Vasco da Gama
3rd December 2015
Thought to have been born into a noble family in either 1460 or 1469, Vasco da Gama was one of the most integral explorers in establishing the Portuguese empire. Despite gaining an interest in sailing from a young age and studying mathematics and navigation, it is believed Vasco da Gama was an inexperienced explorer.
Whilst many Spanish explorers had already embarked on successful journeys westward to the American continent, the Portuguese were confined to only exploring the east. This move, known as the Treaty of Tordesillas, was taken by Pope Alexander VI in 1494 when he drew a border across the Atlantic that divided east and west. The Spanish were granted ownership over as yet undiscovered islands whilst the Portuguese had sovereignty over the eastern hemisphere.
Vasco da Gama was one of the first explorers to be sponsored by the Portuguese government on an expedition to discover a maritime route to eastern lands. It had only recently been discovered by Bartolomeu Dias, in 1487, that Africa had a southern tip and that both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans were linked.
It is not entirely known why da Gama was chosen but, nevertheless, he embarked on his exciting journey of discovery on July 8th, 1497, captaining four vessels including his own flagship, the 200-tonne St. Gabriel. He began by sailing south, almost as far as Brazil, in an attempt to take advantage of the prevailing winds.
This proved successful and, after several months of sailing, de Gama managed to round the Cape of Good Hope and begin sailing along the east coast of Africa. He stopped briefly in Mozambique and, despite offering the ruling sultan a range of modest gifts, was offended and turned da Gama away.
He eventually arrived in Calicut, India, where he received a warm welcome from the Hindu ruler. De Gama and his crew remained in India for three months, stocking their ships with various goods in the process. However, upon departing in August 1498, de Gama and his crew encountered fierce monsoon winds that resulted in a treacherous journey. One ship was burnt in a bid to economise the fleet and, after sailing a total of 24,000 miles, they finally returned to Portugal. Despite this success, only 54 of the original 170 crew members survived the journey.
Vasco da Gama received a hero’s welcome upon his return to Lisbon and it was soon realised, upon seeing the goods (including spices) brought back, the potential of this trade route. Subsequent journeys to India took a shorter amount of time and saw Portugal expand its empire along the east coast of Africa.
After settling down with his wife and six sons, he maintained contact with King Manuel as a personal advisor on Indian matters. King Manuel passed away shortly after, and the succeeding John III persuaded de Gama to return to India once again. In 1524, upon successful arrival, de Gama was named Portuguese Viceroy in India.
Whilst other cruise lines seek modern amenities and technological features, Star Clippers remains true to a bygone era of tall ship sailing. Rather than embarking on as expedition lasting many months, you will be able to sit back and relax as you float tranquilly from one destination to the next.
From 2017, you will be able to experience Far East Asia for yourself with Star Clippers. Sailing between Singapore and Thailand, you can get a sense of how Vasco da Gama must have felt upon finally reaching India from Portugal. Additionally, Star Clippers also operate itineraries around the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Cuba and Panama Canal.