Riding the wave


Eugene Rodriguez of the Neapolitan Navy - Cruise of the frigate "Urania" to the Empire of Brazil, 1844

An unusual report at the Library of the Italian Hydrographic Institute of the Navy, is the account of a trip to Brazil, carried out in 1844 by Captain Eugenio Rodriguez of the Neapolitan Navy, whose full title is,
Guida generale / della / navigazione per le coste settentrionali ed orientali / dell'America del Sul dal Rio della Plata al ParÓ accompagnata dalle descrizione / de' principali gruppi di Madera, delle Canarie, delle Azore e del Capo Verde, / delle isole / di Fernando Noronha, della TrinitÓ, del Penedo di San Pietro, e delle Bocche di Martino Vaz NELLA QUALE SI TRATTA / De' fenomeni pi¨ notevoli dell'Oceano Atlantico, de' Venti, delle Correnti, degli Uragani, del Mar di Sargasso, / dello Scoloramento delle Acque, del Miraglio, delle Nubi Magellaniche / della Temperaturae e della profonditÓ del Mare, aggiuntavi l'esposizione / DELLE CARTE DEI VENTI E DELLE CORRENTI DEL MAURY / NON CHE DE' BREVI CENNI / SU TALUNI DEGLI ANIMALI CHE S'INCONTRANO NELL'OCEANO, E SULLA IGIENE NAVALE OPERA CORREDATA / DI DISEGNI, TAVOLE, VEDUTE DE' PRINCIPALI ANCORAGGI, DELLE COSTE E DELLE ISOLE DELL'ATLANTICO / E D'UNA COLLEZIONE / delle migliori e pi¨ recenti piante de' porti, delle rade e degli atterraggi / per facilitare la navigazione delle coste e de' principali fiumi, per / Eugenio Rodriguez / CAPITANO DI FREGATA DELLA MARINA NAPOLETANA.

The Frigate enters bay of Rio de Janeiro

The work includes two volumes and an atlas. The first volume, printed in Naples at the Royal Military Typography in 1854, presents 975 pages, 57 charts and views, and 12 pages on the routes of New York-Rio de Janeiro, on the dangers of sailing, on the wind regime and currents, on temperature, bathymetry and magnetic declination on the Atlantic.

The second volume, printed in 1857, consists of 1,246 pages including the index of names, places and remarkable objects, 57 charts and views, and 12 tables.

The Atlas, 33 x 46 cm, includes 32 tables of maps, plans of ports and splendid views. The charts, at different scales, some taken from previous English and French charts, were engraved by Giulio Danesi at the Topographical Office in Naples. The views, unsigned, were probably drawn by the celebrated designers of the Office itself, including - in particular - Federico Gatti and Gaetano Dura, authors of the view of the city of St. Sebastian, and Gioacchino Forino.

The first volume begins with a letter presenting the expedition report - addressed to Field Marshal Giuseppe Ruffo Scilla, chairman of the commission in charge of examining books of military interest - written by Ferdinando Visconti, at the beginning of the century working at the Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera, then on duty at the Military Geographical Institute of the Austrian General Staff in Milan, and eventually appointed director of the Topographic Office of the Kingdom of Naples.

View of the city of St. Sebastian (Rio de Janeiro) taken from the island Das Cobras

In his letter, Ferdinando Visconti expresses his high appreciation for the work of Rodriguez and offeres the cooperation of the Topographic Office to engrave the charts produced by the latter. Also, he announces the imminent dispatch, by Francis Beaufort - director of the UK Hydrographic Service - of a new chart of Rio de la Plata. This will complete the impressive work of Captain Rodriguez, soon to prove be very useful to the vessels of the Kingdom of Naples, which are increasingly sailing to the coasts of Latin America.

Ferdinand Visconti had indeed commented on the work of Rodriquez in a letter to Francis Beaufort of April 28, 1846:
"One of our Royal Navy Officer, who has most recently sailed for 18 months all along the coasts of Brazil, the United States of America, etc. etc. with the Neapolitan frigate Urania, is compiling a work very useful for sailing in those areas, describing the hydrography of the coasts, and of the ports of Rio de la Plata, as far as to ParÓ. He wishes to know if your Hydrographic Office has published charts of Porto Santo, Baja Espirito Santo, the entrance to Rio Grande Norte, mouth and mooring of Inguarybe, of St. Louis Maranhao, of ParÓ, etc. etc. in addition to those that are listed in Section VIII of your catalog published Genn. 1° 1841, and in your supplement of 1842. Please lelt me have this information. "

(from: Ferdinando Visconti, Carteggio [Correspondence] (1818-1847), edited by Vladimiro Valerio, Leo S. Olschki 1995, letter to Beaufort by Visconti, of April 28, 1846, page 198).

It is interesting to note the response of Beaufort:
"We have published nothing about the Rio de la Plata or any part of the Brazil Coast lately - but I am now preparing a chart of the former river - of which of you shall have an early copy."

(from: Ferdinando Visconti, Carteggio (1818-1847), edited by Vladimiro Valerio, Leo S. Olschki 1995, letter to Beaufort Visconti July 16, 1846, page 202-203)

In the preface to his General Guide Rodriguez says that the frigate Urania left the Bay of Naples in August 1844, on a training-cruise for young officers. And what better occasion than a transoceanic navigation "that condenses in its true proportions the vast amount of nautical knowledge? What sailor, facing the Ocean, would not immediately start to investigate the admirable laws which regulate the course of the winds, and would not consider the trade winds as the best means provided by the very wise Nature to facilitate communications with those distant countries, where the vessels carry the treasures of civilization and industry? How can we avoid reflecting on the reasons of the courses, and of the currents regime? And, while sailing through the vast oceanic loneliness, how often do our restless eyes question those skies, whose appearance varies depending on the condition of climates and the position of the continents! "

Having consulted the available nautical works apt to provide a multidisciplinary approach to navigation in the Atlantic (and he cites many authors), Rodriguez was induced to write a guide for navigation along the western coasts of Latin America, to the special benefit of the merchant navy. The work consists of two large volumes, the first of which - with an introduction and five chapters - describes the route from Naples to Brazil, with particular reference to the mooring facilities in ports on the east coast. And then the islands of Madeira and the Canary, the Cape Verde islands, the local climate and wind regime, currents and tides, with the addition of general considerations on the limits of the trade winds in both hemispheres.

View of the lighthouse for entering Bahia NNE

The second chapter is about winds, atmospheric circulation, storms and currents in the Atlantic, with particular reference to the Gulf Stream.

Chapter III deals with shoals, rocks and ocean islands, describing at length the Sargasso Sea and the islands of Fernando de Noronha and Trinity.

Significant pages are devoted to the Atlantic fauna, describing anatomy and behavior of marine mammals, with interesting descriptions of hunting, manufacturing and utilization of prey. Descriptions are also provided of flying fish, turtles, large Atlantic birds, such as frigates, pelicans, albatross and penguins.

Ample space is devoted to hygiene on board: not only general rules of prevention, but also descriptions and treatment of major mental and physical afflictions, and a list of essential medicines for use at sea.

The fourth and fifth chapters deal with the Rio de la Plata: geography, meteorology, oceanography, navigation, landing, and instructions for sailing up the river from Buenos Aires to La Paz, with a description of the intermediate ports.

View of the city of San Salvador or Bahia

The second volume - in 1246 pages, 15 chapters, 82 charts and views, and 22 tables - provides an extensive treatment of the economic, political and geographical features of the Empire of Brazil, with particular reference to the complex orography and river system: the accurate description of the Amazon River and its tributaries concludes with the hope that they become a navigational means for developing maritime trade with the country, according to the information contained in the detailed report of the Brazilian steamship Marajo, under the command of Lieutenants Herndon and Gibbon, in September 1854.

View of Corcovado taken from the residence of the British Consul

There is a description of the lakes, the coasts, the fertile land, of the Amazon forest, of the climate, clouds and rainfall, winds, currents, tides, with particular reference to Prororoca, "... the great phenomenon of tidal bore that can have gigantic proportions with waves up to four meters high, with their merciless reflux upstream on the Amazon, that the French Navy in their rivers call the Mascaret. The prororoca happens in the course of the three days before new moon and full moon, i.e., during the strongest tidal currents. But it only happens in some areas, not over the entire extension of the mouth of the Amazon. When the waters have stopped flowing, one hears a distant frightful rumble that approaches rapidly from far away, becoming louder and louder. From that direction a wave comes that rises 15 feet high and pushes forward like a wall that is thrown forward with great speed, overthrowing whatever it meets."

View of the city of Pernambuco
taken from the anchorage of the frigate "Urania"

Considerable space is devoted to the devastating tornadoes and to the local electricity, responsible for catastrophic storms, of which sailors must be able to identify the warning signs to save themselves.

Interesting is the report on agricultural production, describing botanical gardens for the production of bananas and other exotic fruits, processing of coffee, sugarcane and tobacco.

Rodriguez does not leave out geology, from the structure of the rocks to volcanic soils, to the altitudes of mountains, to the minerals of the subsoil, to the mines of gold and precious stones.

The book concludes with instructions for navigating from the northeast coast of Brazil towards Europe, with historical and geographical description of the Azores.

(By Paola Presciuttini, 2002)