Mythical Sea Monsters of Cape Bojador

Appearing as a slight bulge on the coastline in modern maps, Cape Bojador in Western Sahara does not appear to be much of an obstacle to overcome, and yet for ancient mariners it was. Many failed attempts resulted in loss of lives as intrepid explorers attempted to find a passable route along the north and western coastline of Africa. This was until in 1434, when Portuguese mariner Gill Eanes discovered a relatively safe route around Cape Bojador, an achievement which opened up the route to Africa, and later India, for European traders and explorers.

Known as one of the noteworthy explorers during the Age of Discovery – a period which spanned the 15th and 16th century, and even into the early 17th century, during which time European explorers traveled to Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas – Gill Eanes had previously attempted to pass Cape Bojador in 1433, but failed. At the insistence of Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal, Eanes once again attempted to pass Cape Bojador in 1434, this time with more success. The incredible difficulty and risks of Cape Bojador became legendary, with the more superstitious seafarers at the time blaming sea monsters for the disappearance of ships in the area. Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa captured the general sentiment of the time when he noted that whoever wants to pass beyond Bojador, must pass beyond pain.

While the difficulty of passing by Cape Bojador, lying northwest of Morocco, may have given rise to fears of sea monsters in the past, more modern research has revealed that the geography of the region, along with strong currents and a prevailing northeasterly wind along the coastline throughout the year, combine to cause unusually volatile seas which mariners traveling from north to south along the coast would encounter without warning. Once it was discovered that sailing far out to sea, with no land in sight, allowed for more favorable winds, sailors could follow their course south without having to fight against mythical sea monsters churning up the sea.

Visitors to the beautiful coastline of Morocco, Western Sahara and other north and west African countries, may want to spare a thought for the pioneering mariners who sailed into uncharted waters, battling fearsome unknown forces in order to discover new lands.