The Dragon’s Tail
On the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross the armada anchored in the river that Serrano had discovered. Magellan named it Santa Cruz, not only for the date but also for the vera cruz that blazed overhead at midnight. He planned only a brief stay but once again was faced with discontent from the crew. They were led by Gomez, formerly Trinidad’s pilot, who held a grudge against Magellan because he had wished to become captain general of the armada himself.
Already more than 51 degrees of latitude and El Paso not found. Only stormy seas, stony shores, snow, sea-wolves and cannibals. Gomez proposed they take the well-known eastern route, below the Cape of Good Hope with following winds. Either that or return to Spain. How far south did Magellan propose to go, leading the fleet into greater danger?
“I propose to go on until we find it, Gomez. The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid or dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee wherever thou goest.”
With no Santiago to scout ahead, Magellan took the lead in Trinidad; southwards, ever southwards. Surely not far now. The land was barren with tall snowy mountains in the distance. A low headland backed by sandhills extended a spit to seaward and Magellan ordered a course alteration to clear the shoal. Although not remarkable, the cape was prominent enough to deserve a name. This being the feast day of St Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins, that was the name he chose.
A large bay opened up beyond the cape and he decided to anchor, with San Antonio, Victoria and Concepción following suit. After dark, numerous fires were seen on the southern shore and Magellan named it Tierra del Fuego, or land of fire. He passed the word to the other ships to keep watch for cannibals.
The wind had been a fresh nor-westerly all afternoon, often the sign of a southerly buster. Just before midnight it hit with cracking thunder, pelting rain, sleet and lightning that ripped the night apart into blinding brilliance. It was all hands on deck to lift the anchor and set a rag of sail. Magellan headed offshore for the relative safety of the open sea. It was afternoon of the next day before the storm cleared and he was able to return to the anchorage. San Antonio had ridden it out at anchor but it was a few hours later before Concepcion appeared from southwards, followed shortly by Victoria.
Concepcion anchored and immediately lowered her skiff, with Serrano waving his pennant and shouting as his boat crew pulled lustily at the oars.
“We’ve found it,” he yelled. “We have found El Paso.”
He climbed aboard Trinidad and threw his arms around the captain general.
“We found it, Ferdinand. There is clear water to the south and two wide channels. El Paso!”
The men on deck gave a cheer, threw their hats into the air and some performed little two-step dances.
Later in the great cabin Serrano modified his excitement somewhat.”Clear water, deep water with a southerly set. I have to warn you we did not actually see a way through, but that water had to be going somewhere. It’s not a river.
“Yes,” Magellan said. “God has answered our prayers.” “This is El Paso, the Dragon’s Tail.”