How big is the world?
Having cleared the Dragon’s Tail at the bottom of South America, Magellan believed he had a relatively easy and short sail to Asia. All his maps were sketchy and speculative but one of the better ones, by Henricus Martellus, dating from 1489 or 1491, incorporated recent discoveries. It is not known for certain whether Magellan had a copy, but Columbus did and it’s reasonable to think Magellan did too.
In 1973, Argentinean scholar Paul Gallez raised the possibility that Magellan may have been better informed than previously believed. His argument helps explain Magellan’s dogged conviction of the existence of a strait through or around South America. Gallez claimed to recognise several of the rivers shown on the map indicating it was based on sound research. An ancient copy was lodged with Yale University in the USA for rehabilitation and recently they announced new information gathered though careful restoration. By examining the parchment in 12 different frequencies of light they have revealed written text underneath the grime. There may be more interesting revelations to come.
The biggest handicap facing Columbus, Magellan and all deep sea sailors of the time was that no one knew how big the world was. Magellan underestimated the circumference of the world by a factor of about one third. This would prove a greater challenge than any of the dangers he had already overcome, including mutiny. If the Magellan Strait was the most beautiful and terrible strait in the world, a similar description could be given to the Pacific Ocean. He named it Pacific for its continuous fair weather but he had no resources to save his crew from starvation and scurvy.