26 July 2011 18:25
Nuno™ Navigator is named after the 15th century Portuguese explorer Nuno Tristão. This Nuno was one of Prince Henry’s most valued and trusted captains. And this Henry was none other than Henry the Navigator, arguably one of the fathers of modern navigation.
Nuno is notable for his explorations of the West African coast which helped established Portugal as a leader in the emerging colonial world. Previously no one had attempted to venture out to this region which had been dubbed the Ocean of Darkness. Many terrifying myths surrounded it with claims that monsters swam in the seas and the overhead sun made the seawater boil. If a ship was lucky enough to survive these hazards it was only a matter of time before they would reach the edge of the flat world and plummet into the abyss. Nuno was only marginally perturbed by this but did realize he was going to need a good ship.
Typically the vessels used for long voyages were slow, heavy and not very maneuverable. This was no good. Nuno wanted an agile boat that could sail up rivers. Fortunately Henry stepped in with his newly designed Caravel sporting a dashing lanteen rig. Later this type of ship would be used to discover America and become the exploration vessel of choice but first of all Nuno took a prototype to Africa.
His first trip was to Capo Branco. The furthest any European had been beyond Rio de Ouro and a significant step across the Ocean of Darkness. Now I should mention at this point that although Nuno was heroic in many ways that one of the reasons he was doing this at all was to catch slaves. This sort of thing was quite acceptable back then (or at least it was mostly acceptable by most people except the slaves) so we will try to not let it distract us from the good bits which are about navigation and exploration.
Nuno did three subsequent expeditions each time pushing further south and pushing the limits of exploration and navigation. Beyond Capo Blanco was the Bay of Arguin. On his third expedition he reached the border of Senegal and announced that he had discovered sub-Saharan Africa. With his fourth and final expedition in 1446 he got south of Cap Vert and may have discovered Guinea-Bissau. There is some debate about this. However, wherever it was that he actually rolled up, there were also a lot of poison arrow wielding locals. They justifiably took exception to the slave thing and promptly killed Nuno and his crew.
So bold, innovative, adventurous, pushing the limits of technology and a great navigator. We like all these things. Many years ago we named our professional navigation system after Henry the Navigator so it seemed appropriate that our next generation system should be called Nuno.
The Wikipedia article on Nuno is a bit dry but informative.
These days Nuno has a couple of statues to his credit. A naval frigate was named after him and he has appeared on Portuguese coins and bank notes. My favorite is this article explaining how an abandoned statue of Nuno was found after the war in Guinea-Bissau and moved into the city. I will visit this one day and in the meantime can anyone send me a photo of it that I could post here?