Seas of Joy

‘Because I’m so in awe of you,
That I don’t know what to do,
And I’m sailing on the seven seas so blue.’

Sailing on the Seven seas: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark; 1991

The idiom ‘sailing the seven seas’ sounds like it might have been colloquial around about the time that the Portuguese and Spanish explorers were heading out towards the various points of the compass as they endeavoured to find new lands to conquer, new sources of wealth to enrich their kings and queens and new people to subjugate. In fact, however, the idea that there were seven separate bodies of water dates back at least to 2300 BC: in Mesopotamia the Sumerians noted this fact in the best selling (at the time) Enheduanna to the goddess Inanna. Admittedly they hadn’t actually discovered seven different bodies of water by that time – navigation was decidedly in its infancy four and a half thousand years ago – but they had progressed quite startlingly in astronomy. The had observed seven moving objects in the heavens: the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, and they decided, for reasons that might be beyond us modern humans, to connect these Seven Heavens with the seven supposed seas on earth.

On the Indian subcontinent a similarly unusual method was used to arrive at the counting of the seas. According to the Vishnu Purana, an ancient text, the seas were Lavana (salt), Iksu (sugar-cane), Sura (wine), Sarpi (clarified butter or Ghee), Dadhi (yoghurt or curd), Dugdha (milk) and Jala (water). Apart from the rather obvious Lavana, the rest of the names are quite obscure, and we hesitate to even attempt to analyse their provenance. (We are also fairly certain that the Sura Sea would have attracted a lot of attention during lockdown.) The Ancient Romans also spoke of the septem maria, or ‘seven seas’, for those without a classical education, but their reference was to the River Po, which discharged into salt marshes on the Adriatic coast, forming (probably) seven lagoons at the time. A slightly more narrow geographical focus than the current meaning. Pliny the Elder wrote, “All those rivers and trenches were first made by the Etruscans, thus discharging the flow of the river across the marshes of the Atriani called the Seven Seas, with the famous harbour of the Etruscan town of Atria which formerly gave the name of Atriatic to the sea now called the Adriatic.” Who are we to argue? In Venice, not too far away, the expression “to sail the seven seas” was a classical flourish signifying nautical skill. It was applied to the Venetians long before they sailed the oceans, but there is no way of knowing if this number of waterways stemmed from the Etruscans.

The Arabs were the first nation to actually start counting the seas they navigated; the seas were trading routes in ancient times and were the waters they had to negotiate on the passage to the East. No mean feat, given that this was around the 9th century – a long time before the European adventurers referenced earlier set out looking for ‘trading partners’. The seas the Arabs encountered (using modern names) were the Persian Gulf, the Arabian sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Strait of Malacca, the Singapore Strait, the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea.

Closer to home, the medieval concept of the Seven Seas became a little confused as the world grew more accessible, and there were generally about eleven seas to choose from, depending on who you read. These included the Adriatic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, including its marginal seas, notably the Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea and Tyrrhenian Sea, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea, including the closed Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Added to these were the Atlantic Ocean, the Aegean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the North Sea, so you could take your pick.

After the discovery of the Americas, the idea of ‘seven seas’ became a little more romanticised: sailing those seven seas were the adventurers, the pirates, the ratings and officers aboard naval galleons and frigates, the merchants and other salt-encrusted sea dogs. A list of these seven oceans is more recognisable to us in the 21st Century: the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. But, as we say, that was the romantic ideal: the earth in fact has only one ocean, the World Ocean or Global Ocean, which includes all of the Earth’s oceanic waters, covering 361,132,000 square kilometres (70.8%) of Earth’s surface. There are, however, hundreds of seas: we are willing to bet that there are not too many people who could name many more than the original seven. When you consider that Table Bay, our home, as well as False Bay are listed as ‘seas’, you will understand that the list is quite pedantic, numbering into the hundreds. How about the Irminger Sea, the Alboran Sea, Sea of Azov or the Chuckchi Sea? Place those on the global map if you can.

At Waterfront Charters we are very happy with our sea. Table Bay and the Atlantic Ocean serve our needs perfectly, and our fleet of seven vessels is ideal for all needs. Whether you want to charter a luxury catamaran or take in an Eco-adventure; watch the sunset while you sip champagne or greet the morning with a glass of Prosecco out in the bay, we are there for you. Post lockdown adventure awaits!