Columbus Day

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…”  Childhood rhyme. 

It was the 15th century and educated people knew the world was a sphere.  As early as 600 BC the idea was known. Columbus knew the world was round, but the values he had for the circumference were cockeyed wrong.  Throw in poorly known estimates of the distance from Europe to Asia and Columbus was dead, operative word, dead wrong.  

Chris thought the world was only 18,800 miles in circumference as compared to our modern measurements of 24,900 miles, a 24% error.  After subtracting the distance from Spain to Asia, Chris had what he thought was a sailable distance to the Far East.  Good thing he was lucky, there was a continent in the way of his ship, or they never would have made it.

Europe had a land trade route to the Far East.  It was long, difficult, and expensive.  Even then shipping by boat was cheaper.  There were gilders to make if you could find a fast way to and from the Far East.

Why the interest?  Spices, silks, art, commerce, all of which brought enormous profits if you could get them to the right market.  (Note to time travelers, if you’re planning a vacation to the 15th century, besides the antibiotics and water purifiers, pack spices and steel knifes.  You could live quite well on the profits of a couple pounds of ground pepper or cinnamon sticks if the tachyon time bubble fails to start up one morning and you can’t find a quantum mechanic around.)

Columbus sailed at the right time.  By 1500 Guttenberg’s printing press was such a success it was estimated that presses had printed 20 million books in Europe.  Within 100 years that number rose to 150 to 200 million books!  

Columbus was riding the printing press to success.  His trip started the idea of a “New Land” and opened up a new world of resources and opportunity to tired Europe.  Even by 1492 much of Europe’s easy to use resources were heavily cultivated.

Columbus is also the butt of political jokes.  You can use any set up you like but the punch line is:
He didn’t know where he was going, didn’t know where he was when he got there and he did it with tax payer money.

Literary fiction of alternate timelines is in vogue now.  What if Columbus hadn’t sailed?  Instead, you might suppose, he had correct figures and he deemed the resulting voyage too dangerous?  I suspect very little would have changed.  Ten or thirty years later maritime technology would have improved enough to warrant a gamble.  We might be celebrating Borgsten Day instead. 

Is there a tactical point to all this?

Columbus wasn’t some boob who stumbled into Spain royal court, conned his way into three ships and depended on a lucky rabbit’s foot.  He had a plan, admittedly poor information, but he was a sailor who understood the winds and ocean and could lead men.  That’s the tactical content.

It’s isn’t about a lucky bullet or hot new gun.  It’s about skill with the weapon, having a plan and the ability to improvise if things aren’t working right.  It’s about staying up to date with technique, the law, training and better solutions to old problems.  It’s also a reminder that we don’t always have the all the information or that it’s even right.

Just something to think about, isn’t it.

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