December 16, 1497 – Vasco da Gama passes the Great Fish River, where Bartolomeu Dias had previously turned back to Portugal.
Da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira was a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea. His initial voyage to India (1497–1499) was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and, in this way, the West and the Orient.
Da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India was significant and opened the way for an age of global imperialism and for the Portuguese to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia. Traveling the ocean route allowed the Portuguese to avoid sailing across the highly disputed Mediterranean and traversing the dangerous Arabian Peninsula. The sum of the distances covered in the outward and return voyages made this expedition the longest ocean voyage ever made until then, far longer than a full voyage around the world by way of the Equator.
Da Gama’s expedition to the Cape set sail from Lisbon on July 8, 1497. It followed the route pioneered by earlier explorers along the coast of Africa via Tenerife and the Cape Verde Islands. After reaching the coast of present-day Sierra Leone, da Gama took a course south into the open ocean, crossing the Equator and seeking the South Atlantic westerlies that Bartolomeu Dias had discovered in 1487. This course proved successful and on November 4, 1497, the expedition made landfall on the African coast. For over three months the ships had sailed more than 10,000 kilometers (6,000 mi) of open ocean, by far the longest journey out of sight of land made by that time.
By December 16, the fleet had passed the Great Fish River (Eastern Cape, South Africa) – where Dias had turned back – and sailed into waters previously unknown to Europeans. With Christmas pending, da Gama and his crew gave the coast they were passing the name Natal, which carried the connotation of “birth of Christ” in Portuguese. (Wikipedia)
The Nyassa Company issued a set of stamps honoring da Gama’s discovery of this province in Mozambique on March 1, 1498. (The Nyassa Company was granted a charter by the Portuguese government in 1891 to establish economic development and maintain Portuguese control in Nyassa (Niassa) Province and Cabo Delgado. It was founded by Bernard Daupais, a merchant from Lisbon; however the Nyassa Company was primarily owned by British and French interests.)