Friday, January 02, 2009

Question from Ann - Travel from England to Spain

can anybody help me. I am trying to find the average time for a voyage from England to Spain during the reign of Henry VIII. Thanks.

Further info from Ann: What I'm looking for is the approximate crossing time from Tilbury to Bilbao to be more exact.


PhD Historian said...

I looked at Henry Fielding's Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon (1754), and it seems to have taken about 15 days from Gravesend (on the south side of the Thames from Tilbury) to Lisbon via Plymouth, if one subtracts non-essential stops and extra days in ports. Bilbao is significantly less distance but within the storm-tossed Bay of Biscay, so perhaps 4-7 days less sailing time? But that would all depend on time of year ... longer in winter because of storms in the Bay, storms in the Channel, etc. I would guess at least 10-12 days if traveling Tilbury to Bilbao with good weather.

One source you might look at is the voyages of James I's son Charles and the Duke of Buckingham to Spain in about 1623. I am sure the dates of that voyage are recorded. I do not know which port they sailed to, but it may well have been on the northern coast, perhaps even Bilbao.

PhD Historian said...

I love questions like this, because they nag at me until I come up with the best answer I possibly can.

The straight-line distance from London to Bilbao is 584 statute miles, or 507 nautical miles. A fast sailing vessel in the sixteenth century could make 4 knots an hour on calm seas, or about 80 nautical miles per 24 hours. That works out to 6.3 days of sailing time if the seas are dead calm, the winds are with the vessel, and the ship is traveling in a straight line.

But seas in the Bay of Biscay are never dead calm. The prevailing winds are NW to SE, requiring the ship to progress by means of a series of time- and distance-increasing tacks. The currents flow mostly to the north, slowing the ships southerly progress.

So I'm sticking to my earlier "guess" of 10-12 days absolute minimum travel time from Tilbury to Bilbao, assuming no storms.