Can you imagine trying to convince 200 people to follow you blindly half way around the world? Well, that is exactly what Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias had to do in 1488.
Fast forwarding 500 years later, Manuel Mendes decided to recreate this historic voyage by himself in 1988. This bearded man as regal as king Neptune himself tells us the story.
“The Portuguese community decided to do something about the date, so we decided to build an original replica of the Caravel. We decided to build it in Vila do Conde in Portugual,” Mendes said.
No detail was spared except for the fact that this ship had a motor which was compulsory to comply with safety regulations.
“I sailed alone from Mossel Bay in 1987 and took the tiller with to steer the ship. I took a six meter boat and had to cut the tiller in 2 as the tiller was 9.2 meters in length,” he continued.
Mendes took the same route back to Portugal as Dias did half a millennium before him. The trip took 98 days with 72 of those days being none-stop sailing days. Even though Mendes’ boat did have a small motor, the entire journey was done via windsailing.
“I took the tiller and invited the Portuguese president to come to South Africa for the commemoration and he came,” Mendes said enthusiastically.
Mendes did not come back home on the replica of the Caravel but it was sailed by a crew of 22 individuals. Half being South African and half Portuguese under the leadership of captain Emilio de Sousa. The crew arrived in Mossel Bay in February 1988, the same month Dias did.
“Dias didn’t know what was in front of him, every mile was a discovery. He had gone into uncharted territory. He came with 7 ships, with a crew of 200 and left them in strategic positions containing resources he would need. People then thought the world was flat and that made them scared to go further. He was an incredible leader and adventurer, for me as a sailor and boat builder it was important to commemorate this man,” Mendes said.
Mendes added that he took a small boat to make the journey more challenging and only carried a watch and sestanteto guide him despite the availability of GPS (Global Positioning System).
Today the Caravel replica stands in the museum in Mossel Bay, displayed in all her glory for the public to see the spirit of Dias personified in a single vessel.