The European golden age of shipping began when it was finally accepted that the world was not flat and that the globe could be divided into horizontal lines of latitude – a massive aid to sailors as they navigated uncharted waters.
The Portuguese – the greatest sea power of the time - were the first to fully realise and exploit the science of latitude in the 15th century and the line of zero latitude was calculated from Portugal’s Madeira Islands.
Both Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Gama had set off on voyages of discovery to India and the Americas by the end of the 15th century and the rest of Europe raced to catch up.
Sir Francis Drake had circumnavigated the globe in England’s name by the latter half of the 16th century and his country began her long rise to prominence as the world’s primary marine power.
A reliable sea-clock, or chronometer, had finally been developed by the Englishman John Harrison by the mid 18th century. Captain James Cook was then able to set out on his missions to explore the Southern hemisphere, mapping the coastline of Australia, New Zealand and much of the Pacific as a result.
During these four centuries of rapid change, the art of ship-building moved on apace and complicated multiple sail technology coupled with stern rudders and stronger frames to create sturdy and fast sea-going vessels that could chart great distances.