Ben Oostdam story # 321



Spices and silk from China made their way to the Roman and Byzantine Empires from well before the beginning of the Christian Era till the early centuries of the Muslim Era when Mongols and Corsairs obstructed the caravans and caravels on the Silk Road and coastal waters.
Marco Polo traveled the endless Silk Road through vast deserts and forbidding mountain ranges and reached Kubal Khan in his capital Khanbaliq (now Beijng) in 1266.
Portuguese, Spaniards and Italians in the 1400's attempted ever expanding passages to the East and West Indies and established trading posts along the coasts.
Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope (1497) , visited East Africa, Persia, India and reached Calcutta in 1498.
Magellan's crew was the first to sail around the World rounding Cape Horn in 1520.

Barentz' boats
In the 1500's and early 1600's, the Dutch were at war with Spain and Portugal who impeded their voyages around Cape of Good Hope to the Indies. They looked for alternative passages to China and the East Indies through frigid Arctic waters of the Northeast Passage skirting thick floes of sea-ice. Willem Barentz made it as far as Nova Zemblaya in 1596/7.
Arctic Sea
(Nova Zemlaya in red)

One of the possible
Northwest passages

They hired the English Henry Hudson to attempt to find the Northwest Passage, during which Hudson successively sailed up the Chesapeake Bay, the 'Crystal River' (Delaware Bay), the Hudson River, the St Lawrence Seaway and finally the Hudson Bay where a mutinous crew abandoned him and his son in a lifeboat.

Winners of the
"Miss Northwest Passage"

Briefly after the discovery of oil in Alaska, an oil tanker, the s.s."Manhattan" was converted and provided with an icebreaker bow at Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock of in Chester, PA, then sailed the Northwest Passage twice to proof that oil could be shipped from Alaska directly to the East Coast. Although this venture was successful, apparently construction of the Alaskan Pipe Line was more economical.
In the meantime, the Russians have been using powerful icebreakers to use the Northwest passage for entire convoys of freighters to reach Vladivostok:
"Every year FESCO icebreakers patrol the Eastern Arctic and render ice lead to over 600 vessels delivering about 2 million tons of cargos."

"NSR"=Northern Sea Route - Icewatch

Recently - September, 2007 - satellite observations revealed that the Northwest Passage was ice-free for the first time since such observations started. This was decades earlier than had been predicted by scientists.
It should now just be a matter of time before an enterprising Chinese (... or other) shipping company takes the initiative and ventures out to ship Chinese goods directly to the US East coast, rather than using the present routine of unloading in some West coast port followed by train- or truck transport further inland!
This would be as spectacular a scene as the recent launching of a Chinese spacecraft for the Moon, and would be another marvelous adjunct to the highly touted 2008 Beijing Olympics!
It also would be a fitting commemoration of the spectacular early 1400's voyages by Vasco da Gama's predecessor-explorer of the Indian Ocean, the Chinese Muslim Admiral Zheng He.

Map showing Zheng He's voyages

stories - NGS news
(please click to enlarge)

Comparing Zheng He's ship
to that of Columbus

BLO fecit 20071027