H is for Honfleur

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

My 2017 A to Z Challenge theme is “The History of Kanata”, the parallel world that is the setting for “Eagle Passage, my alternative history novel that all began when I wondered, “What would have happened if Leif Eriksson had settled Vinland permanently in 1000 AD? For further details and links to my other A to Z posts – and hints at the ones to come visit “Kanata – A to Z Challenge 2017”.

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H is for Honfleur: 1228 -Wischard Snekker, a shipbuilder, is waterproofing the clinker hull of his latest vessel in the old harbour of Honfleur. A passing stranger remarks in Norman French that it resembles an extended knarr, and he asks what its use will be. When they introduce themselves, they realise their common heritage – as Norwegian Vikings, so speaking in Norwegian, they discuss Wischard’s dream of a ship that can navigate the Great Sea [the Atlantic] with substantial cargo and yet manoeuvre easily and defend itself. The stranger is Keme Migisi, a merchant explorer from distant Kanata, and he shows his new friend sketches of craft that he has observed navigating the Mediterranean and the coastal areas of the Atlantic. He even arrived on a lateen-rigged ship that the Albion fleet obtained in Gascony. Together they design a three-masted ship with the traditional square sail of the Viking ships, plus a foresail and a triangular lateen mizzen, as well as oars for navigating rivers. He will fund the building.

When asked about his Migisi name, Keme admits to family connections that give him access to developments at many European courts which are aiding the Norse connections that are holding Europe together. He values those contacts and they will support their project even though the design must remain a closely guarded secret until they reach Kanata. By spring1229, the Draken Havet Hersker sails laden with a cargo of horses, jewellery, silk, spices, bronze goods, tin ingots, and new settlers willing to brave the crossing and the wilds of Kanata.

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Honfleur, the old port – Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot  (circa 1824) commons.wikimedia.org

Our timeline: Wikipedia – “Until the 15th century, Europeans were limited to coastal navigation using the barge or the balinger (barinel), ancient cargo vessels of the Mediterranean Sea with a capacity of around 50 to 200 tons. These boats were fragile, with only one mast with a fixed square sail that could not overcome the navigational difficulties of southward oceanic exploration, as the strong windsshoals and strong ocean currents easily overwhelmed their abilities.

The caravel was developed in about 1451, based on existing fishing boats under the sponsorship of Henry the Navigator of Portugal, and soon became the preferred vessel for Portuguese explorers like Diogo CãoBartolomeu Dais or Gaspar and Miguel CorteReal, and by Christopher Columbus. … They were agile and easier to navigate than the barca and barinel, with a tonnage of 50 to 160 tons and 1 to 3 masts, with lateen triangular sails allowing beating.”

However, there was a Portuguese caravel in the English fleet that returned to Gascony in 1226. Yet it was over 200 years before the Age of Discovery began.  When the Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror, control of the overland trade routes to Cathay and the Far East changed and the Iberians looked to the possibility of finding sea routes east. The Scandinavians had also established trade routes from the Baltic down the river network to Constantinople. But by then, their Greenland colony was struggling and they looked to Europe for their survival.

The shipbuilding technology to cross the Atlantic existed in 1000 AD when Leif Eriksson reached Newfoundland. The additional technology that the Portuguese and Spanish applied 250 years later, existed well before that date. What would be the right motivation for the Scandinavians to apply their extensive shipbuilding skills to build their versions of caravels and explore further afield on the other side of the Atlantic?


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