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?