Ferdinand Magellan and me (46)

Don Carlos-king of Spain

Charles, King of Spain.

Don Carlos V or Charles V inherited the Spanish Empire at the age of 17 and would soon inherit the Holy Roman Empire making him the most powerful king in Europe. He also inherited heavy debts along with the prognathous jaw of his Hapsburg ancestors and so Ferdinand Magellan’s proposition to find a sea route to the fabulous Spice Isles seemed very attractive.

There was the matter of the Line of Demarcation, however, dividing the world between Portugal and Spain and the fact that this Magellan was himself Portuguese. Originally drawn up by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 and revised the following year it established the Spanish sphere of influence to the west of a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. New lands discovered east of it might be claimed by Portugal. Spain was expanding to the west and Portugal to the east. Sooner or later they would come up against one another on the other side of the world. Magellan had spent several years on the far side of the world in the service of Portugal. He presented a powerful argument that he was the best person to settle the question of the line of demarcation.

There was also the problem that 15th and 16th century navigators had no way of finding their longitude with any accuracy. This does not seem to have troubled the bishops and other courtiers advising the king, who could not even speak Spanish, having been reared in Flanders. Suffice to say that Magellan promised a tenfold return on any investment in the voyage. He was backed by Cristobal de Haro, one of the richest men in Europe and a financier of Don Carlos.

Others, under the influence of Bishop Fonseca, the influential head of the Casa de Contratation, or Board of Trade, were not so congenial. Fonseca was responsible for all Spanish ships on foreign voyages. He had been personal chaplain to Ferdinand and Isabella, the sovereigns who approved Columbus’s voyage. He had a reputation for supplying short stores to ships, including those of Columbus, which explains why starvation and scurvy were serious threats in Spanish ships of the age. Magellan would have been warned to check his stores coming aboard.
Magellan was granted five ships, Trinidad, Victoria, San Antonio,Concepción and Santiago. They were not the grand, well-found galleons that sailed to the Spanish Main but, according to a Portuguese spy sent by Dom Manuel, they were rotten, full of worm and unlikely to survive the voyage across the Atlantic, then known as the Ocean Sea. Many Spanish ships of this time were works of art, with highly decorated and sculptured upper works, particularly around the raised poop at the stern, which housed the captain and officers.

Portugal tended to favour the caravel, of which there were two types – the caravela redondo and caravela latina – having respectively square sails and fore-and-aft sails. Caravels were intended for exploration, being relatively smart and handy ships. Columbus’s ships were caravelas redondo but one of them was converted to a caravela latina in the Azores. Square rigged ships are more efficient running downwind but fore-and-aft rigged ships are more efficient going into the wind. Bigger ships, called carracks or galleons were usually square rigged.

Magellan had a battle on his hands to get his ships refitted, stored and manned. Being Portuguese, one of his main difficulties was overcoming the hostility of the Spaniards, especially Fonseca. His captains were chosen for him by Fonseca, who thrust forward his favourites, including his own bastard, described as a nephew Juan de Cartagena. He was appointed captain of San Antonio, the biggest ship in the fleet: a pretty boy, a strutting, head-tossing, posturing boy all but useless aboard ship. Main distinction of Luis de Mendoza, Victoria, was his kinship with the Ponce de Leons, a prominent family of Seville. Gaspar Quesada, Concepción, was the son of a Granada grandee, more at home on a horse than a ship. None of these so-called captains had ever made a voyage even as far as the Canaries and all came aboard with retinues of useless eaters. Cartagena had ten servants. Ten! Magellan knew he had his work cut out for him.




Magellan presents voyage plan to King of Spain


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Ferdinand Magellan and me (31)


Martellus world map

The Martellus map of the world

The word Mediteranean means middle of the Earth and for many centuries that’s how it was depicted on maps. In Magellan’s time the most authoritative map of the world was that by Claudius Ptolemy, the great astronomer and geographer of second century Alexandria. No doubt Magellan knew it from his studies at the Portuguese Institute of Navigation sponsored by Prince Henry, known as the Navigator although he never went to sea.
As the Portuguese extended their empire they added to their knowledge. Map-making was a growth industry and maps of new worlds were guarded as State secrets. Magellan had access to a number of maps and globes, some more accurate than others. None of them featured the strait at the tip of South America that was later to bear his name.
The problem was not only the lack of information about distant lands but also the difficulty of rendering a spherical Earth on a flat sheet of paper. Men of science no longer doubted the world is round but the mathematics and techniques of cartography were in their infancy. Prominent Portuguese mathematician Pedro Nunes was the first to produce a formula representing a rhumb line, or loxodrome, by a straight line on a map. The importance of this is that the rhumb line is a constant compass direction as steered by a ship. Gerard Mercator extended the technique and his name now describes the familiar map of the world seen in atlases and elsewhere. The Mercator chart is still an idealised representation of the world. It suffers from severe distortion in high latitudes and the latitude or distance scale is not uniform.
A great difficulty facing medieval navigators was that maps of their day truncated or omitted the Pacific Ocean. They knew the circumference of the Earth was 360 degrees but no one knew how many miles or leagues there were in a degree of longitude. Columbus and Magellan both underestimated the circumference of the Earth by about one third. This almost led to failure of Magellan’s expedition due to death by starvation and scurvy. No one had previously imagined the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

In 1962 an anonymous donor presented Yale University, USA, with a long lost map drawn by German cartographer Martellus in the late 15th century. It was in very poor condition but new techniques enabled researchers to peel away layers of dirt and enhance images with electronic scanners. Historians speculate Christopher Columbus may have known of this map and, if so, Magellan would have known of it too. It is thought to have been influenced by information brought back from China by Marco Polo. It is intriguing for the inclusion of considerably more detail of Asia than other maps of the time. It features an image of a castle supposed to represent Paradise. Columbus claimed to have discovered Paradise on his final voyage but historians believe that Columbus’s Paradise was the Orinoco River. The Martellus map shows a greater extent of South America than contemporaneous maps. If Magellan did know of it, this could explain his utter conviction that a strait lay at the tip of South America known as The Dragon’s Tail.

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Ferdinand Magellan and me (23) – Disaster part 2



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shipwreckedwhilecircumnavigatingtheworldinMagellan's wakeA convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles appeared out of the desert and we prepared to meet our doom, expecting wild-eyed fanatics flourishing AK-47s. Wathara was easy pickings for any pirate or other renegade. The two Arabs who had found us before climbed out of the vehicles along with four or five other men. They started shouting and waving for us to come ashore and at first I thought perversely that I would force them to come out to us if they wanted to get us. Then I thought, what’s the use? They’ll get us in the end.
I climbed into the dinghy and rowed ashore, getting swamped as I landed.
“You have some trouble eh?” said one of the men, who looked European.
“No,” I snarled as I clambered up the rocky bank, “we do this once a month just for fun.”
The man looked puzzled for a moment and then burst into laughter, thrusting out his hand to shake.
“I am Lars Andersen. You can do nothing now because the tide is going down. Come with me to the camp.”
“Lars, that’s Swedish isn’it?”
“Danish. I am from Dandar Construction Company. We build the road over there.”
He waved a hand toward the stony hills and now I saw big yellow bulldozer crawling through the terrain.
“But the Arabs were shooting at us this morning. I thought they were terrorists or something.”
He threw his head back and had a good laugh over this joke.
“They do that all the time. They shoot at us when we want to build the road through their herd of camels.”
By some amazing chance we had managed to wreck the boat only a few miles from Dandar’s base camp where they were building a fish processing plant for the Yemeni trawler industry. At no other point on this coast would we have found any sign of life apart from crabs and camels.
Because of the phenomenal rain, parts of the road had been washed away and as we drove to the camp we passed backhoes, front end loaders and dump trucks pulled off to the side in the mud.
There were about 150 men in the camp, mostly Danish with some Swedes and Portuguese. Several had their wives and children along, living in comfortable, air-conditioned prefabricated houses. The camp was laid out around the shores of a bay where a jetty had already been built and factories and storehouses were under construction.

I was introduced to the project boss, an Icelander named Sigfus, a tall balding man in his forties with a totally expressionless face and piercing blue eyes. As if it were the most ordinary thing in the world to have a yacht wrecked at his door he outlined the possibilities. They had a barge with a powerful winch there in the bay.
“Yes?” I said. “But it would need good anchors and a long line on the winch so it could anchor well offshore.”
“Yes, it has that, he said thoughtfully, “but unfortunately the engine is out of action until we get some spare parts.”
“Oh,” I said.”
“We have a supply ship coming from Aden that could certainly pull your boat off the rocks.”
“That sounds great,” I said.
“Unfortunately not for another week or ten days.”
“Oh,” I said. “The boat will be wrecked in a week.”
“We also have a loader that could pick up your boat and take it out into deeper water. “How deep is your boat?”
“The draft is six feet or 180 centimetres.”
“Ah, then it is not possible, I’m afraid, to go into such deep water.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Perhaps we could lift your boat with our mobile crane and put it on a trailer.”
“Oh yes? That sounds good.”
“But of course the road is too bad now, with the rain.”
I was beginning to think this guy was some kind of sadist taking delight in teasing me.
“But never mind,” he said gloomily. “We will not allow your boat to be wrecked. The high tide is about four o’clock this afternoon, when we will try to get it off.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know how I’m going to pay you. I have no cash, only travellers’ cheques.”
Still without a flicker on his face or a spark in his eye he waved a hand in the air and said, “there will be no charge.”
……………………………………………….
That afternoon with the help of three Danish volunteers and a big truck we began trying to winch her off using three anchors and the engine. I ran the anchors out in the little dinghy, which was half full of water as I struggled against the surf to get far enough offshore to obtain a decent pull on the anchors. I don’t know how many times I made that trip with an anchor hanging over the dinghy’s transom until I reached the full scope of the warp. I dropped the anchor and rowed back to the boat to begin the heartbreaking business of winching. It was heartbreaking because we knew that every metre of line we retrieved only meant the anchor was dragging.
That night was the most dreadful of our lives. We lay on our bunks utterly exhausted, hearing the waves break as they approached and smashed into Wathara attempting to ride over them. Then she was dumped on the rocks with a shuddering jolt that jarred her from keel to masthead. Boulders were ground to pieces under her keel and the noise sent shivers down my spine. The anchors were still dragging.

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Ferdinand Magellan and me (19) Goa

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Albuquerque-the Lion of Portugal

Affonso de Albuquerque did more than any other individual to establish the Portuguese empire in the east. Known in his time as the Lion of Portugal, among other names, he rampaged across the Indian Ocean from Africa to Malaya fighting sea battles, building fortresses and leaving behind many dead people, mainly Muslims. Considering the motivation for this expansion was the little black berry of the clove tree, the cost in human lives of a spicy dinner in Europe was huge.

Ferdinand Magellan participated in a number of Albuquerque’s adventures, including the conquest of Goa. An important staging point in the Arab spice route to Europe, Goa was a prosperous city with a large Muslim population. Albuquerque underestimated his foe. Although he easily took control of the port city, the Muslim king of Bijapur rallied his troops and laid siege to the invaders. With his food supplies running low, Albuquerque was forced to retreat; not something within his nature.

Returning to Cannanore he raised a fleet of 34 ships with about 2000 men and within three months made his second assault upon the city, this time successfully. He ordered the entire Muslim population – men, women and children- be put to the sword. Estimates of the slaughter range between 6,000 and 9,000. Albuquerque secured Goa as part of the Portuguese empire and it remained so for 450 years. Only in 1961 did the Indian Army reclaim it.
 

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The monsoon died soon after we left Calicut and started drifting with the Bhaktal lighthouse winking at us through the velvet night. Every once in a while a fishing boat came by and shouted at us and Bucko barked back but then the perfect silence of the placid sea descended. It was a magical night with a near full moon casting its glow in a path across the water. We were both so entranced that we sat up all night in the cockpit counting the stars. The breeze returned in fits and starts but it was a slow trip to Goa.

The anchorage in the Mandovi River was hopelessly busy with barges, ferries and ships crowding in behind the breakwater. Most of our two weeks in Goa were spent near the scene of Albuquerque’s slaughter but now it seemed a cheerful enough place and a tourist destination.

We visited the hospital seeking a cure for our lingering constipation. When we explained our problem and the cause of it to the duty doctor he burst out laughing. Then he took pity on us. He handed over his business card. He was a member of the British College of Surgeons, which seemed to me an acceptable credential. I had been reading news stories of a body organ trade in India.

“We don’t need surgery,” I said, and there may have been a note of panic in my voice.

“No, of course not but you are visitors to our town all the way from Australia. If I can be of any assistance…?”

“We’re just sort of interested in Ferdinand Magellan, you know, about 500 years ago. Actually, he blasted this place with cannons.”

“Ah, Magellan. An interesting man. First man to sail around the world.”

“Not really. His was the first ship but he never made it.”

One thing that amazed me in our voyage around the world was the hospitality we received from all kinds of people in different countries. It is usually the poorest who are ready to share whatever they have with a guest. This man was different. He was a toff; a Brahman but he took us home to share a meal with his family. I am embarrassed to admit that travellers will rarely receive that kind of hospitality in Australia.

 

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Ferdinand Magellan and me (18) Constipation

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Vasco da Gama arrives in India

The Portuguese arrive in India.Under Viceroy Almeida, the Portuguese invaders including Ferdinand Magellan ranged across the Arabian Sea. They built forts at strategic points on the east coast of Africa and west coast of India. Numerous battles were fought as resistance grew.  Calicut, about 70 miles north of Cochin had been a  prosperous  part of the Arab spice trade for many centuries and had powerful allies. The Zamorin of Calicut raised a fleet of about 200 ships but was defeated by Almeida’s son, Lourenςo, at the Battle of Cannanore. He fought back with the help of the Mameluke Emir Hussein of Egypt and inflicted the first defeat upon the Portuguese, in which Lourenςo was killed.

Affonso de Albuquerque arrived in 1508 with a commission from King Manuel to relieve Almeida as Viceroy. Almeida had unfinished business, including revenge for the death of his son, and promptly clapped Albuquerque into prison. Almeida put together a fleet of 18 ships, probably with Ferdinand Magellan as one of its captains and  Duarte Barbosa, who was to become Magellan’s brother-in-law, as scrivener or accountant. The fleet sailed northwards towards the rich province of Gujarat and was met by an opposing fleet of 12 ships near the island of Diu. The Portuguese ships were the most formidable ocean-going men-o-war of their day; heavily armed and manned by seasoned sailors. Opposing them were small vessels designed for commerce in the relatively sheltered waters of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. They included Venetian galleys whose only real advantage was the ability to manoeuvre in windless conditions. Fortunately for the Portuguese, the breeze held and they inflicted grievous damage upon the enemy but not sufficient to satisfy Almeida’s thirst for revenge for the death of his son. He embarked on a murderous campaign against the populace that was to inform the policies of his vice-regal successor who still languished in prison: Albuquerque.

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Calicut, now also known as Khozhikode, was definitely on our agenda since Ferdinand Magellan played a big role in the conflict with the Zamorin. Evidently, Almeida gave him a letter of marque that authorised him to attack enemies of Portugal almost at will. Magellan is credited with a few attacks upon local shipping.

For some reason that I failed to understand, the Cochin officials refused to give me a clearance for Khozhikode because on our entry form I had given our destination as Goa.

“We’re still going to Goa but I want to go to Calicut first,” I explained to the harbour master.

“Ah, but I’m afraid there is an extra fee payable for the paperwork ,” he said with an apologetic little smile. He was a middle aged man with a trimmed moustache and in our previous dealings had been affable and helpful.

I smelled a rat. I took the matter up with our friend, the father of Indira, the girl who wanted to study in Australia. He was a retired colonel of the Indian army and I guessed he knew a thing or two about how bureaucracy works.

“Oh yes,” he said, “unfortunately the wheels require a little grease to keep turning, but you should be careful. If you do offer to pay and the so-called fee is not legitimate, you could be in trouble for bribing an official.”

Robin also had an opinion. “Bloody outrageous,” she said in her endearing straightforward way. “We didn’t come all this way to miss out on Calicut.”

“Okay,” I said. “Never mind. “We won’t miss out on Calicut.”

The sailing is beautiful off the coast of India when the monsoon is right. You get a nice breeze off the land with a hint of cinnamon or coriander in the air. By this stage we were aficionados of spices which, after all, is what the story was all about. Bucko couldn’t stop sniffing.

If you read Wathara’s logbook for that period you will see that Robin and I had suddenly developed stomach cramps, high temperature and even a touch of diarrhoea. Suspected cause was food poisoning. By the time we reached the latitude of Calicut I, as master of the ship Wathara, declared a medical emergency and claimed Force Majeure under the International Law of the Sea.

We dropped anchor near the lighthouse, launched the dinghy and rowed ashore straight into the clutches of a person in a khaki uniform waiting for us on the beach.

“You are a foreign yacht?” he asked.

“Well, yes, you could say that.”

“Your papers, please.”

“Papers?”

“Yes, your papers,” he said with infinite patience as if addressing a half-wit. “Passports. Travel documents. Clearance from last port.”

“Oh, the papers. Yes we do have papers.”

“May I see them please?”

I handed over our passports duly stamped with visas and our clearance from Cochin stamped by the harbour master.

“Your clearance is for Goa, not Kozhikode. Why have you come to Kozhikode?”

“Force Majeure,” I said.

His eyebrows lifted and he looked around the horizon at the placid sea with a gentle breeze blowing under a clear blue sky.

“I see no severe weather. Why do you claim Force Majeure?”

Now I saw why the yachties in Cochin had said the Indian bureaucracy was worse than the Indonesian. You can bullshit Indonesian officials because most don’t speak very good English but I couldn’t even bullshit this bloke in French.

“Medical emergency,” I said. “Food poisoning. You can read my logbook.”

“You require medical attention?”

“Yes.”

“I may inspect your logbook.”

He turned and waved towards the lighthouse and before long an inflatable dinghy with a powerful outboard motor arrived from nowhere, came in through the low surf and landed on the beach.

“We shall visit  your vessel, please,” he said in velvet tones concealing an iron fist.

We returned to Wathara but had to put a collar and leash on Bucko, who was barking his head off. After verifying our medical condition in the logbook the official made a thorough inspection, opening lockers, lifting cushions and peering into the bilge.

Somewhat reluctantly it seemed to me, he stamped our passports and said, “Your medical condition will be dealt with.”

He took us back ashore and then escorted us to a pharmacy in the business district. He introduced us to the pharmacist, who seemed to be a friend of his and described our condition as ‘loose motion.’ He watched while the pharmacist stirred up some brew with a mortar and pestle and then watched to make sure we took our medicine. We were both constipated for a week after. To this day I wonder whether he had been tipped off by the Cochin harbour master. I fondly remember this incident as the Zamorin’s revenge.

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Ferdinand Magellan and Me

Wathara-john regan's yacht

The good ship Wathara

Ferdinand Magellan and Me

Let’s get one thing clear right from the start. Ferdinand Magellan was not the first person to sail around the world. One of his ships was the first ship but Magellan never made it. He did well to get as far as he did, battling evil kings and wicked bishops, putting down the odd mutiny and chopping off a few heads, but in the end he was his own worst enemy.

Nearly 500 years later, sailing in Magellan’s wake out of some kind of fascination with the man, I probably had to admit to the same fault, but Magellan only had murderous mutineers to deal with and my problem was women. Wisely, Magellan never allowed women aboard his ships.

I mean, it started out all right, as these things do. She said, “Oh, I love sailing. I’ve been sailing 18 footers on Sydney Harbour for a couple of years. We won the cup this year in our boat called Boobs. You might have heard of it.”

“No,” I said, “I haven’t heard of a boat called Boobs,” but I actually had. It had been a scandal in my yacht club a few weeks before. The trophy had been won by an all- female crew sailing a boat with a risqué name. Bar flies in their cups predicted the death of sailing as we know it. Centuries of nautical tradition when females aboard ship were known to bring bad luck were under threat.
“We beat all the men. You shoulda seen the looks on their faces.”
“I bet.”
“But you’re planning to sail around the world, aren’t you?”
“That’s right. I’m going to follow Ferdinand Magellan’s trip.”
“What’s with Ferdinand Magellan?”
“He’s only the greatest sailor in history, that’s all.”
“How long is it going to take?”
“I dunno. Magellan’s ship took about three years.”
“And you’re going to the places he went?”
“That’s right.”
“Gee whiz.”

I kid you not, she said gee whiz. What do you do with a woman who says gee whiz? First step is to get her into bed, of course. That led to various unforeseen circumstances, such as marriage, which I had always regarded as a headwind upon the good ship romance. I forgave her for being the harbinger of the sailing fraternLet’s get one thing clear right from the start. Ferdinand Magellan was not the first person to sail around the world. One of his ships was the first ship but Magellan never made it. He did well to get as far as he did, battling evil kings and wicked bishops, putting down the odd mutiny and chopping off a few heads, but in the end he was his own worst enemy.

Nearly 500 years later, sailing in Magellan’s wake out of some kind of fascination with the man, I probably had to admit to the same fault, but Magellan only had murderous mutineers to deal with and my problem was women. Wisely, Magellan never allowed women aboard his ships.

I mean, it started out all right, as these things do. She said, “Oh, I love sailing. I’ve been sailing 18 footers on Sydney Harbour for a couple of years. We won the cup this year in our boat called Boobs. You might have heard of it.”

“No,” I said, “I haven’t heard of a boat called Boobs,” but I actually had. It had been a scandal in my yacht club a few weeks before. The trophy had been won by an all- female crew sailing a boat with a risqué name. Bar flies in their cups predicted the death of sailing as we know it. Centuries of nautical tradition when females aboard ship were known to bring bad luck were under threat.
“We beat all the men. You shoulda seen the looks on their faces.”
“I bet.”
“But you’re planning to sail around the world, aren’t you?”
“That’s right. I’m going to follow Ferdinand Magellan’s trip.”
“What’s with Ferdinand Magellan?”
“He’s only the greatest sailor in history, that’s all.”
“How long is it going to take?”
“I dunno. Magellan’s ship took about three years.”
“And you’re going to the places he went?”
“That’s right.”
“Gee whiz.”

ity’s doom and later learned she was also prone to come out with expressions like golly gosh and oaky doaky. Besides, she was a looker.

The wedding took place on the balcony of my yacht club overlooking Sydney Harbour with a good fleet of one-tonners racing around the buoys. Many of the club’s shellbacks turned out for it, unperturbed by the fact that she wore the colours of a rival club. Only one misogynist bothered to mention that Ferdinand Magellan never allowed women aboard his ship. That’s true but Robin was now my first mate.

Wathara was the perfect boat for this trip. She was designed by Joe Adams, who also designed Helsal, the ferro-cement yacht called the flying footpath that won the Sydney-Hobart race one year. Wathara was a 37 foot cutter made of almost indestructible 3-millimetre steel, a feature that was to come in handy on this voyage. She was divided into two separate sleeping areas, forward and aft cabins, which also come in handy when you are on not-so-friendly terms with your crew.

I spare the reader tedious details of provisioning the ship and dealing with bureaucracy. We left Sydney on a glorious day, with a brisk sou-easter flicking mare’s tales off the deep blue sea. I gave the wheel to Robin and watched her with a grin on her face, surfing down the waves, riding the crests, laughing with the sheer joy of this freedom. Gone was the city, gone was the train time-table, gone the imperatives of a different life. All we had to do now was sail around the world.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Golly gosh,” she said. “Yes.”

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