November, 1519 Off Africa…the Trouble Begins for Magellan

Tensions are high among the Armada of the Moluccas officers.

Soon after leaving the Canary Islands, Magellan altered the fleet’s course to a southerly one. Magellan has done so to avoid the Portuguese ships that wait ready to waylay him near the Cape Verdes Islands. When Cartagena, captain of the San Antonia and conjunta persona of the fleet along with Magellan, questions the course change, Magellan refuses to explain. And so begins the overt rift between Cartagena and Magellan.

The fleet initially makes good time, but after a few weeks, a series of hurricanes or tropical depressions hit it. They survive these only to become mired in the hot, humid tropical doldrums for three weeks. The ships barely move. The men are miserable. All fresh food is gone or rotten. The water becomes fetid.

Tempers flare. Cartagena refuses to make the evening salute to Magellan…which is a huge insult to these touchy Iberians. Cartagena and Magellan both stew about the offensive behavior of the other. The scene for more trouble is set when Anthony Salomon, the Sicilian master of the Victoria, is found committing sodomy with a grumete.

 Magellan will have none of that. He convenes a trial by the fleet’s officers his flagship. Salomon is sentenced to death, although not immediately executed. After the trial, the officers discuss the course and their tedious time in the doldrums. Cartagena insults Magellan, and Magellan seizes him by his shirtfront and puts him under arrest. Cartagena appeals to his fellow Spaniards for support, but they don’t move.

Magellan has Cartagena placed in stocks on the main deck…used mainly for the punishment of drunken common sailors. Many officers are aghast at this. Finally, it’s decided Cartagena will be released into the custody of Mendoza, the Spanish Captain of the Victoria. Another of the Spanish clique, de Coca, becomes captain of the San Antonio.

 Things then settle down…for now. But nothing is settled. Magellan’s mistakes will haunt him later. He could have communicated the course change more diplomatically. And then, when Cartagena is deposed, he’s placed in the custody of a confederate. It isn’t clear if de Coca was a ringleader of the Spaniards opposing Magellan, but he wasn’t definitely a friend of Magellan. In any event, Magellan should have placed his brother-in-law in charge of the San Antonio since it carried a substantial portion of the fleet’s supplies.

Finally, the equatorial current carries the fleet into the trade winds, and the fleet begins making good time towards Brazil and the next confrontation between Magellan and Cartagena.

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