Impacts of Maury’s Navigation Charts on Sailing Time, 1850s

Impacts of Maurys Navigation Charts on Sailing Time 1850s

Source: Leighly, J. (ed) (1963) The Physical Geography of the Sea and its Meteorology by Matthew Fontaine Maury, 8th Edition, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. Cited by Knowles, R.D. (2006) “Transport shaping space: the differential collapse of time/space”, Journal of Transport Geography, 14(6), pp. 407-425.

The navigator Matthew Fontaine Maury collected between 1842 and 1861 an extensive array of ship logs, enabling him to chart prevailing winds and sea currents, as well as their seasonal variations. While mariners were well aware of specific regional conditions, such as the Gulf Stream, Maury was the first to comprehensively tally oceanographic conditions at the global level. Much of this information appeared in “The Physical Geography of the Sea”, published in 1855, considered the first significant oceanography textbook. Such knowledge allowed to substantially shorten the sailing time, especially over long distances. For instance, a journey from New York to Rio de Janeiro was reduced by 32 days, without any technical improvements on the ship, but by simply taking better advantage of prevailing winds and sea currents. Maury also demonstrated that the longer eastbound sailing route rounding Cape Horn to sail from Australia to Europe or North America was faster than the shorter westbound sailing route rounding the Cape of Good Hope. The outcome was the creation of relatively well-defined navigation routes that followed dominant wind patterns. It represented a near-optimal use of routing for sailing, which would remain until replaced by steamships in the late 19th century.