The Naming of the Horse Latitudes
from the book, "Petrified Lightning"

Petrified Lightning

The Naming of the Horse Latitudes

The ocean regions from about 30 to 35 degrees latitude in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are known as the horse latitudes. Off the North American coast, these would be the latitudes from northern Florida to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Here the prevailing westerly winds move toward the poles and the trade winds (easterlies) move toward the equator, leaving an area in these latitudes where the weather is warm, clear, and calm. Old sailing ships often spent a lot of time just sitting on a smooth, glassy ocean waiting out the all—too—pleasant weather.

On 18th—century trade ships, remaining motionless on a becalmed ocean had anything but a calming effect on the sailors. During that century horses were frequently transported from New England to the West Indies. In the 30— to 35—degree north latitudes, a speedy, profitable voyage often became a worrisome wait while provisions dwindled, perishables perished, and supplies of water and fodder diminished.

Rarely was a ship prepared for a delay of more than a few days. If it was becalmed for as long as a week, some sacrifices had to be made. What would be sacrificed? The horses, naturally paying the ultimate price for the lack of wind and the exhausted supplies of livestock food, they were thrown overboard and quickly became food for the sharks.

In honor of the sacrificed horses, sailors and shipowners named the area of calm sea the "horse latitudes."