by Capt. Murray Lister, Master, MV Cape York
Rich and Great American III have passed The Cape of Good Hope and are now on passage across the Southern Indian Ocean, not being known for its pleasant sailing. Great American III is sailing in the wake of hundreds of sailing vessels, these wakes created when the East Indies, China, India, Australia and New Zealand were opening up to European immigrants, predominately Dutch, Portuguese and British.
The Cape was transited by the Dutch as they were on their way to the Dutch East Indies (the Spice Islands), now known as Indonesia, and the capital Batavia, currently named Jakarta. As navigation in the early days of seafaring was quite rudimentary, with Latitude being somewhat easy to calculate, but Longitude being very hit and miss, the Dutch would round the Cape and ease their way North so, at a particular Latitude, about that of Perth, Australia, they would sail due East until making landfall on the West Coast of the great continent of Australia. They would then sail North until coming in contact with the Eastern islands of the East Indies thence follow the islands West until making Batavia.
With the Dutch influence, we can see why the South West Cape of Australia is named Cape Leeuwin, being Dutch for Lion. On some occasions, when landfall was made and with virtually no wind, the vessels were swept ashore by the currents and swell. The most famous case was the vessel Batavia, wrecked about the Dutch named Houtman Abrolhos Islands near the Australian port of Geraldton. Many persons were able to land safely on the islands, but in the ensuing months, a savage mutiny took place, with serious loss of life.
The Portuguese transiting the Cape of Good Hope had interests in the South West section of India, known as Goa with its port of Cochin as well as in an area near Hong Kong, China, named Macau.
By far the greatest number of vessels rounding the Cape were British, bringing settlers, immigrants and trade to Australia and New Zealand. While some of the Vendée Globe vessels will take just 35 to 40 days to reach Australia, these old vessels with up to 120 immigrants and 30 crew, took 90 or more days, in extremely wet, cold or hot and unsanitary conditions. Many of the passengers were women and children, some children actually being born onboard the vessels. Numbers of these vessels bound for Australia were also transporting prisoners who had been committed to one of the penal institutions for, in most cases, very minor crimes in Britain. Imprisonment was, in most cases, ‘for the term of his/her natural life’.
Over two hundred years later vessels out of Britain are still transiting the Cape of Good Hope and Southern Indian Ocean trading to Australia and New Zealand, one of which, in recent times, was the container ship New Zealand Pacific, which rescued Rich Wilson and Steve Petengill from the original Great American.