Amazing to think that in the early 1480s, a tiny country like Portugal led all the great powers in the thirst to explore. She was Spain’s most fearsome rival (even though Spain had at least 10x more men and material), and the early history of the Philippines is full of accounts of sea battles between the two countries as they tried to establish primacy in the Pacific.
According to Conquering the Pacific, the Portuguese were the first to learn how to navigate past “the bulge of Africa” at Cape Bojador, the “veritable point of no return” — where “strong winds blew consistently from the continent toward the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and the currents ran in the same direction, reinforcing the effect of the wind.”
This is the most amazing thing:
To go beyond Cape Bojador, fifteenth-century Portuguese navigators had to take a leap of faith, letting themselves go into the Atlantic Ocean very far from shore in search of more favorable conditions. Through trial and error, they perfected a maneuver that they called la volta do mar lago (the loop around the great sea), or la volta for short in Portuguese and la vuelta in Spanish. It consisted of sailing away from the African coast for hundreds of miles in a northwesterly direction before turning around in mid-Ocean back to Portugal. Their growing awareness of this gigantic ring of currents and winds in the North Atlantic was both exhilarating and full of possibilities.Conquering the Pacific: An Unknown Mariner and the Final Great Voyage of the Age of Discovery, p. 26