Mindfield is free through Monday as an ebook on Amazon. It can be read as a military sci fi space opera with some twists, or as its title implies, it’s also about negotiating a mine field of the mind. It’s gotten a few very good reviews on Goodreads. Please get it, enjoy it, and hopefully review it.
We know what happened to many of the men who circumnavigated the world with Francisco Albo. Elcano ineptly piloted the next fleet to the Spice Islands, and met his fate on the Pacific Ocean. Sebastian Cabot marooned Albo’s friend Miguel de Rodas on an island off Brazil. Espinosa lived the quiet life with his family.
Oddly enough, Albo vanished from history, although there is mention of a “pilot who sailed with Magellan serving with Piri Reis.” What that Albo?
The King’s Galley, the sequel to Magellan’s Navigator, fills in the some of the blanks in this remarkable man’s life. After Albo’s meeting with King Charles, he has a falling out with the Archbishop Fonseca. The old man suspects Albo’s role in his bastard son’s death.
Albo flees Seville back to the Mediterranean of his youth, where he becomes master and pilot of one of the king’s galleys. He serves under a Spanish captain with an unwavering hatred for the Barbary pirate Barbarossa. Albo struggles to restrain the captain’s lust for revenge, which puts the entire crew and ship at risk.
Think Master and Commander on a galley in 1523. Battles are brutal. If not victorious, death is certain…either in battle, execution, or more slowly as a galley slave. But fortunes can still be made and there are women to love.
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Magellan’s little armada had a pleasant two week cruise southward along the coast to recover from Rio’s bacchanals. It arrived January 11, 1520 at the Rio de la Plata, the immense estuary of the Parana and Uruguay Rivers now bounded by Argentina on the south and Uruguay on the north. This coast was well known to the Portuguese and Spanish, so he sailed by day and night. After Rio de la Plata, he would anchor each night for fear of missing the passage to the Indies in the darkness.
The Portuguese and Spanish had already explored Rio de la Plata, with the Portuguese first arriving some ten years earlier. Magellan likely had access to their finding. The Spanish came briefly in 1516 when Pilot Major of Spain Juan Diaz de Solis explored it with a small three-ship expedition. Their stay was cut short when de Solis and some of his men were killed, and eaten, by the locals. This event dampened the remaining sailors’ interest in further exploration and they returned to Spain.
So Magellan had some knowledge of the Rio de la Plata, but evidently felt that he couldn’t rule out its being the elusive pass to the Indies. He spent five precious weeks of southern hemisphere summer exploring the huge estuary, including sending his smallest ship to explore the Parana and Uruguay Rivers. That took fifteen days. Finally, his ships watered and headed south.
The time spent wasn’t without incident. They survived one gale, met the local natives without incident, repaired the leaky San Antonio, and lost two men. One of these died in a brawl. The other, the sole Irishman of the armada, one Guillen, William, drowned. Probably William, like most sailors of his time couldn’t swim.
I find it somewhat surprising that Magellan spent so long exploring the Rio de la Plata, as one would think its brackish and fresh water would rule it out as a salt-water passage to the Indies. Evidently Magellan didn’t feel any urgency to take advantage of the good summer sailing weather. Perhaps he had reason to believe the passage he sought was not much further south. It wasn’t.
The armada sailed south on February 6, 1520. Soon they’d be battered by horrific storms, all the while seeing no sign of a westward passage. Less than two months later Magellan had to admit that it was too late in the season to sail further. Ironically, Magellan wintered less than a week’s sail from the Straits of Magellan. Had he spent a few weeks less in the Rio de la Plata, he could have emerged into the Pacific Ocean months earlier, and avoided mutiny and a bitter winter in Patagonia.
The ten days Magellan’s Armada of the Moluccas spent in Rio de Janeiro was one long party interrupted by an execution and more tension between Magellan and the Spanish Captains. The fleet arrived on December 16, 1519 to what was then a sleepy native village. After two and half months at sea the men were eager for alcohol and sex, and they got their fill of both.
The Portuguese had discover Rio some twenty years before, but only visited periodically to obtain rosewood, Aniba rosaeodora, for its oil and dye. This wood is different than the beautiful rosewood used in furniture. One of Magellan’s pilots, Carvalho, had previously spent four years there and had left behind a young son by a local woman.
Rio couldn’t have been more different than Europe. The weather was warm and the alcohol cheap. But the biggest shock was the women were naked and willing to sell their bodies for almost, for the perspective of the sailors, nothing. A week long orgy ensued, which Magellan did nothing to stop. This would be a pattern around the globe. The randy Europeans would wear out their welcomes, at least with the local men, with their bacchanals.
There was one sobering event, the execution of Antonio Salomon, the master of the Victoria, who’d been caught committing a homosexual act in the doldrums. Salomon was ceremoniously garroted with all in attendance. At this time, garroting was a favorite method of execution for the Spanish. Salomon sat in a chair while a rope was tightened around his death. Unlike a properly done hanging, where death comes swiftly after the neck is broken, with the garrote death comes slowly from asphyxiation.
Inevitably, the drunken orgies produced more trouble. While Magellan tolerated the common sailors’ behavior, he expected his officers would do better. When his brother-in-law, Duarte Barbosa, went on a bender, Magellan had him brought back in chains. This was especially unfortunate as Barbosa was Magellan’s most capably ally with experience in the Portuguese Indies spice trade.
Probably the most important developments in Rio was that Magellan managed to further infuriate the Spanish captains as well as his Portuguese Pilot Major, while promoting an inept member of his own clique. The somewhat complicated details of this follow. Captain de Coca, who had replaced Cartagena in the doldrums as captain of the San Antonio. De Coca was to keep Cartagena in custody, but he let Cartagena ashore, which infuriated Magellan. In retribution Magellan removed de Coca as captain. The two men most deserving the captaincy of the San Antonio were probably Barbosa and Pilot Major Gomez. However, Barbosa was in chains, and there must have been bad blood between Magellan and Gomes. (In competition with Magellan, Gomez had proposed an expedition to the Moluccas to King Charles.) Magellan appointed de Mesquita, his cousin, as captain. This proved unfortunate as events proved de Mesquita not quite up to the job. Furthermore, he demoted Gomez from pilot major and made him pilot of the San Antonio, probably to cover up the inadequacies of his cousin. Magellan then appointed Carvalho as Pilot Major, another unfortunate choice as Carvalho proved to have had professional and moral limitations.
The slight of Gomez and Mesquita’s inattentiveness would lead to Gomez’s later defection with the San Antonio in the Straits of Magellan, taking with it much of the fleet’s supplies. Magellan was an excellent pilot, mariner, and planner, but his mismanagement of his officers would contribute greatly to the later troubles.
I don’t do many posts about writing, but here’s one I couldn’t pass up.
Ms. Rusch is an outstanding author, teacher, and has a blog about writing and the business of writing. She did a great talk at a recent conference that I think speaks to the problems inherent in critique groups and content editors. She also describes, in ways more eloquent than I can, the reason the ‘persuit’ of perfection gets in the way of writers achieving their natural voice.
I personally found a critique group and editors valuable while I was learning the craft of writing, but, like her, found them to dull the creative process once past that stage in my writing career.
Here’s the link to her blog and the video.
Francisco Albo’s noon astrolabe sighting today revealed that the Armada has crossed the equator. The equatorial doldrums are finally behind the fleet. Magellan believes a current is carrying the armada westward and that Brazil is only a week or two away, although without a way to accurately fix their longitude they can’t be certain.
The crew’s spirit has risen, but nothing has been done to heal the rift between Magellan and the Spanish captains.