Magellan didn’t know how far he had to do!

by: Samatha Levine

T here’s the Magellan spacecraft, the first to thoroughly map Venus. There’s a Magellan mutual fund, a Magellan healthcare insurance company, and dozens of other businesses and products all named in honor of the Portuguese explorer known as the first man to circumnavigate the globe. But that admiration may be misdirected. It seems that Ferdinand Magellan’s slave, Enrique, was actually the first man to complete the circuit.

Enrique did not make the journey by choice, of course. Most likely born on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Enrique was sold to Magellan in nearby Malacca in 1512, during one of the navigator’s earlier voyages. When Magellan set off on his quest to find a passage through the Americas to the East Indies, Enrique was part of the crew, ending up back in Malacca nearly 10 years later. Having started far to the east, he thus completed his circumnavigation before anyone else aboard—let alone Magellan, who was killed in the Philippines and never made it home.

WORLDVIEW. Still, Magellan’s tenacity even fanaticism—vastly enlarged the

world that Europeans knew. Laurence Bergreen, author of a new book about Magellan, Over the Edge of the World, says the difference between Christopher Columbus’s jaunts across the Atlantic and Magellan’s trip across the vast breadth of the Pacific was like the “difference between going to the moon and going to Mars.” Along the way, Magellan discovered and somehow navigated the 330-mile labyrinth of fjords and bays we now call the Strait of Magellan and was the first to note the Pacific’s critical trade winds. ‘This was the first modem voyage that gave us our sense of what the world was actually like,” says Bergreen.

The voyage had unpromising beginnings. A former royal page who spent six years in the Portuguese Navy, Magellan returned home in 1514 to dim prospects. He failed to interest Portugal’s King Manuel in his idea of discovering a South American shortcut to the elusive Spice Islands. So Magellan offered his plan to Portugal’s rival, Spain, which needed a way to reach the Orient that avoided the Portuguese-controlled Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa.

On Sept.20, 1519, the 39-year-old capitán general and about 270 men set sail on five heavily laden ships: Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria, and Santiago. They threaded between western Africa and the Canary and Cape Verde islands. Storms and the equatorial doldrums delayed the fleet, but by late November they sighted Brazil. The tantalizing native women of Rio de Janeiro sparked an “unabated orgy” on board the ships, historian Tim Joyner says in his tome, Magellan. By Christmas Eve, though, a restless Magellan was pressing southward in search of a passage to the west.

The journey’s next leg was a near disaster. As the fleet sailed down the east coast of South America through violent storms, Magellan considered anchoring to wait out the winter. To hoard supplies he began cutting rations, which prompted three of his officers to plot a mutiny. They failed, and an enraged Magellan had two quart ered, their body parts skewered on poles. The other was left stranded on the shore.

SINISTER PASS. Next, a storm destroyed the Santiago. It took the better part of a year for the fleet to find a passable channel through the continent. On Nov. 1, 1520—All Saints’ Day—the ships began sailing through what the deeply religious Magellan named All Saints’ Channel. While he managed to navigate the route without maps, sonar, or reliable instruments, the pass daunted those aboard the San Antonio. They deserted, heading back to Spain with much of the fleet’s provisions. On November 28, the remaining ships sailed out the western end of the strait now named for Magellan, into the calm waters of an ocean he called Mar Pacifico, or Peaceful Sea.

Magellan and his crew thought they were home free. Using calculations by ancient Greek geographer Ptolemy, Magellan assumed the Spice Islands were just a few hundred miles to the west. Ptolemy, though, had put the world’s circumference at 19,000 miles—6,000 miles under the true figure. “If Magellan and his backers knew how big the world really was, they might never have gone,” says Bergreen. Anticipating a short leg, Magellan didn’t stop for supplies. According to Antonio Pigafetta, the voyage’s official chronicler, during the nearly four-month journey, the men ate worm-ridden biscuits, rehydrated ox hides, rats, and even sawdust. Nineteen sailors died, mostly from scurvy. (Vitamin C in the officers’ quince jelly seems to have protected them from the disease.)

The depleted crew reached Guam on March 6, 1521, stocked up on food and water, and set sail for the Philippines. There, to Magellan’s surprise, Enrique understood the native tongue. Most historians think he had returned to his home region and thus traveled clear around the world.  It was here that Magellan’s side goal of spreading Christianity got him in trouble. He persuaded the chief of the island of Cebu to be baptized, along with thousands of his people. Magellan then decided to storm Mactan, whose people he viewed as intractable heathens. The charge proved fatal: The captain died on April 27, 1521, amid a stabbing hail of bamboo spears.

Only the Victoria and 18 of the original crew made it back to Spain in September 1522, under the command of Spaniard Juan Sebastian de Elcano. There was little fanfare for Magellan: Portugal scorned him as a traitor, and Spain chose to honor its native Elcano. As for Enrique, who may have truly been the first to make the trip, he disappeared into the mists of history.



Did Drake beat other Europeans to Alaska?

by: Alex Markels

F rancis Drake had plenty to crow about as he as sailed into England’s Plymouth Harbor in the fall of 1580. After all, since setting out three years earlier, he had succeeded in circumnavigating the globe. But if a renegade historian is correct, the story of his accomplishment has been only partly told. In the recent book The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake, Samuel Bawlf argues that Drake also explored the Alaskan coast, finding an inlet that he believed was the entrance to the Northwest Passage, a fabled trade route that would have opened up the Orient’s riches to British ships. It is no secret that upon Drake’s return Queen Elizabeth ordered him and his men not to reveal the particulars of their voyage. Her fear was Francis Drake that Spain would fortify the route against the British Navy. But according to Bawlf, who spent seven years poring over period documents and maps, Drake couldn’t keep himself from sharing his secret discoveries with cartographer friends, who recorded a chain of islands he had discovered off the coast of British Columbia and Alaska in privately published maps of the New World. “But to conceal the extent of his explorations, they placed the islands 600 miles south of their true location,” says Bawlf.

Although controversial, Bawlfs theory has won some converts among historians who say a Drake landing on the coast may explain why forged steel, perhaps from knives traded by the explorer to natives, has been found in coastal Indian ruins from the same period. “All we need is one specimen that’s English to prove Drake was here,” says Grant Keddie, archaeology curator at the Royal British Columbia Museum..



February 23 / March 1. 2004. (Pgs. 62-3)

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