Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Cape of Storms

by Richard W. Wise

Few people take the route around the Cape of Good Hope these days. Perhaps that’s what made this trip so special. The trip around the Cape of Storms as the Portuguese first named it was a big thing in the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Centuries. I was particularly excited about the opportunity to trace, in reverse, the route taken by the French gem dealer and adventurer Jean Baptiste Tavernier in 1640-1641. (Image above, Dufkin, reproduction of Dutch ship active in East Indies during the early part of Seventeenth Century)

Tavernier took this route only once, during his 4th voyage leaving from Dutch Batavia in late 1640. It took the French dealer fifty-five days to reach the Cape from Java and another seventeen days to voyage from the Cape to St. Helena’s. Both of these ports were used to revictual and refresh ships traveling the long route between Europe and the East Indies to Europe during the heyday of the spice trade. (Image above: 700 foot Seven Seas Voyager docked Cape Town, right: St. Helena Island)

Our voyage was more direct and much quicker. We took only four days to cross the South Atlantic from Rio de Janeiro to St. Helena, a voyage that often took weeks in those far off days. Due to prevailing winds and currents, ships leaving Europe would often find themselves sailing in a long gradual bow to a position off the coast of Brazil and then directly East towards the Cape. (Image: below, from the 1st Dutch edition of Tavernier's Six Voyages, himself is pictured at left with the turban)

Ships of the Seventeenth Century were small by the standards of today’s luxury cruise ships. At 160 tons, Tavernier’s ship the Les Provinces, could have been easily accommodated on the deck of my ship the 46,000 ton Regent Seven Seas Explorer.

Passing the Cape itself was a thrill the weather was calm and the sun was shining with only a few clouds gracing a dark blue sky. Why did the Portuguese name it the Cape of Storms? Tavernier describes it this way: "On the fifty-fifth day of our voyage we came in view of the Cape of Good Hope and we remained outside five or six days because the waves were so high that we did not venture to enter the roads to cast anchor." (Image above taken from the verandah of our cabin by my wife, Rebekah shows the Cape of Good Hope in the background.)

After further stops in Richard's Bay and Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, our voyage ended in Mombasa. After a short soujourn in Nairobi to visit our good friend Judy Bridges, wife of Campbell, discoverer of tsavorite garnet we found ourselves in London. Now is guess its back to work.

Stay tuned.

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