Riding the wave


Vicente Tofiño

In 1783 King Charles III ordered the chart coverage of the waters under Spanish jurisdiction. The conduct of the work was entrusted to Captain Vicente Tofiño de San Miguel y Van der Walle, for some years director of the Colegio de Guardias Marinas in Cadiz.

In 1789 was thus published 'Atlas Maritimo de España, composed of a Part I with 16 tables and a Part II of 31 tables with a beautiful allegorical title-page with the arms of Spain and the Collar of Charles III: Rafael Mengs, commander of the Corps of Royal Engineers, composed the image while the plate was made by Manuel Salvador Carmona, engraver and director of the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando.

It was a paramount work that combined land and sea operations, both astronomical and geometrical, with advanced surveying methods, and therefore was highly praised by European geographers, ranking among the masterpieces of contemporary charting. It also includes, for the first time ever, capital letters to describe the quality of the seabed, so that A = arena (sand), P = piedra (rocks), C = Cascajo (gravel), L = lama (mud).

This concise and practical method of description became in general use in the first half of the next century. In 1989 the Instituto Hidrográfico de la Marina de España published the facsimile edition of 'Atlas Maritimo de España, on the occasion of the bicentenary of the publication of the Atlas.

Plate. XXIX, engraved by B. Vasquez, represents the coast from Cadiz to Trafalgar, with Madeira and Porto Santo.