Why Columbus did not need a satnav on board

By Trevor Laffan

I HAVE travelled a bit, and I am lucky to have seen some wonderful places in my time. I have no fear when it comes to broadening my horizons, not unlike Christopher Columbus, I suppose.

The main difference between me and Christy is that I can’t find things, while he was fairly good at that. I probably wouldn’t have made a great explorer, and I’ll tell you why.

In 1492, Columbus left Spain in the Santa Maria, along with the Pinta and the Niña, to do some exploring. On his way, he arrived at a little island called La Gomera, off Tenerife, and this was the last port of call on his voyage, which led to the discovery of America.

Columbus had intended to reach India using a new route. He also led expeditions to Africa, the Canary Islands, the Middle East, India and China. No bother to him.

La Gomera’s bay was considered the best of all those in the Canary Islands, as well as being the safest. And Columbus was aware of this.

On La Gomera, he found all the supplies and drinking water he needed to supply his ships and sailors. The friendly inhabitants and the agreeable climate also suited Columbus, who visited the island on a few occasions.

According to tradition, Columbus was known to say a prayer at the Church of the Assumption. And next to this, just up the street, is the so-called house of Columbus, which, presumably, he used as a base when he was there.

Having found myself on that same island recently, and having a little bit of interest in Christy as a fellow traveller, I set out to find this “House of Columbus”.

It is next to the church, I was told. Can’t miss it! I found the church but couldn’t find the house. So, I called to a little tourist information centre and spoke with a lady, who directed me to a white house just up the street from the church.

But it was closed that day. No problem, I just wanted to see it from the outside, anyway.

Off I went with my little map and my new directions, and I walked up and down the street but could not find a white house … or any other house, for that matter, which made any reference to Columbus.

Then I noticed some other people studying their little coloured maps. They, too, were walking up and down, so I didn’t feel completely stupid.

As I was wandering around aimlessly in the heat, I began to wonder how much Christy and I really had in common after all.

He could circumnavigate the world and find his way back home again with very little help. On the other hand, I couldn’t find his house on a small street on a tiny island, even with my little map.

So, I did what I always do when the going gets tough: I gave up! And I now know that I could never be an explorer.

It must have taken a huge amount of skill and courage to be able to achieve what he did back in those times. He had no idea what he would encounter on those travels, or what dangers lay in wait for him.

When he left home for work in the morning, he didn’t finish at five and head home again. He was gone for months, and maybe even years. There wasn’t much point in the wife asking him to collect a pint of milk on the way home from work.

Now, travelling has become a lot easier with the introduction of Satellite Navigation, which is based on a whole bunch of satellites that transmit radio signals back and forth.

The basic GPS service provides users with approximately 7.8-metre accuracy, 95% of the time, anywhere on or near the surface of the earth.

It’s complicated stuff, but it works. And we can only imagine what Columbus could have achieved if he’d had access to a satnav system. Or maybe not.

Because we have these systems in our cars, too, you would imagine there would be no reason for us to get lost any more.

But that’s not always the case, and it’s important to use other indicators as well as the satnav. Things like road markings, warning signs and information signs still have a part to play.

Two British pensioners landed in a hospital in southern Germany after their car’s global positioning system directed them to drive into a church.

While driving their Renault in the evening, on a back road near the Austrian border, the navigation system instructed the couple to turn right where there was no road.

They were confused. and the 76-year-old driver crashed into the side of the village church, virtually writing off the car, knocking a picture off the wall inside and damaging the building’s foundations.

Total damages were some 25,000 euros. The couple, who were travelling to France, spent the evening in hospital, recuperating from minor injuries

On another occasion, a woman in Massachusetts drove her car into a bunker on a golf course. Of course, it was not her fault. Her car’s malfunctioning GPS navigational system was to blame.

Her GPS instructed her to turn left, and this brought her into a “cornfield”. And, once in the “cornfield”, she kept driving, trying to get out. She was, in fact, on a golf course, and she ended up in a bunker.

Maybe Christy was better off without one of those things after all.

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Posted by on May 5 2017. Filed under Travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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