Mankind: The Story of All of Us
























































Uncharted Waters (Part 1: Bartolomeu Dias)

1488—Bartolomeu Dias rounds the Cape of Good Hope.

Thirty years after the fall of Constantinople, a ship heads into a storm off the coast of West Africa. In command, Bartolomeu Dias is a wealthy nobleman, an expert seaman, and a risk taker.

Dias is looking to trade directly with the East, bypassing Islamic Constantinople. He sails south, seeking a route around Africa, attempting to chart a new naval superhighway through some of earth’s most deadly waters.

The boats are difficult to navigate, their navigational tools are crude, and yet people board ships and sail across oceans. One in 20 ships will be lost to the sea.

Dias heads into a violent storm. He has been using the coast to navigate, but now his guide becomes his enemy, since being near the shore means being driven into the rocks.

Bartolomeu Dias was the first European explorer to reach the southern tip of Africa.


They face a shipwreck in this violent storm. Dias has to keep his wits about him and make a terrifying choice. He heads out into the Atlantic Ocean, a vast unknown. He risks everything. If he can’t find his way back to shore all is lost.

He lowers the ship’s square sails and puts his faith in revolutionary new technology: the triangular lateen sail.

The sail acts almost like a wing. It actually develops lift much like an airplane’s wing, and if you had a strong rudder able to steer the ship towards the wind, it transmits all that energy into forward motion.

Dias survives the storm, but out of sight of land, he sails uncharted waters. Food and water are running low. His maps are useless. He’s lost.

Portuguese sailors used a ship called a caravel. It had three masts and a lateen, or triangular, sail. The lateen sail allowed the caravel to sail against the wind.

A force deep beneath the sea shapes his destiny: a gyre.

A gyre is a vortex of wind and currents that powers around the South Atlantic, driven by the spinning earth.

It’s like giant conveyor belt and the South Atlantic gyre slingshots Dias and his crew around the southern tip of Africa into the Indian Ocean.

Dias claims the land in the name of God and Country: the Cape of Good Hope. He’s opened a new trade route, bypassing the Spice Road and Constantinople entirely, a direct passage to India. It will become one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

When Dias reached the southern tip of Africa, he named it the Cape of Good Hope.

Check your understanding:

1. Why is Bartolomeu Dias famous?

2. What is the advantage of a lateen sail?

3. What was Dias trying to find?