Ferdinand Magellan and me (89)

South China Sea

The pilot they had paid to take them to the Spice Isles could not be found on sailing day but Carvalho decided to proceed anyway. Leaving the harbour of Palawan they came across a large trading prau and Carvalho steered straight towards it as if to ram but then ordered the crew to throw grappling hooks and secured it alongside.
“Pigafetta, ask them if they have a pilot who knows Maluku.”

Three men said they had been to Maluku and Pigafetta invited them on board to talk, whereupon Carvalho ordered them bound with ropes and shackles. They struggled and shouted and shook their fists in the air as Trinidad disengaged from the prau and set sail, with Victoria following.

Pigafetta asked them what course to sail but they refused to answer, cursing Carvalho and all foreign devils in the name of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. Pigafetta, Carvalho and all his crew would sleep with a thousand scorpions and maggots would eat their eyeballs. From the deck where they were tied they attempted to spit on the icon of the Virgin Mary but the gobs fell short.

Carvalho called a meeting of the democratic council that had replaced the role of captain general. After considerable debate a motion was put and carried that the pilots each be paid two gold ducats for their services. Pigafetta carried this offer to the prisoners and it was sullenly accepted. They immediately ordered a course alteration from south east to south west, a right angle turn.

This was an opportunity for Pigafetta to add new material to his journal. The Moors were greater sailors than even the Portuguese. They invented lateen sails that enabled ships to sail to windward. They wrote the Almagest from the great work of Ptolemy, which was copied by Europeans and renamed Alfonsine tables. From these pilots he also learned the Chinese had invented the magnetic compass, which was a wonder of the world.

After nearly two weeks they came to a harbour and anchored off a city with houses on stilts around the shore, a stone castle and a tall tower, from which came a wailing chant. The pilots fell to their knees in prayer as a Alarge prau approached with musicians playing drums and flutes and stringed instruments while 12 bare-chested men dipped their paddles in time.

“What’s this?” Carvalho demanded of the pilots. “This is not the Spice Isles.”

“No. This is Brunei, where we leave you to find your own way.”

“Treachery! I’ll have you back in chains if you don’t take us to the Spice Isles.”

To everyone’s surprise,the head man in the boat smiled and said “Welcome to Brunei,” while his crew handed up gifts of betel leaves and areca nuts, urns of rice wine and bundles of sugar cane.
Carvalho was speechless but Pigafetta offered an explanation.

“They probably think we are a Portuguese ship.”
The ships no longer flew the Habsburg eagle and Trinidad still had Magellan’s coat of arms on the poop rail either side.
“We had better all speak Portuguese,” Pigafetta advised.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


    Author: leonidas

    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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