Follow The Coast

“When you get 11 fathoms and ooze on the lead, you are a day’s journey out from Alexandria.”

Herodotus, 4th Century BCE


I often think of the Greek historian, Herodotus more as a narrator of life than a pedantic historian. A prolific writer, he travelled the world drawing on the ancient Ionian tradition of storytelling. He gleaned the tales and legends from oral poetry, sung by wandering minstrels he met on his journeys. Yet, he was meticulous, even systematic in testing the accuracy of the information before orchestrating all of the scattered facts into a well-constructed and dynamic account.

Herodotus, with all of his wanderings, knew the rules of navigation.  Follow the coast; and keep a look-out for landmarks along the shoreline.  A precise geometric location on the ocean could be ascertained by lining up landmarks, say a nearby boulder against a distance point of land, from two different directions.  Taking a sounding, which used poles or a weighted sounding line when measuring greater depths, would add a measure of comfort.

The Greeks mariners were creative, navigating from one island to the next in their archipelago. They followed the cloud formations, recognizing they generally form over land masses.  They used their noses to detect “land” odors that were known to drift far out into the waters.

The Greek’s greatest advantage came in the form of Thales of Miletos, recognized as the first true mathematician. He used geometry to determine the distance of ships from the shore.  According to the Alexandrian poet Kallimachos, Thales of Miletos taught Ionian sailors to navigate by the Little Bear or the Ursa Minor constellation in the northern sky. Even so, the Greeks were not the first to follow the stars.


“Now to Miletos he steered his course
That was the teaching of old Thales
Who in bygone days gauged the stars
Of the Little Bear by which the Phoenicians
Steered across the seas.”




Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

17 thoughts on “Follow The Coast

      1. I agree!!! My brother ended up in Siena in an Easter parade using his GPS. The police told him that something was wrong with his GPS. What an adventure…


  1. Beautiful, a lovely post!
    The photo is a like deep breath of fresh air. I automatically inhale deeper and deeper exhale slooooowly. It’s great to start the day like this. Thank you!


    1. I am breathing deeply on the other side of the world. The sun is shining in Vancouver and I’m heading out into the fresh air! Thank you for your visit.


  2. We can be thankful for the historical evidence that these intelligent men lived and made these ancient astounding discoveries. The power of the written word. Thank you for writing about them. The written word is still powerful.


  3. Hi Rebecca,

    How many skills we have lost?

    Brilliant post, these days we think we can travel fast and at longer distances than ever before, but we don’t do we!

    We sit down and let someone or these days something do it for us.

    The idea of being able to smell land – just amazing !

    Lovely post- thank you!


    1. I remember when my grandmother tried to teach me tatting. Ah, how many skills have we lost, is a very good question. I think that you and Thomas may have the right of it…

      “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”
      ― Thomas A. Edison


    1. Thank you!!! This is an excellent link. Life was never been dull for him, as you can see from this excerpt!

      “Plato led a dramatic and fascinating life. Born four centuries before Christ, when Sparta defeated plague-ravaged Athens, he wrote 30 books and founded the world’s first university, called the Academy. He was a feminist, allowing women to study at the Academy, the first great defender of romantic love (as opposed to marriages arranged for political or financial reasons) and defended homosexuality in his books. In addition, he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery before being ransomed by friends.”


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