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I'm writing an urban fantasy story revolving around, among other things, vampires secretly living in the United States in 1998. And since the first two vampires came into existence in the area that is now known as Romania in around 1450, a question I need to have a solid answer for is when, exactly, they came to America, and more to the point, when that would have been physically possible.

Sea travel is a bit of an issue for vampires, you see, for two very important reasons:

1: While the strongest of them can do things like fly, manipulate the weather and control human minds, they have a weakness to both the sun and open water. The celestial energies Earth radiates out from its core take on different properties depending on what non-gaseous material they last passed through. If it was more than three feet of water followed by less than three feet of any other solid matter, it will be as if a vampire were standing in direct sunlight. Either sunlight or open water on their own would rob a vampire of all of their advanced powers. Exposure to both at once would further rob them of their strength, leaving them weaker than the average human (and those are the most powerful; to any lesser vampire a combination of sun and open water would be utterly lethal). So no flying across the ocean; they need a ship.

2: In my setting, magical beings such as vampires cannot under any circumstances stray from human civilization for longer than a month, specifically during the full moon. A phenomenon known as moontime occurs every full moon, and it keeps the supernatural population in check by making any area that's seen excessive immortal foot traffic (more than 1 in 1,000 humans on average over the course of the month) exceedingly lethal for the immortals caught there during the full moon. Being caught out at sea with nobody nearby but the humans on a single ship, therefore, would be a death sentence. So the journey across the sea has to take no more than 30 days.

I don't expect provisions to be an issue for the voyage. Vampires require a pint of blood every 12 hours they are awake, but can hibernate during daytime and they possess a magical method of preserving human blood in glass bottles, so no need to start draining their crew.

With these facts in mind, when is the soonest that human seafaring technology could have allowed a vampire to survive the voyage from Europe to North America?

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    $\begingroup$ Does ice count as water? How much weight can a vampire carry while flying? Would a vampire flying with a large bag of feathers (more than 3 ft) be able to cross open water if they kept the bag between them and the water? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 27, 2022 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ I think you're running into an issue where you're over explaining things. You want vampires to not be able to cross open water, but since you've come up with an explanation for this there are lots of unintended consequences. For instance there are a lot of bridges that your vampires will be unable to cross because the thickness of the deck is less than 3ft. Pretty much every dock or boardwalk will be harmful to them. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 27, 2022 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings Ah yes, I'm aware of this. This will mostly hinder the weaker vampires, however. The stronger ones, as I said, are merely inconvenienced, especially if it's at night. $\endgroup$ Apr 27, 2022 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ If you explain that then a powerful enough vampire could cross as early as you want, rendering this question moot. Perhaps you want to just allow a less explanatory and more literal approach. Something like Vamps can't cross open water so flying or paddling a canoe is out, but if a vamp is on a ship then they aren't crossing the water the ship is. You get the result you want and you don't have to worry about holes in your explanation, or holes in your explanation for the holes in the previous explanation or .... $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 27, 2022 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ The answer on Christopher Columbus got me thinking: what impact (if any) does an eclipse have on the moontime. (Specifically: Columbus apparently used a known lunar ecllipse (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_1504_lunar_eclipse) to his advantage... if vampires could likewise get a pass, that might lengthen the time they could be at sea $\endgroup$
    – Foon
    Apr 28, 2022 at 14:25

8 Answers 8

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Your vampires can get from Europe to North America as early as you want by flying over artic sea ice in the winter.

As you mention above Ice does not count as open water. This means that before the 20th century and anthropogenic climate change reduced the extend of sea ice in the artic, a superhuman can easily get from Europe to North America by crossing the artic sea ice in wintertime. The only real barrier to this is that your vampires would need to either be genuinely curious about what's out there across the ice or have some knowledge that there's another continent out there worth traveling to.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you positing solo bat flapping? I hope so. Because then the bat could sing into the unknown! as it flapped! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Apr 27, 2022 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ Or having been exiled. "You did this very naughty thing, your sentence is to go into the icy wastes." $\endgroup$
    – Odalrick
    Apr 28, 2022 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Odalrick That's how Erik the Red discovered Greenland! $\endgroup$
    – No Name
    Apr 28, 2022 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ This is of course assuming that vampires' bodies cannot be chemically frozen. Because otherwise you end up with a frozen (but living) bat-vampire encased in the ice pack until global warming releases them thousands of years later. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2022 at 14:42
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1500

Pedro Cabral discovered Brazil in 1500. The trip across the Atlantic took 30 days. If it helps as regards number of nonsupernatural people, he had a fleet of 13 ships.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedro_%C3%81lvares_Cabral#Departure_and_arrival_in_a_new_land

The fleet under the command of the 32–33-year-old Cabral departed from Lisbon on 9 March 1500 at noon... It sailed onward to Cape Verde, a Portuguese colony situated on the West African coast, which was reached on 22 March... The fleet crossed the Equator on 9 April, and sailed westward as far as possible from the African continent in what was known as the volta do mar (literally "turn of the sea") navigational technique. Seaweed was sighted on 21 April, which led the sailors to believe that they were nearing the coast. They were proven correct the next afternoon, Wednesday 22 April 1500, when the fleet anchored near what Cabral christened the Monte Pascoal ("Easter Mount", it being the week of Easter). The spot is on the northeast coast of present-day Brazil.

The Portuguese detected inhabitants on the shore, and all ships' captains gathered aboard Cabral's lead ship on 23 April. Cabral ordered Nicolau Coelho, a captain who had experience from Vasco da Gama's voyage to India, to go ashore and make contact. He set foot on land and exchanged gifts with the indigenous people..

The Portugese colony started and there were already indigineous people there.

Now your vampires are going to be stuck in the early Portuguese colonies for a good long time while things are built up farther north. I have to think that this would be a fine setting for a vampire fiction!

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm... This could be an excellent origin story for the Karnstein Queendom, a group the heroic vampire clan used to be at war with. It handily explains both how they got a dramatic-stakes-enabling head start in securing American territory, and why their modern US territory is all gathered close to the Mexican border. $\endgroup$ Apr 27, 2022 at 17:50
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Based on this page listing the time for the transatlantic crossing, it seems around 1845 it would be the earliest moment.

here is a recap of the above-mentioned transit times:

  • 1491 – over 2 months
  • 1620 – 9.5 weeks
  • 1700s – six weeks
  • 1845 – 14 days
  • 1952 – 3.5 days
  • 1957 – 14 hours by propeller plane
  • 1958 – 8 hours – average of first trips by jet
  • 1960s – a few hours
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  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... I'm noticing a pretty big jump from 6 to 2 weeks between the 1700s and 1845. If a technological advancement meant the time jumped straight between those speeds, that would be one thing... but if there was a period in-between where it was brought down to 3 or 4 weeks, that might have been their first opening. $\endgroup$ Apr 27, 2022 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Cyrus Drake I think this time drop was due to advance of clipper ships, and they were gradually improved and refined since about 1800. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Apr 27, 2022 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ I think the advancement was due to the introduction of steam ships. So, yes, it would have been a fairly sudden jump. $\endgroup$ Apr 28, 2022 at 5:58
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    $\begingroup$ Where are you taking your data from? Columbus first voyage took over two months from Palos to San Salvador island in the Bahamas (1492-08-03 to 1492-10-12), but that was an exploration into the unknown. His second voyage was barely 5 weeks from the Peninsula to the Caribbean (1493-09-25 to 1493-11-03) and just 3 weeks to cross the Atlantic from the Canary Islands (1493-10-13 to 1493-11-03). Crossing the Atlantic in 3 weeks was possible rigth from the start. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Apr 29, 2022 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't 1491 same as "at least 9 weeks", which slightly conflicts with 1620 time? $\endgroup$
    – hyde
    Apr 29, 2022 at 12:23
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Bering Strait. Go East, not west!

If you want the really earliest, the answer is some tens of thousands BCE, in the pre-history of Homo Sapiens, during the last ice age. That's when sea-level was lower and there was a land bridge across the Bering Straits. This is believed to be how human beings got to the Americas in the first place.

(Might Vampires have been involved in the horribly bloodthirsty Aztec religion? Perhaps, as gods or priests? Just a passing thought).

More recently, the Bering straits is a chain of sparsely inhabited islands. ISTR the longest sea crossing is 80km. One can walk over ice in Winter, or one can cross in a canoe. How feasible this is for Vampires, you will have to decide.

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  • $\begingroup$ I considered this, but the OP put the earliest date at 1450 CE, so by then the Bering land bridge was already no longer an option, though island hopping still could work. $\endgroup$ Apr 28, 2022 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ As mentioned, in cold years you can walk across Bering Strait, so the land bridge isn't needed. $\endgroup$ Apr 28, 2022 at 18:26
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They could follow the Norsemen in the 1400s from Norway to Faroe Islands to Iceland to Greenland to Canada. None of those individual journeys should last more than 30 days and there were humans in those places that they could consume for fresh blood. Just rest in each of those islands until the next full moon and set off afterwards.

They would hear the stories of Leif Erikson finding a far off land to the west of Greenland 400 years earlier.

The question is what counts as human civilisation. Faroe Islands and Iceland were settled by then. But they would have struggled in Greenland at that time as the Norsemen were gone due to changing climate. So they may need to go direct from Iceland to Canada. Could be doable.

Ideally the journey would have happened a couple of hundred years earlier when Greenland was more hospitable. The last Norsemen were gone by 1450 as the climate cooled. There were Inuit, but not in the numbers required. If the Vampires existed around 1300 they probably could have survived Greenland during a full moon. There were between 2,500 - 5,000 Norsemen at different times between 1000-1350.

I'm not sure how long it would then to take to get to the settlement in the Americas of sufficient size at that time though.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Greenland colony was essentially abandoned in the early 15th century, so trips there from Iceland would no longer be happening at the time the vampires emerged. And while there were trips from Greenland and Iceland to mainland North America (likely for timber) for a few centuries, there doesn't seem to have been any real attempt at colonization or settlement, so no regular trips the vampires could count on. $\endgroup$ Apr 28, 2022 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ You'd have to check that the intermediate colonies were over 1,000 persons, otherwise the vampire would die. I'm not sure if this works out, many colonies were just a few 100 persons. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Apr 29, 2022 at 6:40
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As others have suggested, you could just go north. This would require a flight of over 2200km (e.g Hammerfest, Norway to Alert, Nunavut). If a vampire can fly continuously as fast as the fastest bat (160km/h) that is only 14 hours. However, why do it and how would you know there was a safe destination?

Alternatively, just go east, and then island hop across the Bering Strait. Just by flying up and exploring a little you'll always be able to see another island to try to reach. The strait is only 90km wide at its narrowest point.

Instead of one huge leap into the unknown, just do a series of small steps with your destination always in sight. With a desire to just go east and starting in Europe, you'll get to the North American continent.

Why stop in America? Well there are no handy islands to hop across the Atlantic so America is as far east as you can get without a huge leap into the unknown.

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Although the timeline isn't quite clear, a vampire may have been able to travel with Columbus on his third voyage. While the complete voyage took several months, Columbus stopped over in Madeira, the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, and then traveled to the northern edge of South America. So each leg of the westbound trip was relatively short. Unfortunately, it isn't completely clear just how short the legs were.

Of course, that doesn't answer the question as to when these legs occur. From the description, it appears that the condition isn't just "30 days per leg" but rather "must reach land by full moon" - which is a much tighter condition. So this trip would only work if Columbus reached each of the intermediate stops exactly at full moon, which is not very likely.

Another question is whether there were enough people even at the destinations. It sounds like your vampires can only survive in cities, even rural villages might be a problem. Columbus wouldn't have reached any substantial cities, maybe not even on the intermediate stops.

As for the second condition: the vampire could have traveled in a casket or similar, both to protect him from sunlight, and also to ensure at least 3 feet of solid material between himself and the water.

Of course, you would probably have to answer the question why there would be a casket on board of the ships on that voyage. These were very small ships barely big enough to hold all the provisions needed for the trip.

Edit: another option might be traveling with the Vikings. The Vikings settled in Greenland and Iceland until about 1500, so your Vampires would have to set out on the voyage very soon after the 1450 creation date, and then island-hop from northern Europe to Iceland and Greenland. Crossing from Greenland to the North American mainland would involve crossing many very short stretches of water, most only a few miles wide.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Phoenicians appear to have traded with America as they brought back both tobacco and coca leaves traces of which have been found in Egyptian mummies. That would be an earlier time. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Apr 28, 2022 at 16:43
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  • $\begingroup$ @ShadowRanger Thank you. I had the mistaken impression that the work was more rigorous than that. I would not be surprised if it had been true as they did make it to Britain and they had better ships than the Vikings who did make it. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Apr 28, 2022 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidR regardless of the merit of that theory, as per the question, the trip cannot have happened before 1450 CE. That rules out such things as travel with all but the latest Vikings, the Phoenicians, or taking the eastern route and following the Polynesians. If Vampires had been around for much longer, then the easiest way would probably be to have them cross the Bering land bridge together with humans. $\endgroup$ Apr 29, 2022 at 17:20
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The 18th Century (1700-1799)

Although it is confusing to sort out (because it is variously talking about sailing dates, publication dates and re-publication dates at the same time), this article from the Royal Museum: 18th century sailing times between the English Channel and the Coast of America: How long did it take? which briefly summarizes official merchant and mail ship sailing logs from England to America in the 18th century makes it clear that the crossing time dropped well below thirty days sometime during this 100-year period.

This quote describing the contents of one of the editions (reprints) of these sailing logs is relevant:

This edition mentions that typical passage times from New York to the English Channel for a well-found sailing vessel of about 2000 tons was around 25 to 30 days, with ships logging 100-150 miles per day on average.

Exactly when during this period it got under 30 days is unclear, but sometime around or after 1750 seems a safe guesstimate.

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