The Sea Chart


It is a great pity that the economics of publishing price this book at £30 because the price will make it difficult for many young people to read it other than through the dwindling band of under-funded public libraries. In his foreword, HRH The Duke of York makes the point that the excellent charts we take for granted today are the result of centuries of effort, at no small cost, by generations of cartographers and navigators. Today, we can purchase at remarkably little cost high quality charts and maps, together with pilots and guides to navigation. Once we have those charts, we can update them using Notices to Mariners. Increasingly, sailors use computer-based charts and pilots that include high quality colour photographs of coastlines. Once we have the information on CD, or DVD, we can take update services to ensure that all information is as accurate as the latest surveys and notices can make them. With all of these technologies to hand at reasonable prices, it is easy to forget that most of this knowledge has been acquired painfully over the last six hundred years. Sea charts have been in existence much longer than that, but the flowering of navigational skills began with the Italian merchant-venturers of the Thirteenth Century, the great Portuguese navigators of the Fifteenth Century, followed by Spanish, English, French and Dutch sailors, with the English introducing most of the critical instruments of navigation and stamping their authority by taking the measurements from Point Zero at Greenwich. Navigators had to be shrewd observers, artists and mathematicians. Early ‘pilots’ were closely guarded secrets and were detailed diaries observing conditions and important features during each voyage. The navigator, or sailing master, would note the colour of the water, draw sketches of coastlines, adding charts of harbours and sea charts. John Blake tells this enthralling story very well, using a chronological and geographic framework