Why were they named the Windward Islands?
To understand the origin of the name, you need to understand a little about the history of shipping and sailing. Before the invention of engines, ships were only able to move around the world using the wind’s power to push them great distances.
Sailing ships or Yachts come in many forms and have been around for thousands of years. However, one thing, which has never changed with time, is that a sailing ship or yacht cannot sail against the wind. Sailing with the wind or downwind is easy, however. Therefore, the importance of making sure to sail in the general direction of the downwind is critical for a yacht skipper or ship´s captain. If you don´t have an engine, you cannot turn and sail into the wind. So, there is little margin for navigational error without one.
The trans-Atlantic currents and winds, which historically provided the fastest route across the ocean, brought sailing ships to the very rough dividing line between the Windward and Leeward Islands.
The Windward Islands, therefore, gained their name because they are more to windward (east). This enabled the prevailing trade winds to blow sailing ships from the east towards the New World.
Dominica forms the dividing line between the Windward and Leeward Islands. Guadeloupe and the islands to the north and west became known as the “Leeward Islands”.
The slave trade
Vessels crossing the Atlantic Ocean supplied the slave trade. They departed from Europe and places such as the Gold Coast of Africa. Ships would hope to encounter Islands first to take on provisions – understanding their position of having crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, the chain of Windward Islands forms a part of the easternmost boundary of the Caribbean Sea.
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