Ferdinand Magellan and me (68)

see:A Singular Captain

Santiago Lost

Magellan was impatient to be gone from Port St Julian and continue the search for El Paso, never doubting its existence. When bushes began to bud and little yellow flowers blossomed over the land he called upon Juan Serrano, his cousin and captain of Santiago, the smallest ship of the fleet. She was a caravel with a handy fore and aft rig and shallow draft, ideal for explorations. Many years before, Serrano had been captain of Magellan’s first ship on a voyage to Kilwa, in Africa, under Viceroy Sequiera. In the wake of the recent mutiny, Serrano was the only captain he could trust. He gave Serrano the task of scouting ahead and even allowed him a glance at the Martellos map that showed the Dragon’s Tail, upon which Magellan placed his faith in El Paso. He gave Serrano two weeks to come back and report.

Two weeks went by, and three, and four and Magellan could be seen pacing up and down on the poop muttering to himself. One day there came a feeble cry from the shore. Serrano and three or four of his men were on their knees on the pebbly beach, hands clasped before them as if beseeching absolution in church. Serrano broke down and openly wept; his clothes in rags, his body emaciated and his feet bloody.

Back on board Trinidad after a rest, Serrano told his story. They had a nice breeze to start with and they explored a couple of bays, which turned out to be dead ends. They came to a river with a good anchorage. He took a boat upstream and found plenty of fish and fresh water but it was not El Paso. No sooner did they get back to sea than all hell broke loose. They lost the fore mast overboard and the mainsail blew to pieces. It was a full onshore gale and there was nothing they could do. The ship was swept ashore and began breaking up. They had walked all the way back to Port St Julian and three men died.

Here the old seaman choked up and was unable to continue.
“Never mind, John,” the captain general said.” If anyone could have saved the ship it’s you.”

Magellan appointed Serrano captain of Concepción, a position left vacant by Quesada, whose head, stuck on a spike beside that of Mendoza, gazed sightlessly upon the congregation celebrating mass for the armada’s departure from this unhappy place.

One task remained. Despite his conviction for treason and mutiny, Juan de Cartagena, natural son of Bishop Fonsecca, who was the most senior official of the Casa de Contratación, remained rebellious. His punishment was to be left behind in Port St Julian. No doubt Magellan would have preferred evidence of cannibal activity in the region but Pigafetta, who’d had most contact with the natives, was unable to oblige. As the fleet sailed away, Cartagena waded into the water begging to be taken aboard.

With this act, Magellan sealed his own fate. He would never be able to return to Spain. Just before they sailed from Seville, Magellan had received news that Balboa, the explorer who sighted the western sea from a peak in Darien, had got his head chopped off by the governor. Columbus completed one of his voyages in chains in his own ship. The Spanish Empire was not generous towards its explorers and, being Portuguese, Magellan could expect little mercy from the Casa de Contratatión. Adios, Juan de Cartagena. Adios, la vida.

    Santiago lost.


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Sailor from wayback with a Master's degree in Technology Management. Prefer classical music to rap and chicken curry to steak.

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