Jimmy Webb and Magellan’s Navigator

Jimmy Webb

Jimmy Webb, the legendary Grammy winning songwriter, enjoys historical fiction. The other night I gave him a copy of Magellan’s Navigator after listening to an evening of his songs and stories at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley.

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The King’s Galley Is Published

Canny Greek Albo becomes master and pilot of a Spanish galley sailing against the infamous Barbary pirate Barbarossa. Death or enslavement will be his likely fate unless he can whip his raw crew into shape and curb the worst tendencies of his vengeful captain.

Think Master and Commander on a galley powered by sail and oar.

Two years of plotting, writing, researching, and editing are over.

I hope you enjoy it!

To buy follow this link: https://amzn.to/2ptXMzz

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September 26, 1519 – Magellan’s Fleet Arrives in the Canary Islands

In late summer, trade winds blow from Spain to the Canary Islands. This made the Canaries a frequent stop for mariners, including Columbus, headed to the New World. Magellan’s fleet arrived there after six days. The short voyage served as a shakedown cruise for the ships’ crew, most of whom had never sailed together before. Some of the grumetes, apprentice seamen, had never been out of sight of land.

Magellan spent three days at the port of Santa Cruz on Tenerife refilling his water barrels, loading more firewood, and purchasing salt cod. He also hired more men. Recruitment was a challenge for Magellan. The Spanish bureaucrats favored staffing their ships sailing to the New World. The multinational composition of Magellan’s crew is testimony to the recruiting challenges he faced. Apart from Spaniards and Portuguese, sailing with him were Italians from Lombardy to Venice to Sicily, Greeks, Frenchmen, an Englishman, a Norwegian, Dutchmen, an Irishman, and an Austrian as well as a few slaves or servants from India and Africa.

Also aboard was Magellan’s slave Enrique, purchased in Malaya seven years earlier at age fourteen, and listed as an interpreter. Once in the Philippines he played a major role in the armada’s fate. Interestingly, Enrique received a handsome salary of 1500 maravedis per month. That’s more than an able-bodied seaman and as much as a skilled cooper or gunner. Since he appears to have had a close relationship with Magellan, perhaps the money was indeed his.

Leaving Santa Cruz, the ships sailed to Monte Rojo on Tenerife, where they spent four days loading pitch. This prosaic substance was essential for keeping the ships seaworthy. At least twice during their voyage they careened the fleet, replaced rotten planks, and caulked seams.

An ominous visit occurred in Monte Rojo that foreshadowed the problems what would plague the fleet over the next year. A caravel arrived bearing a message from Magellan’s father-in-law. It warned him that the Spanish captains intended to kill him and take over the armada. Magellan fashioned a diplomatic reply despite diplomacy not being his strongest trait. Unfortunately, the warning was all too justified.

At midnight on October 3rd, the fleet raised anchor and sailed south.

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Wednesday, September 21, 1519 – Magellan Sails!

magellan-kindle-113016Five hundred years ago on this day the Armada of the Moluccas sailed from Spain on what was to be one of the epic voyages of the Age of Exploration. Five ships sailed with over two hundred and seventy men commanded by the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan. Its objective? To find a westward route to the Spice Islands of the Moluccas, the sole source of cloves in the world.

The Portuguese Vasco da Gama’s pioneering route around Africa to India in 1497-1499 had reshaped the lucrative spice trade from a land and water route ending in Venice to a water route to Portugal. To date this had brought more riches to Portugal than Columbus’s discovery of the New World had to Spain. The ambitious King Charles of Spain, recently elected Holy Roman Emperor, coveted the potential gold a new route to the Spice Islands could bring.

Magellan had years of experience in the Portuguese spice trade and for a long time had dreamt of this expedition. Failing to convince his own king to commission the fleet, he successfully captured the imagination of King Charles and signed a contract with the young sovereign in early 1518. Magellan spent eighteen months purchasing and overhauling the ships, meticulously loading them with food, supplies, and trade goods, and recruiting a crew. This was done while hampered by suspicious Spanish bureaucrats.

It all sounded good. However, even Magellan didn’t knew how to get around the New World to the Spice Islands. Also, Balboa, after crossing the Isthmus of Panama, had sighted a new ocean. How far across this ocean were the Spice Islands? Consensus was that they weren’t far. This last assumption was to almost doom the expedition.

However, a more immediate problem would first arise: the flawed command structure of the fleet. On the one side was Magellan and his crusty veterans of the Portuguese spice trade. Opposing him stood three Spanish captains plotting to displace him. Between them stood the majority of the crew, men simply trying to stay alive.

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The King’s Galley is coming soon

Francisco Albo returns soon in The King’s Galley. Fleeing an assassination attempt in Seville, he returns to what he knows best…the Mediterranean. He becomes master and pilot of the galley Cruz de Barcelona sailing for Spain against the Ottoman Empire and the infamous corsair Barbarossa. Soon he’s fighting for his life against the sea, the Moors, and to keep his past a secret from the Inquisition. Expect to see this exciting tale sometime in October.

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A Real Red Wedding

A fun part of writing historical fiction is that I get to read a lot of history. I go to some lengths to get the history accurate. Once a book’s plot is set, I start delving into the locations. For example, for my current book The King’s Galley, what did Seville, Barcelona, Algiers, and Naples look and feel like in 1523? I never know what I might find.

Researching Naples, I immediately realized the formidable thirteenth century Castel Nuovo deserved a major role in my book. Studying the plans of the castle, I discovered the Hall of the Barons. Hmm. What’s that? Did the local barons meet there?

No. The name comes for an infamous red wedding rivalling that in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. The wedding was in 1487, thirty-six years before my book. The niece of King Ferrante of Naples was to marry the son of one of the local barons. The people welcomed this. Hopefully, it would end the decade’s long feud between Ferrante and the barons. Only thing was, while Ferrante wanted to end the feud, he wanted to do it on his terms. Once the guests were in, guards locked the doors, and the barons, their sons, and the groom ended up in Ferrante’s dungeons. He executed the lucky ones, while the unlucky ones were drawn and quartered. The feud was over.

Did Martin use this wedding as inspiration? I don’t think so. His story seems more rooted in Irish and Scottish history. But the real red wedding in the Hall of the Barons rivals the fictional one!

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Magellan’s Fleet Leaves Seville

Magellan_1810_engravingFive hundred years ago today, August 10, 1519, Magellan’s five ship Armada of the Moluccas cast off from the wharf in Seville and began their journey down the Guadalquivir River to the port of San Lúcar de Barrameda on the Atlantic Ocean. Magellan didn’t leave with the fleet as he was still dealing with pesky bureaucratic details in Seville. It was still another five weeks before the fleet departed on its epic voyage.

The five ships arrived in Seville nearly a year earlier in October, 1518. There the meticulous Magellan oversaw their complete refurbishment from the replacement of rotten planks to the caulking of their seams. Provisions for a two year voyage were loaded. These included 508 butts of wine from Jerez, 5779 maravedis worth of quite essential preserved quince, three jars of capers, and to 2138 quintals of hardtack biscuits. That’s over a hundred tons of biscuits if I did my conversion right.

Magellan had the ships ready. Unfortunately, he was already having disagreements with his Spanish captains that would fester until their mutiny in Patagonia.

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