Why did they take to hitherto unexplored inshore or offshore waters? What impelled a few members of these societies to search for new lands? Was it land hunger, factional quarreling at home, a search for prestige and trading opportunities, or simply a deep-felt restlessness and curiosity? Of course, we will never know the whole story, but generations of archaeological and historical research, especially in recent years, allow us to tell at least an incomplete tale. Ours is an earlier world of anonymous, mostly non-literate, people, who formed part of the backdrop of history. Kings might rise and fall, empires come to prominence, then fade into obscurity, but the timeless routine of cabotage (coasting) along quiet shorelines, of canoe voyages between Pacific Islands, and trading ventures in monsoon seas or across the North Sea and further afield continued, quiet events as predictable as the passage of the seasons. These humble folk were the people who decoded most of the world’s oceans, not out of any overwhelming ambition to “serve God and to get rich”, like the Spanish conquistadors who conquered Aztec Mexico, but simply as part of their existence in the heart of an intricate, often spiritually charged cosmos.
Many early seafaring societies held powerful supernatural beliefs about the ocean. This is a story about ventures afloat that may seem amazing through the magnifying glass of history, but to those who undertook them often merely an extension of lives lived at the edge of the ocean. Beyond the Blue Horizon is a celebration of human ingenuity and often-brilliant adaptation to ever-changing environments, and of the compelling restlessness that drove so much of human history. I have this sense of restlessness myself, which is why I’ve woven some of my experiences afloat into the story. They say that history repeats itself. Time and time again, far from land or in narrow waters, in fair weather and foul, I’ve sensed an ancient skipper from the same waters looking over my shoulder and was reassured that they must have felt much the same way as I did. And this is why I wrote this book.