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    Yora's Avatar

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    Default Travel times of medieval ships?

    I know such tables exist for the Mediterranean, but does anyone know about lists giving the average travel times for merchant ships in the North and Baltic Sea in the middle ages?

    Since we're not dealing with roads and have to take the direction of the wind into consideration, simply dividing distance by speed isn't going to give any remotely accurate numbers.
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    Default Re: Travel times of medieval ships?

    I did a little searching, and the closest I could find was a Google Books result (Scotland and the Sea) that, using the Danish Sound Toll Registers, gave round-trip travel times (I think from the toll station at Elsinore) to various Baltic Sea ports. However, (1) these registers started in 1497, so not really medieval, (2) the actual tables were omitted from the results, and (3) the ships may well have stopped at additional ports.

    The notes section of the chapter gives some actual numbers. I suppose the minimum travel times represent direct trips. For example,minimum round-trip time to Danzig was about 30 days.

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    ClericGirl

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    Default Re: Travel times of medieval ships?

    The times DavidSh found are likely workable.

    Those toll records may be better than you think. The ships in use in the area would not have changed yet, and the fact that it is for the Sound is actually quite useful.

    Hanseatic traders were primarily using Hulks into the late 16th century. They also used Cogs, well into the 14th century. And - importantly - the move from the Cog to the hulk was a matter of geography, capacity, and defensibility. Not speed. So we can take the 30 days at face value for whatever the route in question is (unless you specifically want Early Medieval instead of High or Late Medieval ships).

    The fact that it's the Sound gives us a hint about the route. In the 1490s, the Dutch were beginning to sail through the sound to create an entirely sailed route between the Atlantic and Baltic, but the rest of the market was still using the road between Lubeck and Hamburg as a connection between seperate Baltic and and North Sea routes.

    A trader from Danzig at the Sound is at the sound because they are making a stop in Falsterbo. They're also going to stop at Lubeck - because if you're going west, you stop at Lubeck (the trade was generally triangular).

    So, as an educated guess, that 30 day route is probably the right kind of ship to look at and it was probably a Danzig-Lubeck-Falsterbo-Danzig route.

    Out of curiosity, who is the aauthor of that book: I'm finding about five books by the title "Scotland and the Sea"?
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    Dwarf in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Travel times of medieval ships?

    It's a collection of articles edited by T.C. Smout. The relevant article is "Long Distance Trade or Tramping: Scottish Ships in the Baltic, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries", by Thomas Riis. Among other things, it correlates the eastbound and westbound records of Scottish ships traversing the Danish toll stations. But, as I said, the important numbers are in a table on pages listed as "Pages 68 to 69 are not shown in this preview."

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    Default Re: Travel times of medieval ships?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidSh View Post
    It's a collection of articles edited by T.C. Smout. The relevant article is "Long Distance Trade or Tramping: Scottish Ships in the Baltic, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries", by Thomas Riis. Among other things, it correlates the eastbound and westbound records of Scottish ships traversing the Danish toll stations. But, as I said, the important numbers are in a table on pages listed as "Pages 68 to 69 are not shown in this preview."
    Incidentally, the exact pages which are blanked out by the preview in Google is randomised and accessing that page from a different IP address can yield different results.

    The numbers on Page 69 are:


    Table 7: Sailing Times between Elsinore and Koingsberg (Return Voyages by Scottish Skippers) in Days
    1574-82 1618-28 1680-6
    Aberdeen - - 44 34 51 43 - - -
    Montrose - - 55 27 83 54 37 136 93
    Dundee, Portincraig 29 77 47 22 96 52 45 87 58
    East Neuk 24 87 34 25 86 54 37 53 46
    Outer Forth 29 54 39 26 69 46 - - -
    Edinburg, Leith, Queensferry 35 75 50 21 74 52 26 63 44
    Bo’ness - - - - - - 50 75 61
    The West - - 68 - - 47 - - 53
    Other ports - - - - - - - - 126


    Table 8: Sailing Times between Elsinore and Stockholm (Return Voyages by Scottish Skippers) in Days
    1574-82 1618-28 1680-6
    Aberdeen - - - - - - 61 92 74
    Montrose - - - 85 102 91 41 98 79
    Dundee, Portincraig - - - 39 127 82 48 96 68
    East Neuk - - 78 - - 50 59 88 76
    Outer Forth - - 62 49 101 72 45 122 75
    Edinburg, Leith, Queensferry 79 80 80 33 126 92 47 105 67
    Bo’ness - - - - - - 48 91 70
    The West - - - - - 83 29 146 72
    Other ports - - - - - - 64 82 73

    Page 68 is not displaying for me and I'm out of time to finagle it at the moment.

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    Default Re: Travel times of medieval ships?

    That sems like a solid base to extrapolate from.

    What I am really curious about are the differences in time between directions and the differences between the North Sea and Baltic Sea legs of the journey. I think there might be massive differences.
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    Default Re: Travel times of medieval ships?

    You can also try a PM to Galloglaich, it sounds like his thing.

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    Default Re: Travel times of medieval ships?

    After a lot of searching, I did find a German paper from 2013 on calculated travel time by Hansa cogs on the Baltic Sea in the 15th century, written by an engineer, navigator, and helmsman from Hamburg. This is probably as good a source as you can possibly get.

    It explains the various reasons for the huge discrepancy between average sailing speeds and reported travel times for medieval merchant ships. Under favorable winds, a ship could do the trip from Lübeck to Bergen in 9 days, Lübeck-Bornholm-Visby-Talinn in 6 days, and Lübeck-Gdansk-Talinn in 4 days. In practice, ships did spend a lot of time in port, though. In highly unfavorable conditions you can sail all day and still not make any progress, so it's much better to spend the day anchored and let the crew rest. While a cog could easily make 6 knots in good weather, average speed for the entire time between leaving home and reaching your destination is generally more like 1 knot, which is the speed you need to calculate for estimating how long the actual transit time will be.

    Resupplying in port also takes a good amount of time and isn't just refilling kerosene like on a plane. So the 9 day trip from Lübeck to Bergen usually took more around 24 days. But the biggest factor that increased the durations of trips was that these weren't just transport ships but merchant ships. Once you reached your destination port, you had to set up shop to sell your cargo and then buy new goods for the return trip. Even if you have regular customers, when you see them only once every year, prices and amounts for the goods need to be renegotiated. Even the Hansa was more of a trade association than a company, so the local kontor didn't have your next shipment ready to load as soon as you arrive. In practice, staying in port for one or two months before starting the return trip was common practice.

    The two example trips from Lübeck to Talinn are also from West to East, which is in the direction of the wind. Even a cog can sail when the wind comes from the side and slightly forward by correctly angling the sail, but going against the prevailing wind takes a lot of zig zagging. The paper assumes that this increases the traveled distance to four times as much. But this is all the ideal course for both trips. In practice you need to add about 50% to all the distances.

    So Lübeck-Talinn can be done in 4 days if you're lucky and in a hurry. If you just book passage on a merchant ship and the weather is not ideal, it's probably taking more like 12 days.
    The trip Talinn-Lübeck would be ideally 16 days and more likely 48 days.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Travel times of medieval ships?

    It should be noted that medieaval sailing tended to align itself to when the winds were favourable, which meant places might only be sailed to a couple of times a year and then you waited on the other end, or sailed close to the change of season. Most medieaval ships would not have attempted a 48 day journey at sea. More likely you sailed West with prevailing winds and the came back East when seasons allowed.

    There's also really no such things as "I need to go there now". You got somewhere when you could, not necessarily when you wanted.

    The main exception being galleys who are able to a larger degree to ignore prevailing winds, though at great cost.

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    Default Re: Travel times of medieval ships?

    Quote Originally Posted by snowblizz View Post
    It should be noted that medieaval sailing tended to align itself to when the winds were favourable, which meant places might only be sailed to a couple of times a year and then you waited on the other end, or sailed close to the change of season.
    Same applies to any era with sailing vessels, realistically. 19th-century ships would sail from UK to Australia round the Cape of Good Hope and thence across the Indian Ocean, but they'd come back across the Pacific and round Cape Horn, thus circumnavigating the globe, because prevailing winds made it easier to do that than to reverse the outward journey!

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