Friday, February 22, 2013

Beyond the Blue Horizon

I just finished a wonderful book, "Beyond the Blue Horizon: How the Earliest Mariners Unlocked the Secrets of the Oceans", by Brian Fagan. Fagan is an author of archaelogical books, a professor emeritus of Anthropology at UCSB in California, and an intrepid sailor, who has voyaged every ocean on the planet.

The premise of the book is the question of why do men go down to the sea in ships. For time in memorium, men have been venturing out in sea-going vessels from the most primitive dug out canoes and leather boats, to today's modern, nuclear miracles. But the question of why primitive man would have headed out to sea, not to neighboring islands seen to the naked eye, but past the horizon, to the unknown, the uncharted territory, is what Fagan explores.

The author says it goes way beyond the interest, curiosity or daring of wanting to know what's out there. In fact, he says, that with primitive man believing in monsters and wrathful gods out there somewhere, he hardly would want to confront the open water. Certainly trade and social engagement with neighboring societies fits the scenario for close-range sailing or paddling, but not for voyaging into the unknown.

He notes that little by little these ancient mariners learned the ways of navigation by stars, by currents and tides, by trade winds, handing down their expertise to their sons, and in turn their sons. Making one's way in the open ocean was a bit of a rite of passage. Of course, there is the Homer's Odyssey with Odysseus encountering the sea and all its blessings and curses. Later, Early Christian saints took on the passage to spread the Word, like St. Brendan.

In the 1400's, exploration, colonization and trade was the thing, but ships were better built and stocked and there was benefit of sextant and astrolabe. Full scale battles at sea have been recorded through history. In the 1500's the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the Elizabeth I's British fleet was on the grand scale, and of course, Lord Nelson's conquests at the Battle of the Nile and of Trafalgar are the stuff of legends.

But the initial question remains. Why did men go out in the first place? The answer is still a bit illusive, but those who do go are forever captivated.

See below a couple quotes regarding the sea, to ponder:

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. - Vincent Van Gogh

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides. - Jules Verne

By the way, one of my next books on the agenda is Jules Verne's "Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea". Perhaps Verne will shed some light on what's down there!!


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