Tag Archives: Magellan’s Navigator

August 24, 1520 – Magellan Sails South

Nearly five months after taking winter refuge in Porto San Julian harbor on the stark Patagonian coast, Magellan and his men were sick of the place. Their stay started off poorly with the mutiny, which had led to the death of three men, one a trusted officer plus two of the mutineers. Ironically, here fifty-eight years later Francis Drake would also execute one of his captains for mutiny. This was done near the gibbet where the remains of Magellan’s drawn and quartered captains were exhibited. It is said that a cooper of Drake’s ships cut up Magellan’s gibbet and carved drinking cups from it. For me personally, it would have ruined the taste of any wine drunk from them.

The enclosed harbor of San Julian offered them excellent protection from the winter gales that swept through, but little else. The only available water was brackish. Game and fish were limited. Apparently, they had little success hunting the fleet rhea and guanaco that lived in the surrounding hills. I believe that during their stay their food stores continued to dwindle…and they still had miles upon miles to sail once they got around the continent that blocked them.

Fortunately, while in an earlier exploration Serrano had lost his ship, the little Santiago, he had discovered the River Santa Cruz a little south of San Julian. Santa Cruz offered fresh water and abundant game and fish.

And so, Magellan decided to move to Santa Cruz despite the southern hemisphere winter not yet being over. The fleet raised anchor on August 11, 1520 after first marooning Juan de Cartagena and a priest on an island in the bay along with ample food, wine, and swords. Cartagena was the third ringleader of the mutineers. Magellan had initially spared his neck from the fate of his fellow mutineer Quesada. It isn’t clear why he did this, although Cartagena had been appointed conjunta persona of the armada by King Charles, and was apparently the bastard son of Archbishop Fonseca, who oversaw the Spanish bureaucracy that oversaw all New World exploration. So, Cartagena had friends in high places. But then, before departure, Magellan all but killed Cartagena by marooning him. Once again, we don’t know the details, but apparently Cartagena was once again attempting to foment a mutiny. In the end, Cartagena got what he deserved after blundering again.

Despite marooning Cartagena on August 11th, the fleet didn’t actually leave San Julian until the 24th. Presumably the delay was due to problems with a ship or, more likely, bad weather. Two days later the armada arrived at Santa Cruz after two days of fighting stormy seas.

Compared to the austere San Julian, Santa Cruz was a land of milk and honey. The men got to work netting fish, killing seals and other game, and salting or smoking their meat for the voyage ahead. The armada stayed in Santa Cruz until spring came to the southern hemisphere.

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Works in Progress

COVID has kept me home and writing.

I’ve begun the final editing of The Sultan’s Galley. In this book, Albo is now captain of his own galley, the Napolitana. Albo reunites with his old friend, Antonio Pigafetta from Magellan’s Navigator, who is joining the Knights Hospitaller (better known by its later name, the Knights of Malta.) When they learn of a galley loaded with tribute for the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, they join forces to waylay it. Like The King’s Galley, this book stands on its own, or can be read as part of the Albo series. These is some serious galley action in this book. The Sultan’s Galley should be out in December.

Meanwhile, I’ve started a new historical novel that, like Magellan’s Navigator, will focus on one of the great voyages of exploration. Writing this will be a slower process, due to the research necessary. Like Magellan’s Navigator, I want it as historically accurate as possible. Now, if the USPS will only deliver a book for this…it sat in a mail facility in Las Vegas for over a week. Supposedly it left there a week ago, but still hasn’t arrived!

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A Rescue in Patagonia – Magellan’s Armada of the Moluccas

The first ship overhauled in San Julian harbor was the small caravel Santiago. Despite it being late fall and stormy, on May 1, 1520 Magellan sent it south under its able captain Serrano to explore. Serrano was the sole remaining captain of the original five, other than Magellan. Unlike the troublesome Spanish captains, he was a professional sailor, probably of Portuguese descent, and possibly a distant relative of Magellan. Serrano was to find a better harbor in which to spend the worst of winter as the armada’s hardtack and salt cod stores became more depleted each day, the game around San Julian was elusive, and even the water was brackish.

Each day Magellan expected the Santiago and its thirty-eight men to return. As each day passed, hopes fell and fear grew about what might had befallen them. In mid-June a hunting party spied two strange man-like creatures. It wasn’t until these apparitions were with speaking distance that the hunters realized these were two of their shipmates from the Santiago. They had a woeful tale.

The Santiago had found a good harbor, with cold, sweet water, and bountiful fish after five days of tacking against headwinds. They named it Santa Cruz. (It is about seventy miles south of San Julian.) Serrano stayed there for three weeks, catching fish and seals, smoking the meat. Upon departing to explore further, a storm immediately caught them, and drove them upon the shore. Thirty-seven of the crewmembers escaped, but one was swept away to his death. This was Juan, Serrano’s black slave. Juan, so far as I can tell, was one of two slaves on the armada, the other being Enrico, who Magellan had purchased in Malaysia, and who would play a major role in the armada’s fate.

Serrano and his men salvaged what they could and returned overland to Santa Cruz. Arriving there, they had water, wood for fire and shelter, and fish for food, but little else. Two of the strongest young men were then sent overland to return to San Julian. The shore was too rocky to follow, so they were forced to go inland over a frozen, bitterly cold pampas. Nearly two weeks later the hunters sighted them.

His ships not being ready, Magellan immediately sent an overland rescue party laden with hardtack, which reached the survivors some ten days later. All the Santiago’s crew were back at San Julian in late July. So, Magellan had now lost the smallest of his five ships. At this time, his losses in men were minimal for an expedition of this era. There was the execution Master Salomon for sodomy in Rio, William the Irishman drowned in the Plate, and in San Julian the suicide of Antonio Baresa, the young man sodomized by Salomon. Also, killed or executed in San Julian were the two Spanish captains. And, as related above, Juan drowned in the Santiago’s wreck.

Magellan now knew food and water was a short sail south, but he needed his ships repaired and good weather before attempting that move. The elusive passage around this continent was yet to be found, that would have to wait until spring.

Unfortunately, more deaths would come before finding the passage, and there were tragic encounters with the indigenous Patagonians, which is the topic of my next post.

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Mutiny in Patagonia!

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April 1, 1520 – Mutiny

The Spanish captains finally made their move on the night of Easter, April 1, 1520 and by the following morning controlled three of the armada’s five ships. However, by the following morning, the mutiny was crushed and Magellan once again in control. Several factors contributed to Magellan’s victory. He was bold while the Spanish captains’ were indecisive. Also, many of the sailors and officers were hesitant to support the mutineers. Sailors have an aversion to mutiny…and for a good reason. Death, and often a painful death, is the common fate of mutineers.

What follows is a brief description of the known facts of the mutiny. Interestingly, the tides played a major role in the mutiny as they dictated when ships could move or attempt to exit to the ocean. I suspect the important factor of the tides was lost on the landlubber Spanish Captains.

The ships on Easter Sunday:

Trinidad – captained by Magellan

San Antonio – captained by Mesquita, Magellan’s cousin

Concepcion – captain by Quesada of the Spanish clique

Victoria – captained by Mendoza of the Spanish clique

Santiago – captained by Serrano, a professional mariner.

The ships’ positions:

These are open to dispute, but accounts indicate that the San Antonio and Concepcion were furthest into the small harbor and the Trinidad and Santiago barred, to an extent, their access to the ocean. The Victoria was anchored closest to the bay’s narrow mouth to the ocean.

The tides:

The tides at San Julian vary around twenty feet from high to low and the ebbing and flooding tides are swift. The only way a ship could leave the harbor was on an ebbing tide, which apparently happened in the early morning and twelve hours later in the late afternoon.

The Spanish captains already were in control of the Concepcion and Victoria. Late Easter night Quesada and Cartagena, the demoted captain of the San Antonio and once co-commander of the armada, boarded the San Antonio. They threw Mesquita into chains. When the Basque master of the San Antonio protested, Quesada knifed him, mortally wounding him. The Portuguese pilot of the San Antonio also refused to join the mutiny. The capture of the San Antonio was critical for the mutineers as it was the largest ship in the fleet and it carried a disproportionate amount of the armada’s supplies.

The mutineers could have left San Julian on the next morning’s tide with their three ships and sailed back to Spain, as Magellan wasn’t even aware of the mutiny until later in the morning. Instead, they chose to negotiate with Magellan for joint control of the fleet.

When Magellan became aware of the mutiny, he sent a skiff around to the ships, to determine who was loyal, and who not. Learning that Serrano was the only loyal captain, he ordered Serrano to move the Santiago closer to the Trinidad to better bottle the mutineers in the harbor. The Santiago, however, was by far the smallest of the five ships and really didn’t count for much in a fight.

Negotiations went on the remainder of April 2nd. Magellan wanted the captains to come to the Trinidad to discuss their grievances. The Spanish captains, while stupid, were not that stupid. The day ended with nothing resolved, except Magellan did detain the crew of a longboat of the mutineers, leaving the San Antonio and Concepcion shorthanded.

That night Magellan sent his loyal Spanish alguacil major, his sergeant at arms, to the Victoria with a message for Mendoza. Mendoza laughed in his face after reading it. It was his last laugh, as the alguacil major fatally stabbed him. The ship’s crew immediately swore allegiance to Magellan. The majority of them weren’t Spanish, but Italians, Portuguese, or French along with a few other nationalities, so it’s doubtful many supported the mutiny. Its pilot was Portuguese and its mate was Albo’s friend, Miguel of Rhodes.

Magellan’s brother-in-law Duarte Barbosa took command of the Victoria and moved it alongside Magellan’s other two ships. Now, it was three of Magellan’s ships against the two of the mutineers, and Magellan still blocked the exit from the harbor. Magellan now had the advantage.

The final events happened just before dawn. The tide was ebbing and only one anchor held the San Antonio in place. Somehow, this came loose. Did Albo cut it as he claims? However it came loose, it wasn’t by accident as Magellan expected it and was ready. Quesada wasn’t ready. The San Antonio began floating towards the Trinidad on the tide. Magellan fired at least one cannon into the San Antonio and prepared to board the mutineer’s ship. Quesada postured in armor while flourishing a sword, but his men weren’t interested in fighting against Magellan, and surrendered. Soon afterward, Cartagena surrendered the Concepcion.

The mutiny was over.

Mesquita presided over the trial of the mutineers. Forty were found guilty and sentenced to death. Magellan commuted this sentence for all but Quesada. Quesada’s squire beheaded him on April 7th, and the bodies of Mendoza and Quesada were drawn and quartered on the shore. Drake saw the gibbet from which their remains had hung when he visited San Julian fifty-eight years later. Interestingly, Drake also executed an officer that he accused of mutiny while in San Julian, an odd coincidence for a bleak bay in Patagonia.

The mutineers with commuted sentences then labored in chains throughout the winter before finally being freed when the armada sailed in August. The loyal Basque master of the San Antonio stabbed by Quesada seemed to recover…until an infection set in and he died three months later. While a prisoner Cartagena attempted to foment another mutiny, once again confirming his general lack of intelligence. This finally exhausted Magellan’s patience, and Cartagena and an accomplice priest were left behind when the fleet sailed.

Magellan was finally rid of the ‘Spanish captain’ problem, but other resentments still simmered amongst his officers.

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Rio – Party, Execution, and Seeds of Mutiny – December 16-26, 1519

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.

 

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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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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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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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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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