Ferdinand Magellan and me (3)

Ferdinand Magellan and me(3)
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Magellan's ships were naos with square sails except one caravel with triangular sails.

Of course, Magellan started his trip from Spain and we were starting on the other side of the world. I never said it was going to be chronological. Magellan’s objective was the Spice Isles, the Moluccas, in our back yard. Magellan never actually made it to the Spice Isles but three of his ships did. Only one, Victoria, returned to Spain with enough spices to turn a profit on the expedition even though the other four ships were lost through various misadventures. Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper were prized commodities in medieval Europe before refrigerators because they could delay meat going rotten.

Spices were transported by camel along the Silk Road or by Arab ships through the Bay of Bengal and by the time they got to Europe were so expensive that only aristocrats could afford them. Magellan saw an opportunity here. Problem was, the pope at that time, Alexander VI, father of Lucretia Borgia and possibly the most evil man in Europe, had drawn a line on the dodgy map of the world dividing it up between Portugal and Spain. No one knew whether the Spice Isles lay on the Spanish or Portuguese side. The crux of Magellan’s story is that he was born Portuguese but came to believe the Spice Isles lay on the Spanish side of the Line of Demarcation. Was he a traitor or hero whistle blower, a champion of truth?

The Spice Isles today lie within the Republic of Indonesia, which consists of hundreds of islands spread over a couple of thousand miles. Magellan never had to bother with formalities like Customs and Immigration, although, in the days before Customs services, the Shah Bandar or head man of most islands demanded tribute.

The easiest way to get a visa, sailing permit and Indonesian Navy clearance was to enter the annual Darwin to Ambon yacht race and leave the paper work to the Darwin Yacht Club. Robin had never been out of Australia before and she amassed a huge amount of data about the places along our route. She was a keen photographer and, apart from the sailing, was excited by the chance to get exotic photos. She taught me a lot about photography.

She was also a sexy lady and taught me a few tricks in that department too. One night we were rowing back to Wathara in the dinghy after a night ashore in Airlie Beach and she started getting amorous.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Can’t you wait till we get back to the boat?”

“Wouldn’t it be fun to do it here?”

“Here? In the dinghy? You’re crazy. The bloody thing will capsize.”

“Not if you put your legs over the back and hold on to the sides and I can sort of straddle you.”

Fortunately, it was a calm night, the sea was smooth and no motor boat came past to kick up a wash, but it was looking perilous for a while. I do not advocate fornicating in a three-metre dinghy, at least not a fibreglass one like ours. It might be okay in an inflatable but you don’t want to have to a wear a life jacket on the job, do you? This is one position you won’t find in the Kama Sutra. My outrageous first mate was beginning to show her colours, not that I was complaining, mind you.

Next: Foreign shores.


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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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