Category Archives: Magellan’s Navigator

Just Published: Drake’s Botanist

Six years ago after publishing Magellan’s Navigator I was undecided as to what next. Drake’s circumnavigation was a obvious option, but I hesitated because of the research needed. Well, two years ago I decided to do it, and Drake’s Botanist is the result. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Here’s a brief blurb on my new book:

Queen Elizabeth’s England is at an uneasy peace with King Philip’s Spain, but all wonder how much longer that will last. Spain’s Catholic armies are ravaging England’s Protestant allies in the Netherlands. How can England help them short of sending an army? Spain’s rich silver mines in the New World fund its aggression. When Francis Drake approaches the Queen with a plan cut the flow of this treasure and bankrupt Philip’s empire, she agrees to it.

Drake sails with six ships. A man with flair, he dines each night on silver plates while serenaded by violas. He even has a botanist aboard.

Botanist and author Lawrence Elyot enlists with Drake, thinking the fleet is on a trading expedition to Egypt…not realizing that is a ruse to deceive the Spanish. He is shocked when once at sea Drake announces that there has been a change of plans. First stop will be Africa. Beyond that, Drake won’t say.

Elyot is now on the epic adventure of his life and in more danger than he has dreamt of in his worst nightmares. Certainly, he would not have volunteered had he realized he would play the pirate while encountering mutiny, murderous Spaniards, hostile natives, storms, scurvy, the death of friends, and nearly three years away from London.

But if he survives the foray against the hated papist, his share of the plunder will assure he lives the life of a proper gentleman.

Available on Amazon in ebook, paperback, and KindleUnlimited.

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July 9, 1522 – The Victoria Arrives in the Portuguese Cape Verdes

The Victoria departed Tidore on December 21, 1521 with sixty-two souls aboard, forty-nine Europeans and thirteen Moluccans. El Cano was Captain, having been elected by the crew. Albo was the Pilot, Miguel de Rodas was the Master, while Juan de Acurio was the Mate. Interestingly, all four men were originally mates on four of the five original ships. El Cano was Basque, Acurio Castilian, and Albo and Miguel Greek. Antonio Pigafetta was perhaps the other most senior person aboard. All the men were united in the desire to return to Spain, which isn’t to say that all trusted one another. El Cano had sided with the mutineers. All the other men had actively or passively supported Magellan. It is notable that Pigafetta never names El Cano in his book, leading me to believe he had a low opinion of him.

Their first challenge was to sail through the maze of the East Indies so they might launch themselves across the Indian Ocean. Despite taking on pilots at Tidore, this took nearly two months, and it wasn’t until February 13th that the Victoria lost sight of the Indies. An apprentice seaman and a cabin boy jumped ship at Timor, probably deciding life in the tropical islands was preferable to facing starvation and scurvy.

A month into the transit of the Indian Ocean, they came upon an isolated island, now known as the Ile of Amsterdam. They attempted landfall. Any fresh provisions would have been welcome, but unable to find an anchorage, they sailed on. (The island remains uninhabited other than a research station.)

Finally, on May 8th, 1521 they sighted Africa. Two Europeans had died in the transit of the Indian Ocean. Their food stores already dangerously low and mostly rice remained. The men were weakening, and soon scurvy and starvation would exact a toll unless they got fresh food. It took eleven days to actually round the Cape, as the tired men had to tack against westerly winds, and they once had to make repairs to a mast after a storm. Two more men succumbed while rounding Africa.

Once having passed the Cape they were able to obtain firewood and water, but no food. The ravages of starvation and scurvy now accelerated with men dying each week. By July 9th, less than two months after rounding the Cape and over four thousand miles later, eight more Europeans had died despite once making landfall on the African coast…and finding no provisions. The Moluccans doubtlessly fared worse. We don’t know the timing of their deaths, but of the thirteen that sailed from Tidore, only three survived to reach Spain, which was a much higher death rate than for the Europeans. During this time, Martin de Magellan died. He was a nephew of Magellan who had sailed on the Concepcion.

By early July they were still two thousand miles from Spain and without enough food to sustain them until there. They voted to risk getting provisions at the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands. They entered the Portuguese port of Sao Tiago on July 9th. They told the Portuguese a woeful tale of sailing from the Caribbean and being blown off course by a hurricane. Initially this was believed despite El Cano purchasing food by payment of cloves! At this point there were probably thirty-four Europeans still aboard the Victoria (another seaman having recently died) and three Moluccans. On July 14th, the longboat with thirteen men went ashore for one last load of rice. It didn’t return.

One of the men ashore had blabbed. The Portuguese demanded El Cano surrender. El Cano attempted to negotiate to no avail. They could surrender, to the uncertain mercy of the Portuguese. Or they could sail, despite all the men still suffering the ravages of the voyage, some worse than others. Also, if they sailed, they would be leaving thirteen of their shipmates behind. The remaining crew decided to sail with a badly depleted and sick crew of twenty-five, twenty-two Europeans and three Moluccas.

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The Victoria Sets Sail for Spain from the Spice Islands – December 21, 1521

Their holds filled with tons of cloves worth a fortune in Europe, the Trinidad and Victoria were ready to sail by mid December 1521. The month in the Moluccas had been a happy time. The Rajah Almanzor had proven a trustworthy ally, trading fairly and helping the Spaniards however he could. Nonetheless, Captain General Espinosa dealt with the rajah carefully, as he suspected the rajah of having poisoned Magellan’s friend when he served the opposing rajah of Ternate. The politics of the Moluccas were difficult, with rajahs competing with one another, while all the rajahs disliked the Portuguese. Certainly, the Rajah Almanzor saw the Spanish as a counterbalance to the Portuguese.

Francisco Albo and his shipmates must have looked upon the upcoming voyage with mixed feelings. If all went well, and they survived the storms, starvation, and scurvy of the upcoming voyage, they’d be wealthy men once back in Spain, as each were allowed a personal stash of cloves. On the other hand, they intended to sail across the Indian Ocean from the Indies to the tip of Africa, something that had never been done before.

Finally all was ready. The men were rested and their ships well provisioned with even new sails. The monsoon winds were right and they had pilots to guide them as far as Timor. What could go wrong?

The day of departure was a festive occasion with banners flying and all the local rajahs watching from their own ships. Captain Cano of the Victoria ordered the anchor raised and Albo piloted it out of the harbor and waited for the Trinidad…which never came. The Victoria finally returned to its consort.

They found the Trinidad still anchored, but with a slight list. The Trinidad’s anchor had fouled on the bottom. The response had been to pull harder on it to dislodge it. The anchor didn’t move, but the Trinidad’s hull torqued, pulling apart some of its planking. The pumps barely kept up with the water flooding into the Trinidad’s hold that the pumps barely kept at bay. The Rajah Almanzor sent divers below to find the leaks—to no avail. The conclusion was obvious. The Trinidad had to be unloaded and the leaks fixed. That would take time, but time spent in Tidore was like a time spent in paradise. The problem was that the winds would soon turn, delaying departure for Spain across the Indian Ocean for nearly a year! Also, a hostile Portuguese fleet might arrive at any time. It was decided the Victoria would sail on alone and the Trinidad follow later, possibly by an eastward transit of the Pacific Ocean.

And so, the Victoria finally left Tidore on December 21, 1521 with forty-seven Europeans, thirteen Moluccas aboard to fill out the crew, and the letters of their shipmates on the Trinidad—only four of whom would ever see Spain again.

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November 8, 1521 – Magellan’s Fleet Reaches the Spice Islands…Finally

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The Trinidad and Victoria, the sole surviving ships of Magellan’s Armada of the Moluccas, dropped anchor off the Spice Island of Tidore the afternoon of Friday, November 8, 1521. This finally accomplished what Magellan had first dreamed of doing years before. They announced their arrival with their cannon, and the next day they were greeted by Rajah Almanzor. The Spice Islands of Ternate and Tidore, along with a few other nearby islands, were the sole source in the world of cloves. A shipload of this now common spice would be worth a fortune in Europe—enough to pay for the entire expedition.

The voyage from Cebu inexplicably took over six months, whereas Drake took only twelve days. Drake was an excellent navigator. Carvalho, chief pilot and commander until September 21st, was a thoroughly incompetent navigator. Francisco Albo later demonstrated his skill by piloting the Victoria from the Spice Islands back to Spain. Why didn’t he step forward and get the fleet back on track? I don’t know. Once Carvalho was deposed, it still took the ships forty-eight days to reach their objective.

The Spanish ships sailed into a thorny political situation. The rajahs of the neighboring islands of Ternate and Tidore were bitter rivals. The only thing that united them was their common hatred of the Portuguese.

Some years earlier Magellan’s friend Francisco Serrão was shipwrecked…but managed to become vizier for the rajah of Ternate. With a few fellow Portuguese and a cannon, Serrão helped Ternate vanquish Tidore, and thereby earn the hatred of Rajah Almanzor of Tidore. This established Ternate as the preeminent of the two Spice Islands. The Portuguese were uneasy with Serrão in Ternate and attempted to recall him. Serrão refused, although he did permit a Portuguese trading post in Ternate. Subsequently, at about the time of Magellan’s death at Mactan, Serrão was poisoned, probably by Almanzor, the person with the most to gain by his death.

Why did the Spanish choose to first land at Tidore, rather than at Ternate where they knew Magellan’s friend was vizier? One can only suppose that the local pilot that they had engaged knew that Serrão was dead, and that Ternate was loosely allied with the Portuguese while Tidore was opposed to the Portuguese and hence a potential ally for the Spanish. It proved to be a good choice. Almanzor signed an alliance with Spain, and helped the Spanish in whatever ways he could. Only later, when the Spanish learned of Almanzor’s poisoning of Serrão, did they become more cautious of the friendly rajah. Nonetheless, the Spanish stood by Almanzor, shunning the efforts of the Rajah of Ternate to get them to come to his island for the cloves.

The arrival in the Spice Islands brought up another issue. Did these islands lie in the Portuguese sphere of influence or the Spanish sphere? (The pope had previously divided the non-Catholic world between the Portuguese and Spanish, disregarding any rights of the existing inhabitants and the interests of any other kingdoms or republics.) The pope’s division basically gave Brazil and India to the Portuguese, with the remainder of the New World to the Spanish. He didn’t really address the far side of the world, but what happened if you extended the demarcation line from the Atlantic to the Pacific and called anything west of that line Portuguese and anything east Spanish? Serrão had written Magellan that based upon this the Spice Islands were in the Spanish sphere. Unfortunately, both he and Magellan underestimated the true circumference of the world, which put the islands in the Portuguese sphere. Albo’s estimation of the islands’ longitude confirmed this, although his logbook was stashed in the Seville archives and he never was invited, or attended, subsequent negotiations between Portugal and Spain about the Spice Islands. Of course, determining longitude at this time was not an easy task, and however Albo did it, he did well, as he was only three degrees off. Interestingly, Pigafetta in his book puts the longitude of the Spice Islands decisively, and inaccurately, in the Spanish sphere of influence. Where he got his longitude can only be conjectured. One can suspect it was politically calculated to meet the Spanish needs.

The Spanish interlude in the Spice Islands went well, although Espinosa, Cano, and Albo were eager to get their ships loaded and be off. They knew they had to sail before the monsoons hit, which would make sailing westward back to Spain impossible for months. Finally, on December 18th, 1520 with holds full of cloves the Trinidad and Victoria went to raise their anchors.

Then disaster struck.

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Magellan’s Navigator selected for Amazon Prime Reading

I’m proud to announce that Amazon has selected Magellan’s Navigator for their Prime Reading program. So my ebook is free for the next few months if you’re an Amazon Prime member. Enjoy! https://amzn.to/3jAhd2X

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The First Circumnavigation: Lost in the East Indies

Magellan sailed with Armada of the Moluccas five hundred years ago in 1519, and my blog has been a real time (five hundred years apart) account of this voyage. My last entries were on April 24th when Magellan died in a senseless battle at Mactan in the Philippines in 1521. Then on May 1st most the ship’s officers and many of the more senior sailors died or were enslaved at a banquet hosted by the sultan of Cebu. The surviving crew then fled south towards their objective of the spice islands of the Moluccas.

You say, okay Ken, I remember that. So why haven’t you written about them arriving at the Moluccas? You’re letting us down. Francis Drake took only twelve days to sail from the Philippines to the Moluccas…and it’s been over three months since Magellan’s three ships left Cebu.

Amazingly enough after over three months the Spanish ships were no closer to the Moluccas than when they started. Why? Sheer incompetence.

Upon hurriedly leaving Cebu, the three ships, the Trinidad, Victoria, and Concepcion sailed south in a panic, commanded by Carvalho. Once safely away, they anchored in a bay of the island of Bohol, south of Cebu. There were decisions to be made. First, they only had enough men to man two ships, so the Concepcion was stripped and then burnt.

Next, they needed a new leader, since their most recent co-commanders were lost at Cebu. There weren’t too many of the former officers to choose from, scurvy and the banquet having taken most. Of the original captains, there were none. Of the masters, there was the master of the Trinidad, Polcevera, and Cano, the master of the Victoria. The only original pilot was Carvalho, while Francisco Albo was appointed pilot in the Atlantic as they approached Brazil.

An election was held with all crew members voting. Carvalho became the new captain general and captain of the Trinidad. Polcevera remained that ship’s master. Espinosa, the former master-at-arms, became captain of the Victoria while Cano remained its master. Albo moved to the Victoria and became its new pilot.

A few things can be gleaned from these moves. Carvalho was an obvious choice. He was the most senior officer left. However, prior events off Brazil should have led his shipmates to doubt Carvalho’s abilities. As it turned out, he was wholly incapable of finding the Spice Islands despite having access to all of Magellan’s charts and knowing that these islands were on the equator. I can only surmise that Carvalho was more impressive in person than he demonstrated in practice.

Espinosa was a more junior officer, and hence his leapfrog over Cano to become captain of the Victoria says that he impressed his shipmates. In his case, unlike Carvalho, the men were justified in their trust. Interesting, Pigafetta, the author of the book describing the circumnavigation, moved to the Victoria from the Trinidad at that time. His motives? I can only assume he was trying to get away from Carvalho and to stay near to Espinosa and Albo. He ignores Cano in his book about the circumnavigation, so I don’t believe that was a reason for Pigafetta’s move.

The small fleet went in search of food after leaving Bohol around May 4th. This resulted in a haphazard path through the island. Most islanders were friendly and willing to trade, but non-perishable food, like rice, was difficult to obtain. Given that plants in the tropics are productive the year around, most the natives did not need large amounts of storable food.

Finally on July 9th, the pulled into Brunei’s harbor. Brunei rivaled most cities in Europe. Initially the sultan feared they were Portuguese, who had a justifiably bad reputation. Once convinced they were Spanish, trading began and lasted three weeks. Two Greek seamen deserted, preferring to stay and become Moslems than to risk the voyage back to Europe.

Near the end of July, three large junks entered the harbor and anchored near the European ships. At the same time three of crew visiting the city didn’t return on time. The next day a small fleet issued from Brunei. Fearing the worst, Carvalho ordered his men to attack the junks, which apparently were peaceful. The Spanish easily defeated the junks, and then departed after taking a rajah and several beautiful noblewomen from the junks.

Later Carvalho returned. The Brunei sultan was not pleased. He claimed that his fleet had sailed to attack a rebellious rajah. Exactly what happened next isn’t clear, but was is clear is that when the ships sailed several days later, the captured rajah was gone. Later substantial gold was found in Carvalho’s cabin, with the obvious conclusion he’d gotten the gold from the Brunei sultan in exchange for the rajah. The three seamen, one of them Carvalho’s son, still in Brunei were abandoned. The three noblewomen were still aboard the Trinidad, serving as Carvalho’s personal harem.

Not long after their departure from Brunei, Carvalho ran the Trinidad aground. She was refloated only with difficulty. The ships were now in desperate need of careening to clean their hulls of growth, repair rotten planks, recaulk the planks, and finally tar their hulls. They finally found a suitable beach to do this, which took until late September.

While there, the crew deposed Carvalho seeing as how he “hadn’t carried out the King’s instructions.” It was at this time the gold hidden in Carvalho’s cabin was discovered. Espinosa became the new captain general, although some claim Polcevera had that distinction.

The two ships sailed in late September 1521, their hulls now sound and, even more important, with a competent commander. Unfortunately, they still didn’t have a pilot to get to the Spice Islands, and food was, once again, running low. This led to them becoming pirates. The local junks were helpless against the stout hulls and cannon of the Spanish. Their piracy finally yielded ample food and, more important, a pilot to guide them, finally, to the Spice Islands on November 8, 1521. Their arrival ended a sorry period for the circumnavigation. About the only good thing that can be said good of this period is that few of the locals died in their depredations, and the Spanish ships finally had competent leaders.

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A Fatal Banquet – May 1, 1521

Magellan’s death at Mactan on April 27, 1521 along with five of their shipmates left the fleet’s survivors in shock and disarray. Little did they know even worse awaited them in four days.

Magellan had no second-in-command so there was no clear leader after his death. All the fleet’s original captains, with the exception of Serrano who had commanded the smallest ship of the armada, were now dead. Of the original pilots, Gomez had defected in the Straits of Magellan, while two others had died in the Pacific crossing, leaving only San Martin, Carvalho, and Albo. Of these three San Martin seems to have been of a more cerebral sort. He was also the armada’s astrologer. The men had some reason to doubt Carvalho’s competence, while Albo had only been appointed pilot when the fleet approached Brazil.

Some hundred and forty men were left on the three ships. Decisions had to be made. Their authoritarian leader gone, leadership of the fleet was put to a vote. Serrano and Duarte Barbosa were elected co-leaders. These two men were obvious choices. Serrano was a dependable, experienced mariner. Duarte Barbosa, Magellan’s brother-in-law, was a man of action with years of experience in India with the Portuguese.

The decision was swiftly made to resume the armada’s original mandate, and to sail to the Spice Islands. They dismantled the trading post ashore, and made the ships ready to sail.

The Cebu rajah must have been dismayed at these events. He’d used Magellan’s military might to settle differences with his rival local rajahs. The departure of the Spanish fleet would leave him vulnerable to reprisals.

Another player now comes to center stage: Enrique, Magellan’s faithful servant and slave. Enrique fought beside Magellan at Mactan, and was lightly wounded there, while Barbosa wenched back at Cebu. Enrique knew that Magellan’s will gave him his freedom. Barbosa refused to honor this, and demanded Enrique to go ashore to negotiate with the rajah the details of their departure, and threatened to take him back to be a slave to Magellan’s wife. One can imagine Enrique’s thoughts were of revenge when going to meet the rajah.

Enrique returned to announce that the rajah was hosting a banquet for the Spanish before their departure, where he would deliver precious gifts for their king. The news delighted Barbosa, who was always up for a party. Men eagerly sought to be one of the lucky ones to attend this last bacchanal.

Most of the fleet’s remaining officers left to attend the festivities, including Barbosa, Serrano, the pilot San Martin, Carvalho, and Espinosa, the fleet’s master-at-arms. In all twenty-six men went ashore. Albo stayed behind to ready the ships while Pigafetta, tending a wound from Mactan, also didn’t go.

Carvalho and Espinosa quickly returned. They’d become suspicious after seeing the fleet’s priest pulled aside by a native man that he’d befriended.

Not long later, music at the rajah’s palace stopped, and the distinct clank of steel-on-steel reverberated over the harbor. Carvalho, Espinosa, and Albo rushed to ready the flagship Trinidad to sail and prepare its cannon. However, after the losses from the transit of the Pacific, Mactan, and those attending the banquet, all three ships were undermanned and unprepared for battle. Finally, the Trinidad was brought close enough to fire a few cannon shot at the palace.

In response, a small party departed the palace and came to the water’s edge. It included the rajah, his son, Enrique, and, hands bound, Serrano. Of what happened then, there are several versions, but all have the same ending. The rajah bargained for cannon in return for his captives, but, after the first cannon were delivered, demanded even more. Serrano then spoke, telling them to flee, as the rajah’s allies would soon arrive by sea.

My belief is that if Barbosa or Magellan were in command, they would have launched a heavily armed rescue party. It might have succeeded. But Carvalho was in command. In a panic, he ordered the fleet south.

Twenty-three men were left behind to their fate. Doubtlessly some, or even most, were already dead. The priest probably survived…possibly as a free man. The other survivors likely lived out their lives as slaves.

Twice in five days the fleet had lost its leaders on the far side of the world from Spain. Fortunately, these were tough, resourceful men, although at times distracted by liquor, women, and gold. The three ships with now less than a hundred and twenty men sailed south. Now, for the second time in four days they needed to elect a new leader and then find the Spice Islands. They knew these were on the equator. One would think they’d be easy to find. Sail to the latitude of the equator and ask around. Or, upon reaching the equator, simply sail either west or east until they were found. It didn’t happen that easily.

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February 13, 1520 – Seventy-eight Days Across the Pacific and Magellan’s Men Are Desperate

Magellan’s three ship fleet crossed the equator five hundred years ago on this date after having left the Strait of Magellan on November 28th, 1519. Seven men had already died, leaving one hundred and sixty men still crammed aboard the three small ships. Each day was the same as the day before: an endless sea and a pitiless sun. The food was all but gone. Starvation and scurvy stalked all the ships. All seven deaths were aboard Victoria. Another twenty or more men were deathly ill, including the pilot of the Victoria, Vasco Gomes Galego, the pilot of the Concepcion, Juan Rodriguez de Mafra, the Fleet Accountant, Antonio de Coca, and the Trinidad’s master gunner, Andrew of Bristol.

Hunger was understood by all. Scurvy, the scourge of long voyages out of the sight of land, was less well understood. But Magellan knew his men desperately needed fresh food.

Unless land was found soon, all aboard realized death was their fate.

Magellan continued on a northwest course until he reached ten degrees north latitude, at which time he turned due west to take advantage of the trade winds. Apparently, given the weakened state of his crew, he sought landfall to the north of the Spice Islands, and hence away from the Portuguese bases further south in the Indies. The Portuguese would certainly fiercely defend their dominance of the spice trade, and in his crew’s current state any battle would mean Magellan’s certain defeat. Magellan needed a safe place for his men to recover their health.

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February 4, 1521 – Magellan’s Sailed for Ten Weeks on the Pacific – Where Are the Indies?

Magellan’s fleet sails onward in the trackless Pacific, propelled by strong trade winds. It’s been nearly seven weeks since Magellan ordered for a course northwest, away from the coast of South America, and ten weeks since Magellan’s three ships raised their anchors in the Strait of Magellan.

When will they reach land? Fresh food is a memory. In Antonio Pigafetta’s words, “We ate biscuit that was no longer biscuit, but powder of biscuit swarming with worms, for they had eaten the good. It strongly stank of rat’s urine. We drank yellow water that had been putrid for many days.”

They sighted one tiny, uninhabited islet on January 24th. Finally, on February 4th the lookout yells out that land is ahead. Everyone hurries to the gunwale. Disappointed, all they see is an atoll rimmed by a coral reef. A few trees dot its land and sharks circle the reef. It is clearly uninhabited and offers little potential for food or water. (The island was probably the Caroline Atoll at ten degrees south latitude.)

They sail on.

One can only surmise what was going through Magellan’s head. When setting off from the South American coast he’d probably thought he was only a few weeks from the Indies and the Spice Islands. I believe this was the case, because, eager to reach the Spice Islands, he made no effort to water or obtain food before leaving South America behind. Had he known the ocean was this vast, he certainly would have first obtained fresh provisions. Like Columbus, he had seriously underestimated the circumference of the Earth and size of the Pacific Ocean.

Now, it was too late to return. The strong, favorable winds that had sped him on his way also barred his return to South America.

How his crew is weakening. Those unwilling to stomach the moldy biscuit, or roasted rats, are weakening. Most men are showing signs of the scurvy, loose teeth and swollen gums, except for those with access to Magellan’s quince preserves. Those on the Victoria fare the worse, probably because while the men on the Trinidad and Concepcion ate the wild vegetables at the Bay of Sardines, the Victoria was futilely searching for the San Antonio.

There is no choice but to pray to God for deliverance and sail on.

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Magellan’s Fleet Enters the Pacific Ocean – November 28, 1520

Magellan took thirty-eight days in all to transit the “Strait of Magellan.” His time there was blessed by unusually good weather, but complicated by the search for the San Antonio after its defection.

While the Victoria searched for the wayward San Antonio, Magellan’s Trinidad and the Concepcion anchored in the sheltered ‘Bay of Sardines.’ There they made repairs, netted, not surprisingly, sardines, and some ate the watercress like vegetation that grew in the streams entering the bay.

Magellan knew there was another sea or ocean to the west of the Americas. On September 25, 1513 Balboa was the first European to see it from a mountain on the Isthmus of Panama. He later waded in its waters and claimed it for Spain as the “South Sea.” However, no European knew its true extent. Magellan seems to have thought the Spice Islands were a short two to three-week sail to the west.

While waiting for the Victoria, Magellan sent a shallop to explore the maze of fjord-like waterways to the west. On the shallop were a Flemish gunner, Roldan de Argot, Bocacio Alonso, a seaman, and Hernando de Bustamente, the surgeon barber. (Interestingly, all three of these men would eventually make it back to Spain.)

The shallop returned some days later. Roldan de Argot announced that there was an ocean to the west. He had climbed a mountain peak and only seen open water to the northwest. What he probably saw was the Ocean Reach, an over twenty-mile wide and sixty-mile long fjord that does end at the Pacific Ocean.

Magellan rejoiced. All he’d work towards was finally coming to be. After rendezvousing with the Victoria, on November 21, 1520 he sent a notarized order to the captains, masters, pilots, and mates of the armada, asking their opinions on how they should proceed. Of course, at the time Magellan’s main adversaries had either left on the San Antonio, been marooned, or executed. In this order, Magellan pointedly says that he is “a man who never scorns the opinion and counsel of anyone.” And despite the executions at San Julian “you need not be afraid, for all that happened was done in the service of His Majesty, and for the security of his fleet.” What went through the officers’ minds? I wouldn’t have wanted to be on Magellan’s ‘bad’ list. Not surprisingly all the officers agreed to proceed.

The small fleet then sailed on November 26 and actually entered the Pacific Ocean on November 28, 1520.

My next blog will discuss Magellan’s sail across the Pacific. This didn’t take weeks. The three ships wouldn’t see Guam, their first landfall, until March 6, 1521. By this time the crews would be wracked by scurvy and starvation. Despite the longer than expected transit, fewer lives would have been lost had the stores aboard the San Antonio been available, and had weeks not been wasted in search of the San Antonio.

The Strait of Magellan would never be a common passage for ships. It is simply too tortuous and dangerous in the stormy weather that often prevails there. Most ships sail further south around Cape Horn.

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