In the early 17th century, deep in the Age of Discovery, the most valuable commodities on earth were nutmeg, mace and clove, with the world’s economic focus being the small islands of Ternate and Tidore, otherwise known as the Spice Islands, the modern day Maluku Islands in East Indonesia.
The Dutch, unshackled from their erstwhile Spanish occupants and revelling in their Golden Age, had founded the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in 1602, granting it a 20 year monopoly on trade in Asia as a means to challenge Portuguese hegemony over the global spice trade.
For Dutch merchant ships, the trip around Africa and across the Indian Ocean became a common journey, travelling the 10,000 miles to fill their bowels with riches from the exotic archipelago.
Prior to 1610 the favoured route from Holland to the Indies was via the Cape of Good Hope, from where ships would head north east along the coast of Africa, through the warmer climes and doldrums of the equatorial Indian Ocean. The voyage was long and arduous, anywhere up to twelve months in duration, and not an insignificant or inconsequential test of a captain’s leadership…
Tranquil waters proved deadly as oppressive heat, humidity and slow passage through faint wind would combine with rotting food stores, spoiled fresh water and the ravages of disease. Many were condemned to perish by taking the known path.
Having made a few voyages to the East using the ‘old’ route, one of the well regarded commanders of the day, Hendrik Brouwer, soon realised that the strong westerly winds of the Southern Ocean had the potential to save many months at sea en-route to the Indies. We celebrate the enormously brave decision he made, departing Cape Town in the early months of 1611, venturing a course south into the latitudes of 30 to 40 degrees, where wind and sea could wreak havoc on the ill prepared. Not just uncharted waters, but beyond the edge of the known world, thousands of miles from chartered land, risking encounters with stray icebergs, wild weather and huge seas.
Where rescue was unthinkable. Remaining unfazed, adroit and commanding a ship full of fear into the coldest and most intimidating of circumstances drew the line between survival and disaster.
Once in the Roaring Forties they set a cracking pace, turning to port and north for the Sunda Strait after 1,000 Dutch miles (approximately 7,400 kms) at sea, reducing the voyage time by a full six months. Not only was the sailing time significantly reduced but crew and cargo arrived in much better condition. A boon for the VOC as profit per voyage multiplied many times over.
The successful adventure by Hendrik Brouwer prompted a future VOC governor, Pieter de Carpentier, to comment …
“If we had to sail a hundred times to the Indies we should use no other route than this”
It became known as the Brouwer Route.
Founding the way for Hartog. Houtman. Pelseart. Vlamingh. New Holland. Cook. Flinders. Modern day Australia. For the VOC to become the most valuable company in history, still to this day.
We named our firm in honour of the calculated fortitude of Hendrik Brouwer. At Brouwer we see parallels in the corporate world, where the timid are not rewarded. The comfortable familiarity of indecision can sooth fear in the short term, but ultimately imperils. Fortune favours the bold, the committed and the calculated. Who do great things that immutably change the world for the better. Old paths become worn and dangerous. Whilst taking the right path doesn’t guarantee safe passage, having a navigator experienced with the journey by your side can be the difference between prosperity and disaster.