Famous Maritime Explorers and Epic Sea Journeys

Many of history’s most famous and influential characters made their impact on the world from the decks of their ships. When exploring today’s world it is worth remembering these intrepid individuals who helped find new lands and cultures, established trade routes and helped shape the world as we know it.

Sir Francis Drake

Having spent most of his life at sea, the 16th century English explorer Sir Francis Drake undertook an expedition to circumnavigate the world. The journey lasted him from 1577 until 1580.

On his return, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Apart from his global travels of exploration, Drake spent much of his time in the Elizabethan era searching for Spanish ships, and as vice admiral he was second in command of the English fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus is known for his discovery of the ‘New World’ during his series of voyages which started in 1492 while searching for an alternate trading route to India.

Columbus captained the Santa Maria, while two other ships, the NiƱa and the Pinta, flanked his four journeys to the Caribbean and South America over the 12 years that followed.

The Italian explorer is still celebrated today as the discoverer of America, while it was actually named in honour of Italian cartographer, Amerigo Vespucci, who essentially convinced the powers that be at the time that it was a new continent, and not part of India.

Marco Polo

This 13th century Venetian trader travelled to many parts of the world, but is best known for his exploration of China and Mongolia from Europe, his travel writings and his association with Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan.

In fact, it was his writings about the East’s riches that inspired Columbus to try and find a western passage.

Sir Richard Hawkins

This 17th century Elizabethan explorer received fame for his travels to South America and his service for the Queen against the Portuguese and the Spanish Armada.

Hawkins’ ship, the Dainty, was attacked en route to Brazil in 1597 in the Bay of Atacames by six ships. The battle lasted for three days until finally Hawkins was defeated and imprisoned in Spain, but six years later he was allowed to return to England where he was knighted.

Samuel de Champlain

The French sailor from Brouage spent much of his time exploring North America and investigating the French culture in Canada, or “New France”. The founder of Quebec, de Champlain is also known for creating trade relations with America.

Bartholomew Diaz

Bartholomew Diaz, the 16th century Portuguese explorer, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope which he named “Cape of Storms” in 1488 while trying to find a route to Asia.

But it wasn’t until fellow Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama set sail in 1497 that a trade post was set up in India, and one of the most important spice routes in history was established.

These men greatly defined our world today, and their legacies still remain on the waters that made them famous. When travelling these routes, one must not forget their past or those who wrote history upon them.

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