Early Portuguese explorers
We rarely think about the Portuguese explorers these days, but tour guides
mention them every time they take people to Cape Point. We live beside a
body of water which was named by the Portuguese – False Bay. The story
behind it is straightforward – when the early Portuguese traders sailed on
their return journey from the Far East, they relied for navigation on highly
confidential pilot books called in English rutters (from the French routier),
which detailed the winds, depths, currents and landmarks all along the
journey. A special note was made regarding the Hangklip mountain; ‘This is
Cabo Falso, do not turn to starboard after passing this cape, you will sail into
a blind bay and have to work your way out again against the prevailing wind.
It is the False Cape. Continue instead to the next Cape a few leagues further
sailing and on passing that Cape and giving it a wide berth, turn to starboard
to reach Table Bay’. And from the False Cape we get False Bay. The False Cape
is now known as Cape Hangklip.
The Early Seafarers and their Rutters
The Portuguese under Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape in 1488 and Vasco
da Gama established the route to India ten years later. The Spice Trade got
underway, and for nearly a century the Portuguese held a monopoly. The
abundant riches that returned to Portugal were well known and envied by
others. The first English fleet to sail to the East made the attempt in 1591 and
the Dutch early trading companies (voorcompagnie) began their Far East
trading in 1594. What took them so long? They were a hundred years late. The

English and Dutch were capable long-distance sailors and just as hungry for
riches as the Portuguese. The problem for both groups of sailors was the
same; they had no sailing directions. The Portuguese rutters were carefully
guarded and never shown to a foreigner. The secret was eventually revealed
by a Dutchman, succinctly described thus by Wikipedia; “Perhaps the most
dramatic rutter was the 1595 Reysgheschrift by Dutch sailor Jan Huygen van
Linschoten. Having sailed to Asia aboard Portuguese ships, Linschoten
publicized the sailing directions to the East Indies that had been assiduously
kept secret by the Portuguese for nearly a century. The publication of
Linschoten’s rutter was an explosive sensation, and launched the race by a
myriad of Dutch and English companies for the East Indies in its aftermath.”
The story was well illustrated by James Clavell in his book Shōgun.

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