Page 2. " statue of Atlas "
by hector

Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAtlas - Credit: Fly Navy, Flickr
The childhood inspiration recalled by Dava Sobel is this 7-tonne, 15ft Art Deco statue created by Lee Lawrie and Rene Chambellan in 1936.  

Atlas was the Titan condemned in Greek mythology to bear the world on his shoulders after waging war against the Gods.

Page 2. " imaginary lines "
by hector

An introductory guide to latitude and longitude.  

Page 3. " astronomer Ptolemy "
by hector
Public DomainPtolemy
Claudius Ptolemaeus (90-168AD) was the Egyptian-Roman mathematician and astronomer who wrote the Almagest on celestial motions, the Geography, and an astrological work known as the Tetrabiblos.
Page 3. " Fortunate Islands "
by hector
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeTenerife - Credit: Jens Steckert
The paradisical Fortunate Islands were also known as the Isles of the Blessed.    Heroes in Greek and Celtic mythology were brought here after death.    It is suggested that they may have been the Canary Islands, Madeira or the Cape Verde Islands.
Page 4. " Christopher Columbus followed a straight path "
by hector

Public DomainColumbus
The suggestion that Columbus used celestial navigation to navigate across the Atlantic is disputed by some scholars who argue that he was limited to dead reckoning techniques.   Celestial navigation draws on absolute reference points (the sun or stars), whereas dead reckoning estimates the current position only relative to an earlier position, based on the speed and direction of travel.

Page 6. " Age of Exploration "
by hector

The Age of Discovery
Public DomainThe Age of Discovery
Between the 15 th and 17 th centuries, Europeans circled the globe in search of commodities for trade.   Spices, precious metals, silk, porcelain, tea and slaves were the most sought after treasures.   The commercial motive considerably improved European understanding of the globe, as well as sailing and navigation technologies.  

Page 6. " From Vasco da Gama to "
by hector

Vasco da Gama
Public DomainVasco da Gama
  Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) was a Portuguese Count who opened up the trade routes to India, via the Cape and East Africa.  He was ruthless in furthering Portuguese interests, attacking Arab trading ships and on one occasion locking hundreds of Muslim merchants in the hold of their ship before setting it on fire.


Vasco Nunez de Balboa
Public DomainVasco Nunez de Balboa
 Vasco Nunez de Balboa (1475-1519) was a Spanish Conquistador and the first European to reach the Pacific from the American side, after leading an expedition across the isthmus of Panama.




Ferdinand Magellan
Public DomainFerdinand Magellan
  Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) was a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach the Philippines.   He discovered the Strait of Magellan in Chile, and was the first person to lead an attempt to circumnavigate the world.  



Francis Drake
Public DomainFrancis Drake
 Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596) was an English privateer who circumnavigated the world, and later played a crucial role in the defeat of the Armada.  Although widely seen as an English hero, he was also a slave-trader and was implicated in a notorious massacre of 600 civilians on Rathlin Island in Ireland.

Page 8. " great maritime nations "
by hector

Columbus Arriving in the New World
Public DomainColumbus Arriving in the New World
Spain began building her vast empire in the 15 th century, spurred on by the exploration of men like Columbus and Magellan, and the gold-seeking conquests of Pizarro and Cortes.  The Netherlands became a major naval power in the 16 th and 17 th centuries, with explorers such as Abel Tasman and Willem Barents, and corporations like the Dutch East India Company paving the way for an empire that stretched from South America to South-East Asia.   The Repubbliche Marinare was a collection of Italian and Dalmatian city states with strong naval forces and extensive maritime trade networks.   Venice, Pisa, Genoa and Amalfi were the four main powers.

Page 10. " All these threads "
by hector

The story is summarised in this video

Page 11. " Admiral Sir Clowdisley "
by hector

Cloudesley Shovell
Public DomainCloudesley Shovell
Sir Cloudesley Shovell (1650-1707) was MP for Rochester, Kent, and a celebrated naval hero.   As commander-in-chief of the British fleets he captured Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession, and shortly before his death he launched a major attack on Toulon.

Page 11. " skirmishes with the French "
by hector

The Battle of Velez-Malaga
Public DomainThe Battle of Velez-Malaga
The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) pitted France and Spain against England, Portugal, Holland and the Holy Roman Empire.   The latter coalition fought to prevent an all-powerful unification of France and Spain under Louis XIV and his grandson, Philip V of Spain.   As well as the Battle of Blenheim, the war saw fighting in North America and in the Mediterranean.   The largest naval battle was the Battle of Velez-Malaga, following which the French navy avoided all further full-scale engagements.  

Page 11. " Ile d’Ouessant "
by hector
Public DomainUshant - Credit: Cribegh, Wikimedia Commons
The island of Ushant lies off the westernmost tip of France, due south of Cornwall.   It is 8km by 3km in size, has around a thousand inhabitants, and today boasts one of the most powerful lighthouses in the world.   The island marks the start/finish line for global circumnavigations.  

Google Map


Page 12. " These tiny islands "
by hector
Abbey Garden, Tresco
Public DomainAbbey Garden, Tresco

The Isles of Scilly are made up of six inhabited islands and a scattering of rocky islets, 28 miles from Land’s End in Cornwall.   Today, the islands are a favourite tourist destination, enjoying warmer weather than the rest of the UK.   One of the islands, Tresco, boasts the world-famous sub-tropical Abbey Garden.

Google Map


Page 12. " She sank within minutes "
by hector

HMS Association foundering
Public DomainHMS Association foundering
HMS Association was only 10 years old when she sank in 1707.   With 90 guns and 800 on board, she was a valuable asset in the Navy, and had taken part in the capture of Gibraltar in 1704.   Her Captain at the time of the sinking was Edmund Loades.

Page 13. " emerald ring "
by hector
Name to a Face
This story may be little more than legend.   The clergyman supposedly returned the ring to the Earl of Berkeley, who had presented the ring to the Admiral, but the family has no record of it.   The ring did, however, feature prominently in a fictional novel by Robert Goddard, Name to a Face (2007).


Page 14. " dread disease of scurvy "
by hector

James Lind treating scurvy on board HMS Salisbury in 1747
Public DomainJames Lind treating scurvy on board HMS Salisbury in 1747
Scurvy is a disease caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C.   It was particularly common amongst sailors until Scottish surgeon James Lind proved that citrus fruit could combat it in 1753.   Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan both lost more than two thirds of their crews to the disease.   Scurvy causes blackened skin, ulcers, rictus, loss of teeth, respiratory problems, and abnormal gum growths that quickly rot.   Oddly, only primates and guinea pigs are susceptible, as other animals can synthesize Vitamin C.   The introduction of limes to sailors’ diets in the Royal Navy is believed to be the derivation of “limey”, the American pejorative name for a British person.  

Page 15. " Madre de Deus "
by hector
A Portuguese Carrack (by Brueghel)
Public DomainA Portuguese Carrack by Brueghel
The Madre de Deus was the archetypal treasure galleon.  The 165ft Portuguese carrack had seven decks and 700 crew.   To get an idea of the scale of this fat, squat ship, consider her weight: at 1,600 tonnes, fully laden, she was as heavy as ten adult blue whales or a hundred London double-decker buses.   She was three times the size of any English ship of the time.   It took twelve men to shift her huge rudder.   The battle between the English privateers and the carrack was not so “brief” as Sobel suggests: three hours of vicious fighting left the decks covered in dead and mutilated bodies.   More chaos ensued when the ship was brought into Dartmouth Harbour and left largely unguarded.   Local sailors and fishermen promptly looted part of the treasure before Sir Walter Raleigh arrived from London to put a stop to it.   The account given in this blog (see February 11 2008) is extraordinary.


Page 16. " Samuel Pepys "
by hector

Samuel Pepys
Public DomainSamuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys was an English diarist and MP (1633-1703), most famous for his record of the Great Fire of London.   Although he lacked maritime experience, Pepys was also a naval administrator who reached the rank of Chief Secretary to the Admiralty.   His voyage to Tangiers in 1683 was in fact an evacuation mission prior to the abandonment of the short-lived English colony which he had helped found there.

Page 17. " aboard H.M.S. Centurion "
by hector

HMS Centurion (left) capturing the Covadonga
Public DomainHMS Centurion (left) capturing the Covadonga
Commissioned in 1734, the Centurion was a 60-gun ship of the line.   She was the flagship of a squadron sent to capture Manila from the Spanish in 1740.   Despite the difficult voyage described in the text, she successfully harassed Spanish interests in the Pacific and captured a number of Spanish ships, including the galleon Nuestra Senora de la Covadonga.   The Centurion was the only ship of the squadron to make it back to England.

Page 17. " Commodore George Anson "
by hector

George Anson
Public DomainGeorge Anson
Admiral, MP, and later Baron, George Anson (1697-1762) became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1757, though he was best known for the circumnavigation of the globe which cost his squadron so many lives.

Anson’s Voyage Round the World by Richard Walter

Page 18. " Juan Fernandez Island "
by hector

Juan Fernandez Islands
Public DomainJuan Fernandez Islands
There are in fact several islands in this volcanic group , most notably Robinson Crusoe Island , 670km off the coast of Chile and home to 600 people.


Page 20. " dead and gone "
by hector

It was even worse for the rest of the fleet.   Only 188 of the original 1854 sailors survived.

Page 23. " German astronomer Johannes Werner "
by hector

Johannes Werner
Public DomainJohannes Werner
Johannes Werner (1468-1522) was a German priest and mathematician who lived in Nuremberg at a time when it was an imperial free city and centre of great artistry, craftsmanship and learning.   Wagner’s Mastersingers of Nuremberg celebrates this time of Renaissance flourishing.   Werner translated Ptolemy’s Geography and made the first regular meteorological observations in Germany.

Page 24. " Galileo Galilei "
by hector

Public DomainGalileo
 Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de' Galilei (1564-1642), an Italian mathematician, is considered the father of science and modern astronomy.   As well as discovering the moons of Jupiter, he developed the laws of motion and improved the design of the compass and the telescope.   Galileo was the first to explain that in the absence of air resistance a feather would fall to earth as fast as a stone.   He clashed with the Roman Catholic church over the question of Copernican astronomy, arguing in favour of a sun-centred universe as opposed to the earth-centred model traditionally espoused.   Accused of heresy, he was placed under house arrest for much of the remainder of his life.

Page 24. " the Medicean stars "
by hector

The Galilean Moons
Public DomainThe Galilean Moons - Credit: NASA
The Galilean moons are the four largest of the 63 confirmed Jovian moons.   When Galileo discovered them in 1610, they were the first objects known to orbit a body other than the Earth or Sun.   They are named after lovers of Jupiter/Zeus: Io, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.

Page 25. " timetables of astronomical movements "
by hector

An Ephemeris
Public DomainAn Ephemeris
An ephemeris is an astronomical almanac which accurately predicts the future positions of planetary bodies for many years. Ephemerides are also used by astrologers.

Page 25. " King Philip "
by hector

Philip III of Spain
Public DomainPhilip III of Spain
 Philip III (1578-1621) was son to the all-powerful Philip II who ruled over the expansion of Spain’s empire and sent the Armada to England.   Felipe III was a far weaker King, and left most of the business of government to his chief minister, the Duke of Lerma.