Ferdinand Magellan and me (87)

ship Victoria

Lonely sea and the sky

Like whipped dogs the once proud ships of the Armada de Moluccas fled from the scene of their humiliation. Dawn revealed a small island, apparently uninhabited, with a tolerable anchorage and before noon they came to a halt to lick their wounds.
Disbelief was the main sentiment in Trinidad’s great cabin. How could this have happened? The most powerful king on Earth representing the most advanced culture in history, defending the one true faith, had been defeated by heathen tribesmen. Unthinkable! To Carvalho it was an outrage, to Espinosa a puzzle and to Pigafetta it was a great shame worthy of tears.

A head count tallied 115, less than half the number who had sailed from Seville. Many were wounded and some would yet die. Valderrama was among those killed and they were left without a priest. Most of the fleet’s talent was gone. Andrés de San Martin, chief pilot and astrologer had evidently been unable to read his own horoscope.

Now they had to decide who would make the decisions Magellan had handed down so imperiously. Carvalho, Albo and Gallego were pilots with at least some knowledge of navigation but little experience in running a ship. Elcano had served as Victoria’s master and, before the Armada de Moluccas, had been owner and captain of a ship carrying Spanish soldiers to the wars in North Africa. But Elcano was a mutineer, having served time in chains for his part in the mutiny at Port St Julian. It was Elcano who raised the topic on everyone’s mind.

“Now we are rid of the tyrant we can conduct the ships as we please and according to the rules of the Casa de Contratatión, which require decisions to be made by majority vote.”

“And who are the voters?” Espinosa asked.

“Why, all of us here; the senior men of the Armada.We must not fall back into Magellan’s tyranny.”

Magellan had always said a horse cannot have two heads and Pigafetta was uneasy with the idea of a ship run by a debating society. First debate concerned Elcano’s proposal to dispose of one of the ships since they had not enough crew to man all three. After exchanges among Elcano, Espinosa, Carvalho and Master Andrew, chief gunner, the matter was put to a vote and by a small majority the council agreed to scuttle Concepción, which was rotten with worm.

It took two days to strip her of everything useful and disperse her crew between Trinidad and Victoria. Carvalho was elected captain of Trinidad and shifted his few belongings into the great cabin that Pigafetta still regarded as Magellan’s. While Concepción burned, another council meeting convened to discuss the next big question: Where do we go from here? To Pigafetta the answer seemed obvious –– the Spice Isles–– but how do we get there without Magellan?

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (86)

Magellan’s demise

Pigafetta grieved for the captain general, noting in his journal ‘the armada has lost our guide, our light and our mirror.’ His loss was a calamity but perhaps there was more to it than religious fervour. Magellan would never have found peace however long he lived. Had he returned to Spain he would have faced condemnation for the executions in Port St Julian and for abandoning Cartagena, the bastard son of Bishop Fonseca, the most powerful official in the Casa de Contratatión. Imprisonment would be the least punishment and execution quite likely.

The armada was leaderless and diminished to three ships and 115 men, less than half the crew that sailed from Spain. A meeting in Trinidad’s great cabin could not agree on a successor to fill Magellan’s shoes. They compromised by electing Magellan’s brother in law, Duarte Barbosa, and Juan Serrano, his former shipmate as joint captains general. Magellan had always asserted a horse cannot have two heads. What were the prospects for a rudderless ship or a rudderless armada?
Duarte’s priority was to retrieve Magellan’s body, or what was left of it. Although he was by no means a devout Christian, he preferred his brother in law to be given a Christian burial and not eaten by savages. In the event, Lapu-Lapu responded he would keep the body as a symbol and memorial of the white man’s treachery. There was no information as to whether it would be eaten.

Duarte relied upon Henriqué for communicating with Rajah Humabon, who was disgusted with the failure of the Spanish Empire to defeat his enemy, Lapu-Lapu. But Henriqué considered himself no longer a slave now Magellan was dead. Indeed, he was back among his own race after ten years of slavery. Duarte considered Henriqué to have passed to Magellan’s widow, Duarte’s sister, along with the rest of his estate. In that case, Henriqué was now the property of Duarte.

“I am not your servant but Tuan Ferdinand’s and now he is dead I am a free man and am to be given ten thousand maravedis.”

“What impertinence. Get yourself ashore and take a message to the rajah.”

“Duarte,” Pigafetta said. “Henriqué is correct. I have seen the captain general’s testament. He is to be set free and given ten thousand maravedis.”

“Nonsense. All that legal stuff won’t be settled until we get back to Spain. Meanwhile, he will do what he’s told or I will have him flogged.”
Henriqué dragged himself to his feet and took himself sullenly ashore. He returned a couple of hours later with the news that Humabon had invited all the sailors to a banquet that very night.

The prospect of a banquet with plenty of wine and girls was popular enough to fill three boatloads and they began heading ashore soon after dark. Pigafetta found his most presentable shirt and pants and joined the queue on deck for a place in a boat, when Henriqué came up to him and said: “Tuan Antonio, it is better you do not go.”
“What? Why not?
“You have a wound on your forehead. It is better you do not go.”
“It’s nothing.”
“Please do not go.”

Henriqués intense manner caused Pigafetta to take him seriously. In puzzled apprehension he watched the boat pull away from the ship with its party-goers. A fire had been built in the public square between Valderrama’s tabernacle and the trading post still stocked with trade goods. The flames illuminated the backdrop of forest and silhouettes moved in front as they arrived from the boats and took their places for the banquet. Then his attention was caught by further movements beyond the fire: figures stalking through the bushes. Then a shout of many voices and a horde of screaming savages burst out of the shadows wielding spears and swords as they waded into the unarmed party-goers, who now screamed in terror.
So that’s why Henriqué warned him not to go.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (85)

Lapu Lapu

Magellan’s Killer
The hero of Mactan

At midnight, sixty armoured men in three boats cast off and proceeded down the channel between Cebu and Mactan. The breeze was too light to drive the longboats and men laboured at the oars with a rhythmic thumping and the squeak of rowlocks in a space crammed by crossbows and muskets. In the near-full Moon the shore on either side was visible in silhouette. Trinidad, Victoria and Concepción, with only skeleton crews aboard, heaved up their anchors and set sails that barely filled in the light airs. Three native boats commanded by Rajah Humabon paddled along nearby.

About three hours later the little armada arrived off that part of Mactan regarded as Lapu-Lapu’s territory. The captain general, on the steering oar, signalled across to Humabon, who spoke a smattering of Spanish, and called on him to deliver a message.

“Tell the renegade he can avoid war if he swears allegiance to Don Carlos and is baptised into the Christian faith. In that case, we shall be friends but if not, he will learn the sharpness of Christian swords by painful experience.”

While they waited for an answer, the captain general repeated his earlier instructions. Raw recruits were given final lessons on how to cock their crossbows or load their muskets. Musketeers were warned to keep their powder dry. Magellan made the sign of the cross over them and said “May God go with you,” which only made them more nervous.

Lapu-Lapu’s reply was defiant. His lances were made of stout bamboo and he had stakes hardened in fire. He was ready for battle. The falling tide uncovered coral heads revealed in the early light of dawn, which also revealed the three ships, that were meant to provide artillery support, were out of range. Pigafetta tried again to talk sense to his captain general, his hero.

“Captain General, please, please. Without the cannons we have no advantage. Your own plan is now wrecked.”

“We have stout-hearted men with the Lord God Almighty as their shield. God’s will be done.”

He climbed over the side into thigh-deep water and drew his sword. “Follow me in the name of the Lord.”

Eleven men were left to guard the boats and 49 staggered, stumbled, slipped and slid across the coral. As they reached ankle deep water the sky lightened to reveal a village among the trees. A horde of Lapu Lapu’s men further along the shore shouted defiance and brandished spears and swords. Pigafetta was astounded at their numbers. Well over a thousand, he estimated, when Magellan had expected a few dozen at most. Surely now the captain general would see reason.

Instead, he extracted a tinder box from somewhere under his armour. “We shall have that village for a distraction” he said and detailed off four of his men. “Take this tinder box. I want you to set fire to that village. When the village is well alight, come back here.”

Whatever result Magellan may have expected, the outcome was a roar of outrage from the warriors, many of whom no doubt had wives and children in the village. They surged forward in overwhelming numbers on three sides not only with swords and spears but also blowpipes firing poison darts.

Magellan’s motley crew broke and ran, floundering back towards the boats. Magellan’s force was disintegrating and the enemy tasted victory.

“Retreat” was a word Pigafetta never thought he would hear from the captain general’s mouth but he had taken a spear in the leg, wrenched it out and tried to staunch the blood with one hand while wielding his sword in the other.
“Retreat! Retreat! Pigafetta, go for the boats!”
“Come, Captain General. Come. I shall help you.”
“Go for the boats, Pigafetta. Do what you’re told.”
“Come, Captain General. Come.”
“Go. Go. Go.”

Finally the captain general stood alone to face an army. With whoops and yells they stabbed and hacked, the water turned red with his blood and his body was lost to the sea.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (84)

Magellan's faith

Magellan’s faith

Magellan’s religious zeal reached its peak in Cebu, the biggest and most prosperous island yet found. Once its rajah, Humabon, converted to Christianity hundreds and eventually thousands of his subjects followed. Padre Valderrama supervised construction of a tabernacle like the one at Port St Julian and baptised hundreds per day. A trading post was established and the ships brought their trade goods ashore: axes, knives, hammers, pewter and bronze pots and pans exchanged for gold in the ratio ten weights of gold for 14 of iron.

It was not the Spice Isles and Magellan was diverted from that objective by the quest for heathen souls. He took to wearing long white robes like a biblical figure. When Humabon mentioned his nephew was ill and sacrifices to their god Abba were of no avail, Magellan responded, “Sacrifices to Abba will not cure him. If he believes in Jesus Christ our lord and destroys the idols and consents to baptism he will be cured immediately. If this prophecy does not come to pass you can cut off my head.”

Humabon agreed to this extreme bargain and they went in procession from the tabernacle to the sick man’s house; the captain general in his biblical robes with a crucifix at his belt attended by Henriqué, for translation, by Humabon and his chieftains, by Pigafetta and, as always, by a retinue of children and dogs.

The sick man lay on a woven mat in his elevated house. His two wives and ten children clustered around him. He moaned in the grip of some mysterious disease, not unlike a man dying of scurvy.
Magellan knelt to examine him more closely. He sprinkled the patient with water from a container at his belt, made the sign of the cross and said through the interpreter, “I baptise thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Accept Jesus Christ as your saviour and earn everlasting life.”

The patient tossed and turned on his mat. Magellan made the sign of the cross and said “Are you well?”

“Yes, yes, “ the sick man said. He tried to sit up but fell back, exhausted. The onlooking crowd were astonished. This man had not spoken for four days and yet at the command of the black-bearded one had broken his silence. The two wives threw themselves upon him and the ten children threw themselves on the wives.

News of the miracle spread quickly and soon Magellan could not appear in public without a train of followers. He visited the sick man each morning and brought him coconut milk, which seemed to work in curing scurvy. Clearly, Magellan’s god was greater than Abba. Hundreds more were baptised but the captain general learned of a chieftain on the nearby island of Mactan who refused to accept the Christian faith. He determined to bring the renegade into the arms of Jesus and called for volunteers as soldiers of Christ. The plan was opposed by all his senior officers including Duarte, his brother-in-law , and Juan Serrano, his old shipmate. Even Pigafetta urged restraint.

“Captain General, will you not desist and listen to your captains?
“I march in the name of God, Pigafetta; in the name of truth and righteousness.”
“Can nothing change your mind?”
“Then with great reluctance I volunteer to join your army and may God protect us.”
“God will protect us, never fear. Pray with me, Pigafetta.”
It remained to be seen whether God was listening.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (83)

Magellan's cross

Magellan’s cross

Already a devout Christian, Ferdinand Magellan became a fervent proselytiser in this land of heathen souls ripe for conversion to the one true faith. Easter had arrived again – the anniversary of the mutiny at Port St Julian. On Maundy Thursday a prau with 8 crew approached the ship and Magellan enticed them aboard with gifts of red caps, bells and beads. Then he instructed Pigafetta and Henriqué to go ashore with them to see what manner of town lay beyond the trees on the beach; what defences, what weapons and how many warriors.

“Is it war, captain general?” Pigafetta asked.

“No. Just prudence.”
In a clearing behind the trees they found bamboo houses on stilts, with pigs, chickens and children beneath. The rajah’s palace was not much different, only bigger, and it was necessary to climb a ladder to the rooms. It was now revealed that one of their guides was the son of the rajah, Columbu. He introduced them to his father, a middle aged man in robes, with a curly bladed kris at his waist and gold rings hanging from his ears. He invited them to sit on cushions while a servant appeared with a porcelain urn of wine which he served in coconut shell cups.

As he handed over the gifts he had brought from the ship, Pigafetta wrote down their names in the local language. When he read the names back to them, Columbu and his son were astonished. Pigafetta tried to explain through Henrique that words can represent not only things but also abstract ideas like love and hate, war and peace and the most abstract idea of all, god.
“Abba,” Henrique said. “Their god is Abba. In some places where Moors live, god is called Allah.”
“Yes, I know about Allah, and the Patagonians call it Setebos and another word is Jehovah but is it the same god or all different?”

Henrique had no answer but the question troubled Pigafetta, knowing the captain general was about to introduce a new god, Jesus Christ.They were treated to a feast of pork, chicken and fish with copious quantities of wine so Pigafetta woke up with a sore head in the morning.

He reported to the captain general that these people were hospitable and their wine very powerful. Since there was some confusion over the word “god” they might be receptive to the Christian faith. The captain general was pleased by this news and sent Pigafetta and Henrique ashore again to invite the rajah and his people to an important ceremony.
On Easter Sunday they landed in two boats. Padre Valderrama conducted mass with monstrance and censers and a colourful figure of the Virgin Mary before Rajah Columbu, his son and many of his people.
At the conclusion of the service, the musketeers fired a volley in the air and the ships at anchor fired a blank broadside. Half the congregation ran into the forest in fear.
Next, the captain general shouldered a large cross brought especially for the purpose. It featured the crown of thorns and the nails that tortured Our Lord. He set off climbing the steep hillside like Jesus Christ climbing the hill of Calvary. At the summit, the cross was erected overlooking the sea and Valderrama said a Pater Nostra and Ave Maria. Little did he know he would soon be delivering the Last Rites for Ferdinand Magellan.
That cross, or its descendant, stands in the same place today. It is a tourist attraction.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (82)

A New Deckhand

After riding out another storm in the fishing boat harbour, which featured dead bodies washed out through storm water drains, we decided we could not stay in Valparaiso. We had made friends there and the chief mate had found a doctor she was comfortable with but life seemed too precarious.

We had a slow trip north looking for a sheltered harbour and a good clinic. Our last option was Arica, just 20 miles from the border with Peru. We found a friendly yacht club, a town with parks and gardens and a hospital with a doctor named Ricardo who pronounced mother and baby well. Whew.

In a few weeks we were among friends, including the honorary British Consul, Gladys, who introduced us around town. We became infamous as the crazy gringos having a baby on a yacht and our story was featured on TV and newspaper. Weekly examinations showed sonar scan and electronic heart monitor were okay. The chief mate went into labour early one morning and I got her to hospital pronto. She was in emergency for an hour or so until the staff could round up Ricardo. She was in labour for two days, moaning and groaning. Then Ricardo took me aside and said the baby was in distress and he recommended a Caesarean section. That sounded serious to me but what did I know?

Within twenty minutes she was on the operating table with me in cap and gown watching through the window of the observation room. She was sitting up on the table quite naked with arms crossed over her breasts while the doctors and attendants scrubbed up. Ricardo gave her a spinal injection and they stretched her out like Jesus Christ on the cross while waiting for the anaesthetic to take effect. It clearly wasn’t working. Every time they told her to raise a leg she complied willingly. After a few minutes Ricardo gave her another injection in the arm and she went out.

Pandemonium broke out with Ricardo and his assistant slicing her belly open while the anaesthetist and her assistant shoved a duct down her throat and, frantically it seemed to me, clapped a rubber mask over her nose and mouth and began fiddling with oxygen bottles. A nurse ran from the theatre to an adjoining room and ran back with a tray of instruments.

Next thing I remember is peering up into the bearded face of a young doctor asking me if I was all right. I was lying on my back on the stone-tiled floor with the world spinning before my eyes and my blood-stained cap on my chest. I had a glimpse of a tiny, squealing kicking baby before someone brought a trolley and they loaded me on it and wheeled me off to the casualty room. After an examination they transferred me to a wheel chair and and took me to another room where the new mother lay in bed looking pale and groggy with my son in the crook of her arm, already searching for the breast.


It seemed like half the population of Arica turned out for the baby’s head wetting at the yacht club a couple of weeks later. We were bombarded with baby clothes and toys and people slapping us on the back saying “Que lindo, la wha wha.” (How beautiful the baby.)
Yes indeed. How clever of me to produce such a beautiful child.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (81)

Ferdinand Magellan

Making contact

Ten days after their unfortunate experience at the Islands of Thieves, the Armada de Maluku found land again. It was the feast day of Lazaras, befitting for the recovery of sailors near death from starvation and scurvy. The captain general ordered a camp set up under palm trees on the beach as shelter for the sick. He personally distributed fruit and coconut milk, which had been found to alleviate suffering.
Victoria and Concepcion also brought their sick ashore. It was the first chance since El Paso for men to share their stories. Of the 260 who had left Seville, 160 now survived. Padre Valderrama celebrated mass and, although lacking the accoutrements of his tabernacle in Port St Julian, he made up for it with an ambitious Te Deum, the ancient chant of thanksgiving in praise of God.

The captain general named this island New Providence, which signified a new beginning. It was covered with jungle and appeared to be uninhabited. After a few days natives appeared in a canoe with nine men aboard. Besides the paddlers, it carried some kind of chief or rajah not bare chested like the others but dressed in robes and seated under a three-tiered parasol in bright colours. As it came into the shallows over the sand, the boat seemed to float into the air, so perfectly clear was the water.
Mindful of his last contact with natives, Magellan ordered those of his men who were fit to stand by with their weapons.
“Let no one speak or make any movement without my leave.” he said. He walked down the beach with a hand on the hilt of his short sword. He halted ten paces short of the waterline and the chief halted knee-deep in water, having climbed out of the boat. They stood there inspecting one another. Finally the chief said, “Selamat soré.”
Pigafetta immediately recognised this phrase. His insatiable curiosity had led him to study not only the customs and language of the Patagonians and of the Guarani in Rio but also of Henriqué, the captain general’s slave, who was a native of Malacca.
They’d had many conversations and Pigafetta learned that Henriqué had been captured when the Portuguese attacked Malacca in 1511. He had been baptised and became Magellan’s slave. He explained that his language, called Malay or Malayalam, was spoken all over the countries trading in the region from India to Cathay and was understood by every sailor. Henrique had almost returned home.

What the chief had said was, “Good afternoon.”

The captain general beckoned Henriqué, sitting on the ground behind him.

“Henrique, your services may be needed.”

Henrique stood up and joined Magellan. “He just said, ‘Good afternoon,’ captain general.”

The conversation faltered as they eyed one another, and then the chief asked, “Who are you?”

“We come as representatives of Don Carlos, the mightiest king of Europe. We come in peace and seek to trade spices and other things and also to spread the word of God.”

Although Pigafetta was by no means fluent in the language, he was astonished when Henrique translated this as something like, “Beware, O Rajah, these white devils come to steal your gold, rape your women and destroy your cities.”

“Yes, we have heard what the white devils have done in Malacca,” the rajah replied, “but they are few and we are many. We can trade if they want.”

Henrique translated this as, “News of your greatness has preceded you. If you wish to trade, we can trade.”
This was the end of the beginning.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (80)

Valparaiso fishing harbour

fishing harbour

Pre-natal sailing (Part 2)

The chief mate was allergic to milk products and not getting her calcium. We had been told it was a serious issue at this stage of the pregnancy but useful advice was scarce. Valparaiso is a big city with full medical facilities so that became our next target, about 500 miles away. We needed to renew our visas anyway and would also need a safe mooring or wet berth for several months until our new deck boy joined us.

It was a beautiful sight as we arrived before dawn with strings of lights seeming to reach up into the sky. Daylight revealed hillsides covered with a checker-board of multicoloured houses in all shapes and sizes. I spent a couple of hours blundering around looking for somewhere to anchor or moor but the harbour was wide open to the sea. We found the yacht club at Punta Greusa but their little harbour was full. Then the engine suddenly stopped and refused to restart. I dropped the anchor and rowed the dinghy ashore. I found someone doing an anti-fouling job on a yacht in the hardstand. I explained my problem and saw a horrified look come over his face. Winds of 40 knots or more were expected and he suggested we had better get out.

Now we were so close I was reluctant to go back to sea with a pregnant chief mate. She was due for a check-up. The yard hand took me inside the club and introduced me to the manager, who turned into a dynamo when he heard our story. He got on the telephone and carried out a shouting conversation, waving his hands in the air for emphasis. Then he grabbed me by the sleeve and dragged me outside back to a jetty at the hardstand with a business-like yellow cruiser alongside.
“Salvavidas,” he said. “You wait.”

About half an hour later the crew arrived and fired up what sounded like a Caterpillar diesel with grunt. They might have been dragged away from their breakfast for all I know. They put me back aboard Wathara. I tossed them a line and heaved up the anchor and they towed us to a crowded little fishing harbour a couple of miles away. There I put out two anchors and tied off to a dubious-looking mooring buoy. As the lifeboat departed I gave them a wave and a heart-felt “gracias.”
“De nada,” they said.

The 40 knots arrived that evening and it was one of the wildest nights in my life. Several fishing boats broke adrift and piled up on the breakwater while storm water drains poured rivers into the harbour. Neither the chief mate nor I got any sleep that night.
“You do make it hard on a girl,” she said.
“Not complaining, mind. Our deck boy is a sailor already, starting young.”
PS This is a true story. The manager and lifeboat crew became good friends.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain

    pre-natal sailing (part2


Ferdinand Magellan and me (79)

Magellan discovers Guam


At first it was a mere smudge on the horizon to which Pigafetta paid little heed. The ship kept on, propelled by a breeze that had hardly varied in nearly four months of sailing this endless sea. Magellan had torn up his charts and tossed them overboard in disgust. They were just lies. They should have reached the Spice Isles weeks ago but instead encountered only two uninhabited atolls surrounded by reefs.

The captain general called it the Pacific Ocean but he may as well have called it the Ocean of Death. Dying men lay comatose around the deck; their skin discoloured by a purple rash, their sunken eyes pleading for relief or deliverance. At least a score had been consigned to the deep blue sea and more were soon to follow.

Next time Pigafetta looked, the smudge had grown and he thought it might be a rain squall. Then the lookout in the crows nest called “Tierra. Tierra.” At first no one believed it but Pigafetta stared and began to think it might be true. The cry was taken up by others and the captain general appeared on deck and soon the healthy were slapping one another on the back and even the dying managed a kind of grimace.


Three tall and woody islands rose out of the sea but as they approached, a fleet of native canoes set out from shore sailing so fast it was almost unbelievable. These boats had two hulls and skimmed across the water with one hull up in the air. Then they stopped and reversed without turning around. They soon surrounded the three ships, climbed aboard like a plague of locusts and swept up anything they could lay their hands on: buckets, ladles, ropes, hammers, hatchets and anything not bolted down.

“Stop! Stop! Stop!” Magellan cried, to no avail. He called upon the master at arms and Espinosa, mustered his men at arms with crossbows. They opened fire and the natives were astonished. Shot in the chest or abdomen, they pulled out the crossbow bolt, gazed at it quizzically and fell down dead. With slashing cutlasses, the men-at-arms waded in among the thieves and forced them back overboard.
They also stole a skiff tied astern, which Magellan was determined to retrieve. He brought the ships to anchor. After clearing the deck of dead bodies, he organised a force of 40 men at arms, one boat from each ship, and led them ashore.

The village among palm trees was abandoned. Presumably the natives were hiding in the jungle. They found pigs, chickens and a variety of fruit which they stuffed into their mouths as they looted. They found wicker baskets full of rice and urns full of water. The captain general ordered the village set on fire and it was utterly destroyed.

The fleet sailed on while ravenous men gorged themselves. The captain general named these islands Ladrones, or Islands of Thieves so that others who came afterwards might beware.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain



Ferdinand Magellan and me (78)

sailing Patagonia

Pre-natal sailing

Despite bouts of morning sickness, a severe attack of chilblains on frozen feet and anxiety over the new life growing in her womb, my chief mate soldiered on as we tackled some of the worst weather I had ever encountered. It was a battle against strong tides, howling wind and freezing rain within the narrow confines of rock-strewn channels. Eventually, we escaped the clutches of the channels into the open sea where Wathara buried her nose in a big swell and green water swept down the deck. This is crazy, I thought. Still 100 miles to go to so-called civilisation and we were reefed down to triple-reefed main, staysail and storm jib.

The wind fell calm and the Sun peeped out as we motored the last 15 miles to Puerto Montt with afternoon light reflecting off the underside of low-lying clouds. We were passing through the drowned crater of a volcano with a feeling of dramatic suspense as if at any moment the world might be rent asunder by violent storms, which we had come to expect. We passed an island dotted with farm houses from which blue wood-smoke rose. We passed a native sailing craft ghosting along no doubt with produce for market. This was civilisation. The ethereal sensation persisted as we approached the town with yellow lights glimmering through smoky air on the northern rim of the crater.

We tied up alongside a crowded jetty and prepared to go ashore. The chief mate put on her best pair of jeans that she had not worn since Punta Arenas about six weeks before. She found them loose around her middle and let out a cry of dismay. By this stage of the pregnancy she should be showing it. We had come to Puerto Montt specifically to find a doctor and this was not a good omen. She blamed herself because she had been unable to follow the proper diet for a pregnant woman. She was allergic to milk products, a source of calcium, and missed her booze.

It was next day before we got ashore and found the local hospital. After a wait of about three hours we were shown into a consulting room and introduced to Doctor Manuel Vallejo, a middle aged man wearing thick horn-rim glasses. He listened to our story, took her blood pressure and then led us into another room for a scan. That was my first view of my son swimming in a sea of amniotic fluid looking like a radar picture of a storm at sea. The doctor gave the all clear but advised further consultations at least once a month.

Whew. What a relief.

To celebrate we had a drink in a bar where a TV blared out the latest football results interspersed with ads for chocolate, furniture, aspirin and cleansing powder while customers slouched in chairs at tables around a pot-belly stove. The chief mate ignored the doctor’s advice and said, “Just one glass of wine can’t hurt.”
We had battled so hard against foul weather and currents to get to this place only to find a collection of shabby houses, noisy, smoky buses and depressed-looking people on the same kind of pointless business that occupies human beings everywhere. To travel all this way and find everything the same!

I could not banish from my mind the images of snow-clad peaks of the Andes, waterfalls cascading down a rocky mountainside, tiny islands covered with a forest of miniature trees like Japanese Bon sai and asked myself ‘What business do we have that brings us to cities like this? The answer is obvious, of course.

see:A Singular Captain

    sailing Patagonia