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Les nouvelles méthodes de navigation durant le Moyen Age

Abstract : New navigational methods during the Middle Ages.A sailing vessel is pushed forwards by the wind in the general direction towards it is blowing. Navigation should comply with strategic goals: i.e. the choice of a route to a port of destination, taking into account this wind constraint. A tactical aspect is involved when following this route and checking, the entire voyage long, the good guidance of the ship. 1-In the first ages of navigation, the mariner is referring to the sole element at his disposal: the wind. It gives him elements for the direction to choose, if it is a convenient time for sailing and also it supplies the means of checking and controlling the course of the ship, by observation of the marks it is printing on the surface of the sea. Variable wind is the limit of this method. In this case, only sky observation can give an indication of the direction to follow.2- The finding of the magnetic needle solves this problem and from this new tool, a new navigation method is implemented, around the end of the XIII.th century. Dead reckoning is a way to determinate ship’s position at any moment, using a vector analysis for solving graphically the problems that checking the chosen course can induce. This graphical method is using the compass indications and needs necessarily using a marine chart. The main problem of dead reckoning is that, using present data to reckon future positions , any error in assessing these data supposes an uncertainty in this position. Correction of the route is necessary by verifying with actual land falls. Longer the voyage without such confrontation and bigger the uncertainty zone to be faced.3-In the beginning of the XV.th century, Portuguese mariners started to run the open ocean. They had to follow the wind which runs along a long loop across the ocean, la volta. Therefore running in the open seas, without any land to be seen, in order to check the actual position, obliged mariners to elaborate new methods based on astronomical observations in order to reduce the size of this uncertainty zone, when arriving to the landing point. A first method is based on the observation of the pole star depth; between the years 1433 to 1480. It is based on observation of the pole star depth. Analysis of C. Columbus nautical art shows similarities with the written work of Ibn Majid, his contemporaneous Arab nautical expert. Crossing the equator line made the polar star not available any more. Therefore, the method had to be changed and the second method involved sun observations. This is more complex as the sun data are changing every day. Therefore mariners had to reckon the latitude, using the observations of the meridian line and using of sun data tables: the so called regimentos do sol. Through this method Vasco da Gama was able to reach the Indian Ocean after passing the Cape of Good Hope. This closes the period of this study.The conclusion should take into account the fact that these astronomical methods were not entirely empiric but the result of a joint research of users, mariners and scientists. This endeavor was made possible because a central power, the Infant first , then King Joao II, were willing to proceed more south and gave their mariners the technical means to do so.A second conclusion observes that progress of navigation were accompanied by parallels progresses in naval construction and maritime new contracts and ways of handling commercial matters. There are surely interactions between these three domains, but we have still to put them into evidence.
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Michel Com'Nougue. Les nouvelles méthodes de navigation durant le Moyen Age. Autre. Conservatoire national des arts et metiers - CNAM, 2012. Français. ⟨NNT : 2012CNAM0852⟩. ⟨tel-00819271⟩

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