1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

How would a traveler cross the sea?

Discussion in 'Research' started by TopHat, May 7, 2015.

  1. TopHat

    TopHat Minstrel

    I'm trying to look into this matter because I've reached a point in my story when my main character have to travel to another continent.

    How would a lone traveler cross an ocean in ancient time? Could he work his way over by joining a crew on a merchant ship or could he buy a "passanger place" on a ship?

    When I write ancient time I mean during both the medieval time 1100-1200 century and and the renaissance 1500 century.

  2. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    Most people of the time wouldn't be doing much traveling, but if they did, they would probably buy passage.
  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    Any knowledge I have is based on European history so as they say, your mileage may vary...
    Passenger or crew would both be possible if the journey was on a trade route.
    Merchant vessels were more like coastal craft that transoceanic ships so they might be more willing to take a longer journey around the edge of an ocean than a shorter one across it*. Even crossing the North Sea or Mediterranean was only a day or threes journey... and you knew you were going to hit land somewhere on the other side, so missing by 10-50-100 miles wasn't [much of] a problem.
    Most sailors weren't/aren't very adventurous when it comes to heading into the unknown, but if it was a journey that they knew [of] then just about anything is possible...
    If it was a leap off to the horizon [and the intendant falling off the edge of the world to a certain death and/or sea monsters] your traveller might have to hire/buy a ship and crew for the trip. And pay handsomely for it...

    * I was reading an article recently, that said even up to about 100 years ago, Traders [Egyptian, Arab and Indian] would hug the coastline between the Red Sea and India [around the Arabian peninsular and then down the coast of Persia] rather than sail across the Indian Ocean, which would have halved the distance, because it was safer for them to navigate. Then they learnt to identify where the steam ships were going and sort of followed them... Like they had with birds to find out-of-sight islands.
    Interesting idea and adaptation whether or not it's true.
  4. Russ

    Russ Istar

    For a moment I would going to say "they don't" when I saw the term ancient in your question. But now I see that you are talking 1100-1500.

    The real answer is "quite slowly and very carefully." COJ is quite right that during this period that almost all ships simply hugged the coastline due to lack of seaworthiness and navigation issues. Their might be some Viking or Chinese (who took fleets to Africa a looooooooooooong time before europeans did) but not many.

    I don't mean to sound like Bill Clinton, but what you mean by "ocean" is important to know. Crossing the med to get to the Holy Land was something you could do for money by 1100 or so, but not to North America. Even by 1500 big ocean crossings were more rare expeditions that regular commercial/passenger journeys.

    Joining a crew would be tough without a specific skill. Once you hit the industrial age any strong back can shovel coal etc, but before that sailors had significant skills that were hard to pick up. But if your MC is say a cook, or a physician, or has a useful skill than he might be able to work passage that way. Otherwise paid passage is your answer.
  5. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I don't think the OP's concerns relate so much to the history of nautical technology as to the history of booking trips. As in, what would the ancient/medieval equivalent of getting a plane ticket be?

    For my money, I don't see why a high fantasy setting, even a vaguely "pre-modern" one, couldn't have vessels (or vehicles for that matter) specialized for long-distance public transportation, with the captains and vessels profiting from customers' fares. Makes me wonder what the Greco-Roman galley equivalent to a cruise ship would be...
  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

    But how you get across an ocean requires understanding how big that ocean is and what technology is available and what opportunities it offers. If he just wanted to invent a fantastic way of crossing the ocean, I suspect he would and would not bother asking the question in reference to various historical periods or tech levels.

    In Greco-Roman times I don't think cruising was a hobby more a necessary evil. The weather and ocean scared the crap out of most people and pirates were thick on the water. Even Julius Caesar was taken and held hostage by pirates as a young man.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    As for booking a berth, we do have some information about that. By the 14thc, Venice was doing a regular business ferrying pilgrims to the Holy Land. You came into St Mark's Square where you would find tables set up. You paid and had your name entered for a particular ship. You could also hire a tour guide (for the city) to take you around, show you sights but also help you buy what you needed for the trip. All this was regulated by the city council.

    Because it was pilgrimage, there were also provisions for those too poor to afford the 60 ducats or so. There was a kind of common chest. You had to apply and get approved.

    At any rate, it could be done. Venice was, of course, quite a special case. If you were just trying to sail from Danzig to Copenhagen, you would simply find yourself a ship captain (who had final say in such matters) and work out a deal.

    To echo what others have said, ships tried to stay in sight of land. Even that trip to the Holy Land largely followed coast lines, except for the big jump from Crete to Jaffa roads.

    We still have Seebuechern (Sea Books). These were books that described how to sail from A to B. Basically they consisted of a listing of landmarks. Sail out the harbor and turn right. You'll see an island. Sail outside that then back toward the mainland. Just beyond are sandbars so stand out until you see a headland with this shape [drawing].

    And so on. Very detailed. The Sea Book was a navigator's treasure box, closely guarded. The Italian version was the portolano.

    I've sometimes thought of writing a story in which wizards had the equivalent--a book that describes how to navigate the treacherous currents of magic.
    Jabrosky and Russ like this.
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

    You should write that. I would buy it. :)
  9. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    I won't simply rehash what others have said. For me it would depend on methods of transport. If you have airships, use those. The jouney would likely ve safer than an ocean faring vessel. Or perhaps a magical doorway that takes you from A to B in a moment.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  10. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    It depends on what exists in your world. Are there passenger vessels? Does the character have skills so they can work for their passage. Do they know someone who could arrange passage on a ship for them? Do ships cross the ocean often and for what reasons?
  11. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    For me, I usually use passenger fares, because like others have said, it's unrealistic a captain will take a passenger and feed him for him to screw up stuff on the ship. You don't just get a guy off the pier and say, "Hey you, hold this rope and pull when I say so." Sailors had training. First they were young men who did the shit jobs, then they moved up with experience. Some were gunners, some ran cannonballs. If you're dealing with Medieval and Renaissance technology, I'd imagine most ships in use are either navy or trade. Ships didn't really move passengers until immigration became a thing. I mean, they weren't set up to move a bunch of passengers. Quarters were small and cramped and not comfortable. Passengers would have been few and likely didn't sail on what we think of now as a "ship" (picture the Dutch East India Company ones, right?). Ships became much more important in the 1600s and 1700s, when they reached their real impressiveness. If you're looking for comparables, check out what Columbus sailed in. I'd think that's probably the best thing you'd find for what might have passengers on an ocean voyage. Unless your ocean is more like the North Sea or something.

    Another thing about sailors, because I had to research this quite heavily for one of my books and turned up little in the early days of my research, is that they probably seem like an adventure-loving bunch, but many were simply poor and forced to find work in a dangerous industry. Ships went down. Storms were nasty and ships ran aground and many sailors died. When I wrote two men aboard a ship crossing a small ocean, I wrote them keeping to their quarters and trying to stay out of the way, because the sailors didn't have any desire to interact with passengers. They had a job to do: get those goods over to that place, and two passengers just happened to be part of the goods at that point.
  12. TopHat

    TopHat Minstrel

    I'm very happy to see so many people have answered in such short time! These answers are so valuable to me. The more references and historical information the better, since I know little to nothing about seatravel throughout history.

    The reason why I ask for these particulare timeperiods is because I have three main nations, each based on a culture and/or timeperiod. By doing so I thought it could provide me with more variation between the different people and culture-clashes which create more conflict and drama between the characters and the people.

    I'm planning on writing a summary of the nations here later on, to get some feedback, but in the meantime to make it easier for you guys to answer my questions, I'll write the nations strongest features.

    The south nation is called Emontra; based of Venice during the 1500 century. It's an empire with a strong religious presence that forbidds magic of any kind and their technology is heavely influented by Clockpunk (a setting that I've wanted to explore more). They are the most advanced nation when it comes to technology. During the empires uprising they had to fight of the native population on a daily basis so they have advanced a lot further in the military branch of technology.

    The north nation is called Dragheim, its culture, society and technology is heavely influented by Norse and nordic culture during the High middle ages (1000-1300) The nation is divided into counties, which are being ruled by barons and counts, all answering to a king. This people worship a variaty of spirits and gods and accepts magic as a natural force in nature. Magic users are few and spread out throughout the world but are known in this nation, because it's one of the few places where magic users are safe and accepted.

    The final nation in the east is Lerimia. Based of Athen during 480 bc-404 bc, with influences of Ancient Egypt. Both men and women are equal in this democratic society, with the only difference that women are the only ones who can wield magic. These women becomes priestesses and act as the mouthpiece of the gods. They are skilled seafarers, traders and craftsmen. Magic is accepted and used rarely by the priestesses, most part in defence of their country and to worship the gods.

    I think those are the most distinctive features of the nations, hope it helps.

Share This Page