Ferdinand Magellan and me (38)

Gibraltar marina

Gibraltar marina, where things begin to unravel.

All’s fair in love and sailing.

Apart from the fact that I have never garrotted anyone or chopped anyone’s head off (honest) the main difference between Ferdinand Magellan and me is our respective attitudes towards women. When Magellan married Beatriz at a high ceremony in the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria in Triana he received a dowry of 600,000 maravedis, a considerable amount. When I married Robin I paid for the hire of our yacht club’s function room and the fee of the marriage celebrant who was an atheist like the rest of us. Magellan forbade Beatriz to set foot aboard his ship. I was only too happy to welcome Robin aboard Wathara, as the spider said to the fly.

This is obviously a reversal in the relationship between men and women in the space of a mere 500 years. It’s less than the blink of an eye in the inertial frame of reference described by Albert Einstein in the 20th century. Magellan proved the world is round not flat. Einstein proved that space and time are bent, so what does 500 years amount to?

A couple of weeks after Robin left, a telegram arrived. Mrs Regan’s court application. Family Court Sydney. Please arrange for your solicitor to appear. Orders sought. 1. Restrain Mr Regan from withdrawing monies from National Australia Bank and from selling, disposing or encumbering any other asserts including yacht Wathara. 2. Restrain bank. 3. Pay to wife lump sum property settlement 50,000 dollars. Please advise arrangements for service on you of documents. Mitchell & Co. Solicitors.

Holy shit! She should have been keelhauled for wrecking the boat, never mind a property settlement. She had already been given cash and property exceeding anything she owned before the marriage. I got on the phone to my solicitor in Sydney, who informed me the bank account had already been frozen.
“What a load of crap. How am I supposed to live? She was just a crew member who liked to fuck.”
“She is also your wife.”
“What a mistake that was. Fifty thousand dollars! Regard that a-postiori as the dowry that was never paid when we got married.”
“Dowries are rather out of fashion, I’m afraid.”
“I’m just an old fashioned kind of bloke. I mean, I’m here to investigate the life of a man who lived 500 years ago. Magellan would have straightened her out.”

Living aboard a yacht puts a marriage in a special category. She always claimed she was not a women’s libber. She never once complained about being called out of her bunk in the middle of the night to stand watch or change sails in howling wind, rain and rough seas, but she objected to washing the dishes. She offered to do oil changes on the engine, she would paint and varnish, repair sails and make fancy rope work. She had a charming smile and a delightful laugh that endeared her to strangers but, really, the only thing we had in common was the love of sailing. When that began to pall after the shipwreck, then the hard sail against strong headwinds in the Red Sea, then the equally frustrating calms in the Mediterranean, we had nothing left. I knew I was going to miss her, the bitch, but when it comes to a choice between a woman and my boat the outcome is clear. To top it off, Bucko fell overboard one day while I was away and drowned in the marina because he couldn’t climb out. Shit happens.

Ferdinand Magellan

All’s fair in love and sailing


Ferdinand Magellan and me (37)

Replica of nao Victoria - first ship to circumnavigate the world.

Nao Victoria, first to circumnavigate the world.

Crew problems

In Gibraltar the Magellan project had to take a back seat while I dealt with a few disasters. Still in shock from the shipwreck in Yemen, Robin decided she really couldn’t face the Strait of Magellan, packed up and flew home to start an art gallery in Sydney. That threw a spanner in the works. I had no ambition to sail single-handed. I believe it is a dangerous practice and organisers of round-the-world-single- handed yacht races should be restrained.

Before Robin walked into my life and said Gee Whiz I had been searching for a suitable crew member. I pinned notices on message boards, spread the word among the yachting fraternity and placed ads in the paper. Of the 152 replies, 149 came from schoolgirls describing themselves as ‘have no experience but willing to learn.’ I actually went as far as interviewing a couple of these girls. I wasn’t looking for a Vasco da Gama but nor was I prepared for their pony tails and little white socks. I realised what a fool I was.I might have run foul of the law taking these girls on.

Of the other three applicants one replied apologetically that I was too young for her and thus endeared herself to me. That left two just about the right age. One was a maniac, a child’s psychiatrist, the most insane person I have ever met. She was Lebanese. Within minutes of meeting, she wanted to know why I refused to fight with her. My desire for peace was racism, sexism, religious discrimination or evidence of deep-seated repressions from my childhood. I wasn’t arguing with her about that. I had a rotten childhood. In fact, I wasn’t arguing with her about anything

That left Colleen with a sexy body that she loved to have massaged with baby oil. After a couple of weeks Wathara’s upholstery was stained with baby oil. When Robin later moved aboard I told her it was butter. It soon became obvious that Colleen’s motivation was to escape from her violent husband. She came to me covered in bruises, which is how the massages originated.

Ferdinand Magellan had crew problems too. Getting the numbers to man his five ships proved difficult because experienced seamen wanted to seek fame and fortune in the New World. He managed to recruit about 270 men of various nationalities. His bigger problem was political interference by Juan Fonseca, Bishop of Burgos and head of the Casa de Contratation, the maritime authority in Spain at that time. Fonseca resented Magellan, a Portuguese, being appointed captain general or admiral of the armada ahead of Fonseca’s bastard son, Juan de Cartagena.

Magellan experienced at least three mutinies or attempted mutinies in the course of the voyage. The mutineers were not common seamen but their aristocratic officers led by Cartagena contesting Magellan’s authority. Magellan executed one of his captains and another was killed in a mutiny; both of them appointed by Fonseca. Magellan abandoned Cartagena on the shore of what is now Argentina. This act probably made it impossible for Magellan to return to Spain. He well knew that Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, discoverer of the Pacific Ocean, had been beheaded for a lesser crime shortly before the Armada sailed from Spain.

Ferdinand Magellan

In Gibraltar


Ferdinand Magellan and me (36)

Europa Point, Gibraltar


Having sailed through the Mediterranean Sea, island hopping to historic and picturesque landmarks, we stopped short of the Pillars of Hercules. The narrow strait of Gibraltar is the Mediterranean’s bottleneck and the busiest ocean waterway in the world. In ancient times it was a barrier for sailors, only opened by Portuguese
explorations in the 15th century.

For me it was a chance to tackle the many jobs that needed doing aboard Wathara. High on the list was installing a satellite navigator. I had learned my lesson with the grounding in South Yemen and wanted never again to blunder around without being able to get a fix. In Wathara’s main cabin there was a photo taken in 1896 of Joshua Slocum in his yacht Spray. He was the first person to sail around the world alone in a small yacht and a kind of hero of mine, but now it was time to abandon the heroic stance.

There is a class of cruising yachtsman calling themselves purists who would be aghast at the thought of fitting electronic gadgets to a yacht. They sail gaff-rigged wooden boats preferably without engines and preferably designed by Colin Archer, a Norwegian who designed distinctive craft in the early 20th century. There is a place for such people and such boats just as there is a place for antique cars but for some reason the owners of the nautical variety consider themselves superior to the lesser mortal whose boat is fitted with an engine, electric light and an actual toilet, or head, rather than a bucket. The purist, pounding his chest, climbs on deck in all weathers to perform his ablutions hoping he doesn’t knock over the bucket. The purist drifts for hours or days waiting for wind long after his inferiors have motored into port. The purist is an expert tier of useless knots, plays sea shanties on a mouth organ and smokes a pipe. One well known purist claimed to store ship by tipping alternate layers of porridge and smoked fish into an old oil drum lashed to the mast, staggering on deck at meal times to scoop up a ladle full of the disgusting mess. There is a further class who are not so much purists as maniacs; the ones who cross the Atlantic in bathtubs or round Cape Horn on a windsurfer. The British are prominent in this class, perhaps as part of their eccentric national character.
No, that’s not me. I felt only a slight twinge of guilt installing the satellite equipment. Gibraltar seemed an appropriate place to do it. I did murmur an apology to Ferdinand Magellan.

Ferdinand Magellan and me(36)


Ferdinand Magellan and me(35)

Pigafetta's map of Timor

Pigafetta’s map of Timor

Pigafetta’s gift to the world.

click for Ferdinand Magellan

The most serious casualty of our shipwreck at Nishtun was my facsimile edition of Antonio Pigafetta’s journal of Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage. It had turned to sludge along with several charts in the panic of trying to refloat Wathara.

Pigafetta’s memoir deserves to be classified a world heritage treasure: unique in its time, shrewd in its observations and even entertaining. Pigafetta can be regarded as the world’s first anthropologist. At a time when the Spanish empire was invading South America, trashing local culture and enslaving or murdering the natives, Pigafetta showed a genuine interest in the appearance, the customs and above all the language of the people he encountered along the way.

I am very fond of Pigafetta. I have a vision of him sitting cross-legged interviewing the alleged cannibals of Brazil or the giants of Patagonia, transcribing their words to a wax tablet. Later he would collect these words into the first lexicons of their native languages. He took a particular interest in one native of Patagonia whom he named Paul. Magellan had captured this man by trickery and clapped him in chains, planning to convert him to Christianity and take him back to Spain like a zoo specimen. Pigafetta protected him as best he could and cared for him until he eventually died of starvation or scurvy. Paul gave the first Patagonian word, Setebos to the English language via Pigafetta’s journal and Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

Upon his return to Spain Pigafetta presented a copy of his journal to the king, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. His aim was, as he said to the king, that the fame of so noble a captain shall not perish in our time. He wrote versions of his tale for the king of Portugal and the Regent of France. His work was plagiarised by Maximilian of Transylvania, bastard son of the Cardinal Archbishop of Salzburg who had the document published and promoted throughout Europe and eventually Britain.

Returning to Italy, Pigafetta met Philippe de Villiers l’Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the order of the Knights of St John. They apparently hit it off together and Pigafetta was initiated into the order. He wrote another manuscript of his story and presented it to the Grand Master. He also obtained permission from the Doge of Venice to publish his book. Over the years, a number of these manuscripts have emerged and fetch high prices at antiquarian book stores. Pigafetta’s memoir of the first circumnavigation of the world has been published several times from different sources. Many books have been based upon it but the original, illustrated with water colour sketches, is the only reliable one.

Pigafetta joined the Knights of St John in Malta and died there in 1534.

Pigafetta’s journal of Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage


Ferdinand Magellan and me(34)

waiting for cyclone Marcia

Political Correctness of cyclones

Ferdinand Magellan and me(34)

Women aboard ship has been a vexed issue for centuries. Ferdinand Magellan never allowed women aboard his ships, not even his own wife, although his reason is unclear.There was a time when cyclones were invariably given female names and ships were invariably referred to as she despite the name on the transom. The case for calling a ship she is clear nowadays:

A ship is called a she because there is always a great deal of bustle around her; there is usually a gang of men about; she has a waist and stays; it takes a lot of paint to keep her good-looking; it is not the initial expense that breaks you, it is the upkeep; she can be all decked out; it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly; and without a man at the helm, she is absolutely uncontrollable. She shows her topsides, hides her bottom and, when coming into port, always heads for the buoys.

Since cyclones are characterised by severe damage and destruction only some kind of misogynist could conceive of giving them female names. It has been known for centuries that women aboard ship bring bad luck, like bananas. We find justification for this attitude in the world’s oldest sea story – Jason and the Argonauts.

Jason, you may remember, was given the task of retrieving the Golden Fleece from a grove where it was protected by a fire-breathing dragon. On his voyage in the good ship Argo he faced many perils; not least the women of the island Lemnos, who had all murdered their husbands. The Argonauts were not permitted to proceed until they had repopulated the island.Their next daunting experience was an attack by Harpies: huge winged creatures with murderous claws. Then they had to tackle the Strait of Bosphorus, with fierce tides that could wreck a ship and clashing rocks that could crush her.

Arriving in the Kingdom of Colchis, Jason demanded the Golden Fleece be handed over as it belonged to Zeus, the king of the gods. The king said he could have the Golden Fleece if he could wrest it from the dragon. This Jason achieved with the help of a comely goddess named Medea and they returned home triumphantly.

Unfortunately, when Jason fell in love with another comely goddess Medea became exceeding jealous and out of spite murdered their children. A deeply depressed Jason became a homeless wanderer and ended his days when one of Argo’s beams fell on his head. Thus we have a clue as to why cyclones are normally given female names: Hell knoweth no fury like a woman scorned. Having survived a few cyclones I can appreciate the comparison.

Here in Queensland, cyclones are a seasonal event. Most recently we have had Debbie and a couple of years ago we had Marcia, both females. Before that we had Yasi, which is sexless as far as I can determine, but it’s about time the Bureau of Meteorology, BOM, introduced a democratic and transparent process in the naming of cyclones.
We the people have the right to put a name to our own apocalypse. Let us have done with this blatant sexism. Call upon your local chapter of the Sisterhood immediately to reflect the true nature of cyclones by giving them appropriate names. By definition a cyclone is an event that causes widespread damage and misery. On this basis, the next cyclone should be called Malcolm after the current Australian Prime Minister. The one before that should have been called Cyclone Tony (Abbot). We have the choice of several females beginning with Pauline.

The honour of having a cyclone named after him/her goes to the Politician who has caused the most damage to the nation in the preceding period. The nation-wide poll should be held a month before a federal election.
Females aboard ship might be bad luck but politicians of any gender aboard Canberra, the ship of state, are disastrous.

Click if you agree

Pigafetta’s journal of Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage