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Lucas Waghenaer

Lucas Waghenaer

Lucas Jansz Waghenaer was a navigator and the author of the ‘Spieghel der zeevaerdt’, the first pilot guide. He spent his early career as a naval officer between 1550 and 1579, interacting with other sailors and gaining vital experience for his later work. He then worked as a duties collector in Enkhuizen, before beginning to work on a project to combine accurate sailing directions with detailed maps. Sailors at the time generally relied on small books called rutters, which were often handwritten, or featured crude woodcut maps. They were wary of printed guides, as they could not be updated or personalised as easily as a manuscript and were thought to be less practical.

Waghenaer aimed to change this attitude, and chose to do so by publishing his work as a large folio (rather than the traditional oblong), with copper engraved maps and typeset text. The first volume of the ‘Spieghel’ contains instructions on various navigation techniques and the use of the manual, and maps of coasts from Texel to Cadiz, each accompanied by a coastal profile. Portuguese navigators had pioneered the use of coastal profiles in navigation, but Waghenaer was the first to include them for every chart on a consistent scale. The second volume, published a year later, contained charts of the coasts north of Texel. They were engraved by Johannes van Doetecum, one of the finest workers of the age. The charts were based on Waghenaer’s own extensive experience, supplemented by manuscript and printed sources. The accompanying text was based on other sixteenth century navigation manuals. It was a revolutionary success, and was translated into German, Latin and French, as well as an unauthorised English edition. His work was so popular in England that the Anglicized version of his name, ‘Waggoner’, became a generic term referring to sea atlases and charts.

In 1592 his second pilot book, ‘Thresoor der Zeevaert’, was published. Waghenaer returned to the traditional oblong format, realising that the ‘Spieghel’ was too large. The charts were reorientated to fit the new format. He included new and updated information: it was the first Dutch publication to carry guidance for sailing around Scotland, the south coast of Ireland and parts of the Baltic. A supplementary section describing navigation to the East Indies was added after the return of Dirck Gerritsz. This pilot was as well received as the first, and would provide the basis of Willem Blaeu’s ‘Het Licht der Zeevaert’ 16 years later. His third and last publication, the ‘Enchuyser zeecaertboeck’ (1598) returned completely to the original octavo format of a seaman’s pocketbook with only two small maps to accompany the written directions.

Despite the success of his works, Waghenaer appears to have died with very little money, petitioning the local authorities to extend his pension for a year to support his widow.