National Geographic : 1905 Nov
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE 490 wind itself in such cases roughly guides a vessel without a compass, and the pe riods of cyclones and unsettled weather between the monsoons would soon be noted and avoided, as they are to this day by the Arabs and Chinese, whose vessels, I have very little doubt, have remained practically the same for thou sands of years. The unknown Greek author of that unique and most interesting document, the " Periplus of the Erythr ean Sea," probably of the first century A. D., de scribes vessels built without nails, the planks of which were bound together by cords, in precisely the same way as many Arab dhows now navigating the Indian Ocean. His personal knowl edge of Africa evidently ceased at Cape Guardafui, though he gives informa tion gained from others on the east coast as far as Zanzibar, which-or rather a part on the mainland near he describes as the limit of trade to the south. We know that Arabs had pene trated further, but no doubt they kept their knowledge to themselves. EARLY NAVIGATORS HAD CHARTS WHICH HAVE BEEN LOST These early navigators very proba bly had charts. When Vasco da Gama first passed along the eastern coast of Africa he found that the Arab dhows had charts. Unfortunately none of them has come down to us, or it would have been interesting to compare them with those of the west coast used by the Portuguese at the time, and which were of the crudest description. I claim for sailors of all ages that they would be the first to make practi cal maps of the shape of the coasts. Their safety and convenience demanded it, while it is a far easier task to com pile such a picture of the earth from successive voyages along coasts over the sea,where average distances from known rates of sailing and courses from the sun and stars can be more accurately ascer- tained, than from long and generally tortuous land journeys in directions governed by natural features, towns, and so forth. A navigator must be a bit of an astronomer. A landsman to this day seldom knows one star from another. It was the sea charts, or portolani, of the Middle Ages that on the revival of learning first gave respectable repre sentations of the shape of the coasts, at a time when the learned monks and others were drawing the most fantastic and absurd pictures, which they called maps. At the same time, it must be remem bered that in all ages and down to the present day pilots who, within a hun dred years were usually carried by all ships, even for sea voyages, jealously keep their knowledge largely in their heads, and look upon good charts as contrivances to destroy their profession, and that such charts or notes as they had they would keep religiously to their fraternity. The Egyptians were no sailors, but we know that they habitually employed Phoenicians for sea expeditions, while we have the historical record of the Old Testament for their employment by David and Solomon for a like purpose in the Red Sea, and probably far to the south. It is therefore almost impossi ble to doubt that the Phoenicians were also acquainted with the navigation of the Red Sea and east coast of Africa. Such a voyage as that recorded by He rodotus would in these circumstances be far from improbable. The varying monsoons which had led the Arabians centuries before to get so intimate a knowledge of the east coast as to enable them to find and work the gold fields would be well known to the Phoenicians and the hardy seamen who braved the tempestuous regions lying between Cadiz and Great Britain would make little of the difficulties of the African seas.