061009.Bristol, Happy Columbus Day from John Cabot’s 1497 “Matthew”

October 17, 2006 at 8:48 PM | Posted in Bristol, Overcast, Ships, somerset, towns, Waterfront | 4 Comments

 Happy Columbus Day!
Born in 1450 Genoa as Giovanni Caboto, this contemporary of Columbus could have had today’s national holiday named after him if the English Bristol merchants had been quicker with the funding. Like Columbus, Caboto shopped around for investors when Columbus was able to woo the Spanish crown. By the time Caboto finally got funding, several other countries had already sent ships to the New World and Caboto’s discovery options were limited. Blame it on his ESL, all Caboto was able to “discover” and creatively christen was Newfoundland. He himself was renamed and remembered in history as John Cabot, so the English claim to America would be less indebted to Italy.

Note Bristol Cathedral’s three towers in the upper left background. This ship’s construction began in 1994 and was finished in 1996. It set sail from Bristol to Newfoundland on 2 May 1997 on the exact 500th anniversary of Cabot’s voyage. (It’s debated whether it was 2 May or 20 May 1497). The modern voyage ran into a storm and didn’t beat Cabot’s record but it still made it.

Above photos from left to right: 061003.183., 061003.185. The hanging round plate that looks like a compass was a time peg board used to mark off the half hours to judge distance. The crew member telling me about this also told me about sailor’s eyepatches. Apparently, the stereotyped sailor eyepatch didn’t cover a blind or missing eye, it covered the good eye. In a pre-compass world, the uncovered eye was used to stare at the sun to take down coordinations and this eye would be the one that went blind. To prevent total blindness, sailors wore an eyepatch on their good eye. That’s smart thinking.


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