Riding the wave


While the pilot-books ("periploi") produced in the Mediterranean area from the classical era to the Middle Ages describe the coast from port to port, the first Nordic pilot-books give instructions for offshore sailing, from Scandinavia to Iceland and Greenland.

Though concise and devoid of references to the use of charts or compass, and therefore not illuminating about the navigation techniques, they are interesting as examples of early nautical instructions for navigation in the Atlantic.

The oldest example dates back to mid 1200 and belongs to the codex Valedemar, preserved in the Royal Library in Copenhagen and, like later manuscripts until the 15th century, gives indications of direction oriented to the sun or the Pole Star, while distances are measured by the time required to cover them.

The first pilot's book-atlas produced in the German area, for coastal sailing from Gibraltar to the North and Baltic Seas, dates back to the 16th century, just before an analogous English one.

Both are full of notes on currents, tides, depths, anchorages and routes, while an original element, compared to Mediterranean pilot books, is the appearance of maps, coastal views and plans of ports, either printed in the text, or in the form of loose drawings inserted between the pages or in bound volumes.

Among the oldest coastal profiles there is a sketch of the island of Gotland, in a Danish pilot-book published in 1568 by Laurens Benedicht publisher in Copenhagen, and perhaps derived from a archetype of different northern European origin, titled Sökartet Offner Oster - og Vester Söen, vdi huilcken mand finder paa det allerflittigste aff de beste Piloter optegnet oc beschreffuen all Söens leylighed oc skicklse. Alle Skippere, Styrmend oc andre, som bruge Sylatzen til vilie oc tieniste fordansket.

The book is kept at the National Library of Copenhagen and a manuscript of the same pilot book, attributed to the end of 1400, is located at the National Library in Stockholm. The sketch reproduced here is taken from AE Nordenskjold , ... Periplus, Stockholm 1897.

Sweden Gotland Island. L. Benedicht, 1568

In the Baltic maritime activity was monopolized, since the Middle Ages, the Hanseatic League, which in its heyday, gathered up to 164 cities and coastal mainland from Britain to Sweden to Russia, while Denmark controlled the traffic in the Sound through the imposition of duties levied on foreign ships.

However, in the second half of 1500, the North-European political landscape changed: England established itself as a maritime power and the English Muscovy Company's commercial relations with Russia through the city of Novgorod, a large international cargo hub between West North-East and Europe.

Scandinavia was united under the Swedish Crown from the Vasa dynasty that, in aiming at the control of trade with Russia, founded the city of Helsinki overlooking Reval, Tallinn today, and occupied Estonia, and the Dutch vied with the other powers control of the seas north-east.

In 1565 more than the '80% of traffic in the Baltic were made by their vessels, and this explains why almost all of the time local pilot books were produced in the Netherlands: Cornelis van Anthonisz in 1543 compiled the first known map of the Baltic, followed atlases, pilot books of LJ Waghenaer and then the vast output of Blaeu . However, in the second half of the seventeenth century, Sweden regained control of the Baltic, precluding gradually and Dutch ships, having annexed Estonia, occupied the German coast, while reorganizing and strengthening its fleet.

It will take pilot books and charts updated, replacing the Dutch production: the task was entrusted in 1644 to Johan Månsson - already captain of the royal fleet - which compiled a portolano that even in 112 pages describing over 600 calls in the southern Baltic and in the Gulf of Finland, did not provide information on the Gulf of Bothnia or included charts.

In that same gap Månsson Sopper publishing a paper in the Baltic, however, could not compete with the Dutch cartography. His pilot's book - even though it follows that the prototypes produced in the Netherlands, was innovative in the description of the basin between Wismar, Stockholm and Frisches - updated editions were published in the other Nordic countries until mid-1700.

After his death - in 1659 - the continued importance of the Baltic basin, according to the instructions of the Admiralty Swedish, but was entrusted to private operators until the nineteenth century.

In 1679 Werner von Rosenfeldt, by virtue of his long experience in navigation, assumed responsibility for hydrographic operations with a mandate to train the commanders of the fleet and to produce a chart of the Baltic. To this end he asked the cooperation of the surveyor surveyor-Petter Gedda that, in 1695, produced a manuscript atlas, complete with nautical instructions, with 34 cards from the coast of Blekinge to Norway, now preserved at the Naval Museum, Karlskrona .

Wismar (detail). Werner von Rosenfeldt, 1658
( Norrkoping, Sjökartevdelningen )

Karlskrona was founded in 1687 an Office for navigation, while Rosenfeldt published in 1693 a handbook of boating, or Navigationen Styrmans Eller - Konsten Til Ungdomens Nytta Kongl wed. Ammiralitet, accompanied by the first card based on surveys of the Baltic original Swedish.

In 1695 he was finally given to the press the first major national marine atlas - the General Hydrographisk Chart-Book öfwer Östersiön och Katte-gat, also published in Dutch and English, together with 10 cards, including two in Mercator projection. Two years after the Dutch engraver A. de Winter and publisher Johannes Loots they released a version under the title Het Nieu en compleet Paskaart Boek van de Noord en Oost See - dedicated to the King of Denmark - which even then recognized as plagiarism and then confiscated spread, however, and was also bought by van Keulen that partially reused for its atlas.

However, in 1699 said Rosenfeldt published a new atlas updated and corrected, in 12 sheets, which was republished after his death in 1710. At that time the Swedish cartography was so popular in the Baltic, the Tsar Peter the Great in 1714 ordered a makeover in 16 papers, nearly all derived from the original in Jeddah, and Rosenfeldt, and republished several times until 1723.

But with the passage of time we felt the need for more updated maps, the political situation in Sweden is not possible to achieve. Nevertheless Nils Strömcrona published in 1739, a collection of general maps and local whole Baltic Sea that included some of the new Finnish waters, entitled General och hela åtskilliga special paschartor öfver Östersjön.

Although not innovative, that job received the admiration of the Russians in those areas that place a systematic hydrographic activities since 1719, and in 1738 had published an atlas, largely based on maps of Jeddah.

In 1756 he released a second the whole Baltic region, called Atlas vsego Baltiskago Morja, based in part on the work of Nils Strömcrona: the work was reissued several times by the end of the century and, in turn, provided the foundations for the work subsequently undertaken by Sweden basin.

Meanwhile geodetic observations of A. Celsius, a professor of astronomy at Uppsala University, had awakened the interest of the scientific world towards cartography in general, with particular reference to the determination of polar flattening.

Simultaneously the Russian occupation of Finland in 1742-43, where one part had produced charts of those seas, the other side showed the urgent need to renew the hydrographic surveys in what was a potential theater of war.

Thus in 1772 Johan Nordenkar - after a long apprenticeship in the British Navy - was placed in charge Ente cartographic and Swedish, with the help of Erik Klint, began the triangulation of the southern Swedish coast, with the goal of producing a new nautical atlas Baltic, which was published in 1785-90 in 12 sheets.

In 1798 the Office's management was assumed by Gustaf Klint, son Erik who, in later years, began the systematic study of the southern coast of Sweden and Finland. Subsequently assigned to command the fleet, extended this to hydrographic Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Black Sea, publishing - by 1820 - some forty papers, accompanied by five pilot books that were translated into other northern European languages.

At his death the business was continued by his son Erik Gustaf, who continued the publication of papers under the title of Sveriges Sjöatlas, having received from the King exclusive rights to cartographic production, so the family Klint exercised a virtual monopoly in the sector, over three generations.

In 1848, at the end of that contract, the responsibility for hydrographic and cartographic was taken entirely from the Hydrographic Royal Corps - founded in 1809 - which in 1871 was replaced by Kongl Sjökarteverket or the Swedish Hydrographic Service, an official from the Navy.

Paola Presciuttini