before his death in 1460 Henrique sponsored voyages that reached far along the West African Coast as far as modern-day Sierra Leone. Though he was not a navigator, he has become known as the main instigator of the Age of Discovery. The Portuguese credit him as the father of their navigation efforts. Portuguese discovery of the equatorial trade winds and the development of the caravel played a huge role in Christopher Columbus’ voyages three decades later. German historians Heinrich Schaefer and Gustave de Veer bestowed the nickname Prince Henry the Navigator in the 19th Century.
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