Ferdinand Magellan and Me (70)

The Dragon's Tail

The Dragon’s Tail

On the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross the armada anchored in the river that Serrano had discovered. Magellan named it Santa Cruz, not only for the date but also for the vera cruz that blazed overhead at midnight. He planned only a brief stay but once again was faced with discontent from the crew. They were led by Gomez, formerly Trinidad’s pilot, who held a grudge against Magellan because he had wished to become captain general of the armada himself.

Already more than 51 degrees of latitude and El Paso not found. Only stormy seas, stony shores, snow, sea-wolves and cannibals. Gomez proposed they take the well-known eastern route, below the Cape of Good Hope with following winds. Either that or return to Spain. How far south did Magellan propose to go, leading the fleet into greater danger?

“I propose to go on until we find it, Gomez. The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid or dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee wherever thou goest.”

With no Santiago to scout ahead, Magellan took the lead in Trinidad; southwards, ever southwards. Surely not far now. The land was barren with tall snowy mountains in the distance. A low headland backed by sandhills extended a spit to seaward and Magellan ordered a course alteration to clear the shoal. Although not remarkable, the cape was prominent enough to deserve a name. This being the feast day of St Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins, that was the name he chose.

A large bay opened up beyond the cape and he decided to anchor, with San Antonio, Victoria and Concepción following suit. After dark, numerous fires were seen on the southern shore and Magellan named it Tierra del Fuego, or land of fire. He passed the word to the other ships to keep watch for cannibals.

The wind had been a fresh nor-westerly all afternoon, often the sign of a southerly buster. Just before midnight it hit with cracking thunder, pelting rain, sleet and lightning that ripped the night apart into blinding brilliance. It was all hands on deck to lift the anchor and set a rag of sail. Magellan headed offshore for the relative safety of the open sea. It was afternoon of the next day before the storm cleared and he was able to return to the anchorage. San Antonio had ridden it out at anchor but it was a few hours later before Concepcion appeared from southwards, followed shortly by Victoria.

Concepcion anchored and immediately lowered her skiff, with Serrano waving his pennant and shouting as his boat crew pulled lustily at the oars.

“We’ve found it,” he yelled. “We have found El Paso.”
He climbed aboard Trinidad and threw his arms around the captain general.

“We found it, Ferdinand. There is clear water to the south and two wide channels. El Paso!”
The men on deck gave a cheer, threw their hats into the air and some performed little two-step dances.

“El Paso!”
Later in the great cabin Serrano modified his excitement somewhat.”Clear water, deep water with a southerly set. I have to warn you we did not actually see a way through, but that water had to be going somewhere. It’s not a river.
“Yes,” Magellan said. “God has answered our prayers.” “This is El Paso, the Dragon’s Tail.”

    The Dragon’s Tale


Ferdinand Magellan and me (69)

crew problems

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Crew Problems

My chief mate, Helen, had been aboard over a year now and I had at last come to realise the occasional glaze in her eyes was not an ophthalmic condition. Cruising down the coast of South America we had many social events with other yachties, yacht club members and locals interested in our story. It was a great opportunity to practice our Spanish and hear their stories. The lubricant was usually beer or wine and occasionally gin or whisky.

I have been known to take a cool drink on a hot day but not since my foolish Navy days have I allowed it to get out of control. What puzzled me with Helen was that I never saw her drink to excess. After she’d had a couple of glasses of gin I usually had to take a firm grip of her arm and steer her in a straight line back towards home.

In Rio, where the hospitality was particular generous, she tripped on the gangway and broke her arm. I got her to hospital where they put her arm in plaster, which she wore for several weeks as we continued our voyage. It was a source of conversation in anchorages, especially after I had to repair it with fibreglass. I now began to see the glazed look while we were at sea, which had not happened before. She was a good sailor, a willing worker, good cook and not bad in bed but I was beginning to worry about her.

One day I went fossicking in the locker in the aft cabin – I was looking for the spare jib sheet or something – and what I found was half a dozen bottles of whisky. The light dawned. We had a showdown. To me it was a safety issue. I explained the danger she was putting herself in. Bodies fished out of the water after falling off boats fit two main categories: those with a high blood alcohol level and men with their flies open, pissing over the side instead of using the head. (I have to admit to this fault myself but I always pee to leeward.)

“You have to get it under control.” I told her. “It’s dangerous.”

She was contrite, even tearful, and I wondered what had happened to the calmly confident woman I had met in London. She had told me stories of her sailing experience but not much, I now realised, of her personal life. A little more delving brought mention of an abortion, and that was a sensitive topic. It was a topic way beyond my ken. I know what to do in the event of a grounding, dismasting, fire on board or a cyclone. I can even deal with Customs officials but I had no clue about abortion and didn’t want to know.

“So, where do we go from here?” I said. “You can’t sail away from it.”
She burst into tears. Magellan never had to deal with this kind of problem. He would just chop people’s heads off or cast them away among cannibals in foreign lands. Life was simpler back then.

    Crew problems


Ferdinand Magellan and me (68)

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Santiago Lost

Magellan was impatient to be gone from Port St Julian and continue the search for El Paso, never doubting its existence. When bushes began to bud and little yellow flowers blossomed over the land he called upon Juan Serrano, his cousin and captain of Santiago, the smallest ship of the fleet. She was a caravel with a handy fore and aft rig and shallow draft, ideal for explorations. Many years before, Serrano had been captain of Magellan’s first ship on a voyage to Kilwa, in Africa, under Viceroy Sequiera. In the wake of the recent mutiny, Serrano was the only captain he could trust. He gave Serrano the task of scouting ahead and even allowed him a glance at the Martellos map that showed the Dragon’s Tail, upon which Magellan placed his faith in El Paso. He gave Serrano two weeks to come back and report.

Two weeks went by, and three, and four and Magellan could be seen pacing up and down on the poop muttering to himself. One day there came a feeble cry from the shore. Serrano and three or four of his men were on their knees on the pebbly beach, hands clasped before them as if beseeching absolution in church. Serrano broke down and openly wept; his clothes in rags, his body emaciated and his feet bloody.

Back on board Trinidad after a rest, Serrano told his story. They had a nice breeze to start with and they explored a couple of bays, which turned out to be dead ends. They came to a river with a good anchorage. He took a boat upstream and found plenty of fish and fresh water but it was not El Paso. No sooner did they get back to sea than all hell broke loose. They lost the fore mast overboard and the mainsail blew to pieces. It was a full onshore gale and there was nothing they could do. The ship was swept ashore and began breaking up. They had walked all the way back to Port St Julian and three men died.

Here the old seaman choked up and was unable to continue.
“Never mind, John,” the captain general said.” If anyone could have saved the ship it’s you.”

Magellan appointed Serrano captain of Concepción, a position left vacant by Quesada, whose head, stuck on a spike beside that of Mendoza, gazed sightlessly upon the congregation celebrating mass for the armada’s departure from this unhappy place.

One task remained. Despite his conviction for treason and mutiny, Juan de Cartagena, natural son of Bishop Fonsecca, who was the most senior official of the Casa de Contratación, remained rebellious. His punishment was to be left behind in Port St Julian. No doubt Magellan would have preferred evidence of cannibal activity in the region but Pigafetta, who’d had most contact with the natives, was unable to oblige. As the fleet sailed away, Cartagena waded into the water begging to be taken aboard.

With this act, Magellan sealed his own fate. He would never be able to return to Spain. Just before they sailed from Seville, Magellan had received news that Balboa, the explorer who sighted the western sea from a peak in Darien, had got his head chopped off by the governor. Columbus completed one of his voyages in chains in his own ship. The Spanish Empire was not generous towards its explorers and, being Portuguese, Magellan could expect little mercy from the Casa de Contratatión. Adios, Juan de Cartagena. Adios, la vida.

    Santiago lost.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (67)

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Patagonian giants

As winter came on and the days grew shorter, the snow line crept down the hills. The captain general allowed the chains removed from the mutineers, not for their comfort but so they could work harder. Concepción needed major repairs and all the ships required maintenance. Riggers, carpenters, coopers and sailmakers plied their crafts. Others tanned animal hides for cloaks and shoes and salted down fish and meat. Despite the danger from cannibals, Pigafetta took long, solitary walks and became something of a naturalist describing and drawing plants, animals and trees not known in Europe. The sea abounded with fish, sea wolves, crabs, mussels and oysters. Animals like pygmy camels grazed on stunted bushes. They were easy to catch and good to eat.

Weeks passed with no sign of humans and he had almost decided there were no cannibals here when a man appeared on the shore one day, dancing, leaping and singing while throwing handfuls of dust on his head. He was very big, a veritable giant. His face was painted red with yellow around the eyes and hearts painted on his cheeks. He wore animal hides and shoes made of the same leather. The sailors on Trinidad stopped work to watch and Pigafetta went to call the captain general.

Magellan sent a boat to capture the man and bring him aboard. He ordered he be given a hawk’s bell to tinkle, a comb, a pair of sailor’s breeches and set a red cap on his head, which the cannibal whipped off and threw away. When he was shown a mirror and saw his own face in it he let out a loud cry and jumped back, knocking over three or four sailors. Magellan next gave him a set of rosary beads but had to prevent him eating them.

In following days more natives appeared, including women and children, dancing and singing and pointing a finger in the air. Pigafetta was amazed to see such people. ‘The natives stand straighter than a horse,’ he wrote in his journal, ‘and are very jealous of their wives. They wear a cord around their head to carry their arrows and when they go hunting they bind their private member to their leg because of the cold. When one of them dies, ten or twelve devils painted all over leap and dance around the corpse. The principal devil is called Setebos and the others are called Cheleule, which is like the pope and his priests.’ At a time when Europe was undergoing a religious upheaval led by Martin Luther, Pigafetta had discovered a different religion and was intrigued by the idea of Setebos as an alternative god or devil. Setebos entered the English language in Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest.

Pigafetta can be regarded as the world’s first anthropologist, taking great interest in the native people and their customs. He reports no evidence of cannibalism among the Patagonians, however. We are fortunate to have such a chronicler.

    Patagonian giants.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (66)

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Sailing in Magellan’s wake

Wathara’s cruise to Patagonia was rather more convivial than Magellan’s 500 years before. We sailed from Buenos Aires as part of a fleet of around 20 yachts shepherded by a Coast Guard cutter named Esperanza, which turned out to be a liability. They called it a regatta but it was lacking in competitive spirit. These guys were just out for a good time. To us, accustomed to sailing alone, it was a damn nuisance to have the VHF radio squawking continually and having to send a position report every 4 hours. Every once in a while a Coast Guard aircraft flew overhead and waggled its wings.

Getting out of Rio de la Plata was like rejoining the real world. The water turned from brown to blue and dolphins once again played in the bow wave. We put out a trolling line and caught a nice dorado. Wathara was enjoying herself too, keeping up among the leaders. Our first social engagement was at Viedma, a small town about 20 miles up the Rio Negro. Therein lay the problem. Esperanza, the biggest boat with the deepest draft, ran aground on the bar. Our saviour needed rescue. Three of us put lines on her and towed her into deeper water, suppressing blasphemies, but then a launch arrived from Viedma and led the fleet through the narrow unmarked channel.

We were the first yachts to enter the river in 40 years and the local sailing club had organised TV interviews, a dinner and presentation of prizes followed by a visit to a dance where the queen of some festival was chosen. Next day it was a bus trip to a seal colony and a visit to the local small museum. The three foreign yachts, Wathara, a German ketch called Regina Maris and a French boat called Ski received special attention.

Next leg in the so-called regatta took us to Caleta Horno, a narrow, steep- walled and serpentine inlet sheltered from all directions – too small for Magellan’s fleet. The town of Camarrones lay about 40 kilometres away and next day we were collected by pick-up trucks and driven into town. It had only about 700 inhabitants, poor people in shanty houses, but they put on a dinner for us that must have strained their resources. Camarrones means prawns and that’s what they served to the 200 or so people in the assembly hall of the local school.

The regatta terminated at Puerto Deseado but the three foreign boats continued southwards. The entrance to Port St Julian is marked by low bluffs on each headland. I had sailed half-way round the world to see this place and my expectations were coloured by its dark history. Magellan was not the only admiral to execute a crew member here. Nearly 60 years later, having found the remains of Magellan’s mutineers, Francis Drake ordered the execution of Thomas Doughty for mutiny.

Magellan anchored his fleet near the mouth of the harbour but we followed the winding channel to the town well inside. We spent six days in San Julian and on four of them were unable to get ashore because of strong winds and a rocky bottom in which the anchor dragged. We had almost no contact with the people ashore, which seemed strange after all the attention we had received in the regatta. One man I did talk to was an Englishman who had lived 30 years in Patagonia and lamented the fact that, through lack of practice, he was losing his Cockney accent.

    Sailing in Magellan’s wake


Ferdinand Magellan and me (65)

Torture was a fine art in Magellan's time.

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Spanish justice in a heathen land.

Easter Sunday dawned with a dusting of snow on the bare hills. Bowled along by the wind, tumbleweeds blew out of the desert and skipped out to sea. Half the morning was spent bringing the mutineers in chains to the little island where Valderrama had built his makeshift church. Magellan named it Isla Justicia. So determined was he to exercise justice that he brought spare spars on which to hang the culprits. Port St Julian was lacking in suitable timber to construct a gallows. Judas Iscariot had the grace to hang himself but Magellan was leaving nothing to chance.

Judges had been appointed and the proceedings were to be recorded by scribes in accordance with the regulations. Forty two men were charged with crimes ranging from murder, through treason to mutiny; all capital offences. The pilot and fleet astrologer, Andres de San Martin, had already been subjected to the strappado, a favourite tool of the Inquisition. He was suspended by his hands tied behind his back while heavy weights were hung from his feet. His crime had been to supply the mutineers with a chart showing the route back to Spain.

Espinosa, the master at arms, recovered Mendoza’s body and propped it up against a rock so it could observe the legal proceedings. The other prisoners were permitted to sit on the ground. Only Cartagena, Castilian hidalgo and son of a bishop, declined the invitation and continued to strut despite the shackles on his wrists.

Witnesses from San Antonio were called to describe the midnight attack in which Cartagena, Quesada and El Cano had sneaked aboard, killed the master, Juan Elloriago, and imprisoned Captain Mesquita in his own cabin. Several witnesses testified they had seen Quesada stab Elorriaga in the back. Concepción had been mysteriously cast adrift but despite intense questioning Magellan was unable to establish who was responsible.

He called a halt to enable the judges to consider their verdict. It was important to him that the trial should follow strict protocol, although appointing his own kinsmen as judges had raised a protest from the padre, which was ignored. No surprise when Quesada was convicted of murder, Cartagena, el Cano and three others of treason and all the rest of mutiny. Only Quesada received the death penalty. As the master at arms and his officers laid hands on him and dragged him into position he started blubbering like a woman, much to Magellan’s disgust.

“Come, Quesada, you are making us all embarrassed.”

While four men held him down, Espinosa raised a big two-handed sword and brought it whistling down on Quesada’s neck. Fountains of blood spurted everywhere.

Next to face punishment was Mendoza. This was not a death sentence since he was already dead but Magellan had a reason for separating his head from his body. It would be preserved with a lotion of sage and laurel and stuck on a spike alongside Quesada’s. The two sightless mutineers would serve as a warning throughout the winter to anyone else contemplating mutiny.

Cartagena also received his sentence, although not immediately enforced. When the armada continued its voyage in search of El Paso, Cartagena would remain here as an ambassador to Patagonia, newly claimed by Magellan in the name of the king. Should the natives prove unfriendly, however, Cartagena might finish up in a cooking pot; a fitting end for such a dandy in Magellan’s view.

    Magellan delivers rough justice.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (64)

Assassination of MendozaA Singular Captain

Assassination of Captain Mendoza

On Palm Sunday the crews celebrated mass on a rocky island inhabited by sea wolves, penguins and gulls. With a cold wind moaning out of the desert, flapping his vestments about his legs and carrying his voice away, Padre Valderrama retold the story of how the Son of David came to Jerusalem on an ass. The people spread branches in the road and cried, “Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” and the Pharisees plotted against Him and conjured up treachery among his disciples.

After the mass, a deputation for the sailors begged leave to speak with the captain general. Their spokesman was San Antonio’s quartermaster, a Genoese, who asked the captain general on behalf of his shipmates to restore the wine and biscuit, to depart from this place and return to Rio for the winter. Magellan heard him out and offered words of encouragement but no way was he going to turn back.

“South is where El Paso lies. It’s not far now, my friends. Once the winter thaws it will be an easy sail.”

The grumbling men returned to their boats drawn up on the shore and it was clear they were far from happy. Magellan’s main concern was that his captains, Mendoza, Quesada, de Coca and Cartagena ignored the Divine Service and also Magellan’s invitation to a meal aboard Trinidad.

The simmering pot came to the boil next morning. De Coca arrived aboard Trinidad and presented a note signed by Cartagena, Mendoza and Quesada demanding the Armada de Maluku return to Spain, where Magellan’s conduct would be subject to an enquiry by the Casa de Contratación. Armed men could be seen on the decks of Victoria and Concepción and others lined the bulwarks. On San Antonio’s poop, Cartagena paraded up and down like a peacock. Magellan crumpled the note and flung it to the deck. This was war.

There had never been a whiff of mutiny aboard Trinidad. Magellan mustered his men and, with the aid of Espinosa, the able master at arms, formed a fighting force of loyal volunteers. Magellan went on the attack. The fighting was furious that day, although only a small minority took up arms against the captain general. This was a mutiny by captains, not deck hands, and Espinosa disposed of Mendoza early in the fray. His bloody corpse was strapped to Victoria’s main-mast as a warning to mutineers.

Concepción posed the risk of escaping through the channel and heading back to Spain once the tide began to ebb. Magellan led a boarding party that clambered up over the bulwark yelling and screaming and slashing the air with their weapons. The resistance faded and the opposing crew backed up, surprised by the ferocity of the attack. Magellan engaged captain Quesada, who threw down his sword, fell to his knees and begged for mercy like the true coward he was. Cartagena, the instigator of all this fury, was similarly meek in defeat but Magellan had a special punishment in store for that bishop’s bastard.

    Mutiny in Port St Julian


Ferdinand Magellan and me (63)

Ferdinand Magellan, A Singular Captain

Magellan names Port St Julian

The inexperience of the Spanish captains became a concern for Magellan as weather patterns changed heading south from Cabo de Santa Maria. No longer were the days leisurely cruises with balmy breezes but constant jousts with shifting winds that sometimes reversed direction twice in a day, ranging in strength from calm to gale. Pigafetta came to recognise the long, dark roll of cloud on the horizon as a harbinger of the sudesta, or southerly buster, with screaming wind that made the ships almost unmanageable and pelting rain that made everything invisible.

If anything, the calms were worse than the storms. Short of breaking out the sweeps or putting down a longboat, the ships were at the mercy of capricious currents. The armada frequently went backwards and Victoria ran aground three times, with the captain general muttering “The man’s an idiot,” and shouting at Mendoza to get the sails off her and run a kedge anchor. Fortunately, Victoria refloated each time, but what damage had been done to her keel?

After two months the armada had made only eight degrees of latitude, less than walking pace. Pigafetta dare not mention Magellan’s light-heartened comment, ‘All we have to do is keep going south.’ Five hundred leagues from Rio, in a land never before seen by Christians, with sails blown out and gear swept away, the ships came to anchor in a narrow inlet bounded by rocky shores and obstructed by sand bars under a leaden sky. It was cold, comfortless, desolate, deserted, depressing and devoid of promise except for the sea wolves clapping their flippers and barking. It was possibly the most God-forsaken place on Earth in the view of most crew. Magellan named it Port St Julian.

The captain general had at last yielded to growing discontent but never would he countenance turning back. They would pass the winter here and prepare for the southwards thrust in spring. The time would be spent salting down slaughtered seals and seabirds, careening the ships, unloading stone ballast so bilges could be cleaned and freed of rats, patching sails, renewing rigging and preparing for the next stage in the search for El Paso.

Magellan said he would sail south as far as seventy five degrees of latitude: an announcement not popular with the crew. At least there was no lack of meat but the men were sick of birds that tasted like fish and of sea-wolf, which tasted like lard. The wine and biscuit were running short. Further swindling in the provisions had been found and rations had to be cut, thanks to Bishop Fonseca.

It was Easter by the Christian calendar only here in the southern hemisphere it was autumn and felt like winter. In Seville the streets would be full of penitents re-enacting the passion of Christ, punishing themselves with crowns of thorns, walking barefoot on broken glass, flogging themselves with whips. Little did the sailors of the Armada de Maluku know that events in Port St Julian would turn out similarly bloody.

    Magellan lays up for the winter


Ferdinand Magellan and me (62)

Magellan's ship replica

Magellan’s Port St Julian

Ferdinand Magellan left his stamp on Uruguay in the name of its capital Montevideo, (“I see a mountain.”), which was no doubt a disappointment for him since he was searching for a strait. Juan de Solís, who became a meal for cannibals, is also remembered in the form of an obelisk at Nueva Palmira. Nowadays the natives are more hospitable and the carnival is nearly as much fun as Rio’s. Not so the crowded boat harbour, sometimes inundated by stormy seas crashing over the breakwater.

There is plenty of yachting activity in the estuary of the River Plate and I took advantage of the facilities for running repairs and an anti-fouling job for Wathara. We sailed about 100 miles up the River Paraguay and were treated as celebrities by the locals. The Magellan story was well alive and I was interviewed on TV a couple of times. Among the many friends we made were Tommy Braithwaite, an English expat, and his family. His 75-year-old mother in law was the matriarch of a large extended family who sat in a wooden chair and beamed upon her offspring. She had some advice for us planning to sail through the Magellan Strait. She had been shipwrecked there 50 years before and spent several days in a life- boat before being rescued.

“You must stay out of the water,” she said, wagging a forefinger. “It is very cold.”
“Yes, thank you,” I said. “We shall certainly try.”

The San Isidro Yacht Club in Buenos Aires was organising a Regatta to Patagonia and our new friends urged us to take part. Although I am not a racing man I eventually agreed. Why not? Nearly 500 years after Magellan showed the way we shouldn’t get lost. A fleet of about 20 yachts crossed the start line with a crowd waving banners, shouting and cheering. A Coast Guard cutter followed the fleet like a sheep dog and an aircraft flew overhead every once in a while keeping an eye on us.

It wasn’t really a race, it was a cruise. The weather was perfect and Wathara loved it. The organisers had arranged hospitality at sailing clubs along the way. In Rio Negro we were treated to TV interviews, a banquet and presentation of trophies followed by a visit to a dance where the queen of some festival was chosen. Next day was a bus tour of the countryside and a visit to a colony of seals and penguins. Magellan never had it like this.

We pulled out of the race at Port St Julian, where Magellan faced the biggest challenge of his career. The entrance is marked by low bluffs on each headland. It appears as no more than an inlet and the fact that Magellan found the spacious harbour inside indicates the thoroughness of his search. There were no trees and the stony earth was speckled with khaki grass and thorny bushes. It is hardly surprising that Magellan’s decision to spend the winter here was unpopular and contributed to the sombre events that followed. I had sailed half way around the world to see this place and it opened my eyes on events nearly 500 years before.

    Magellan reaches Port St Julian


Ferdinand Magellan and Me (61)

World map by Martellus

The Dragon’s Tail

Magellan also had to deal with an excess of hospitality in Rio. The local wine was distilled from sugar cane and was very potent. The natives, especially the women, were too friendly for Magellan’s liking. Before departing Rio he sent Espinosa, the Master at Arms, to clear the ships of women including Piratininga, the mother of Carvalho’s son, Joãozito, or Little John, who would sail with the fleet. She and all the others were ferried ashore, where they watched their men climb aloft to shake out the sails from the gaskets. As the black ships slowly gathered way the women began to wail and sob. Some swam after the ships and Joãozito waved goodbye to his mother with tears in his eyes. Pigafetta was beginning to understand what it meant to be a sailor.

Fair weather held as the fleet sailed southwards with low hills and sandy beaches on one side, blue sea on the other and black and white dolphins leading the way. The Captain General’s first task was to dispose of the belief that the large bay south of Cabo de Santa Maria could be El Paso, the strait through to the western sea discovered by Balboa. This was the limit of exploration by Europeans – the end of the known world.

In 1973, Argentinean scholar Paul Gallez raised the possibility that Magellan may have been better informed than previously believed. His argument helps explain Magellan’s dogged conviction of the existence of a strait through or around South America. Gallez had a copy of the world map by Henricus Martellus dating from 1489 kept in the British Library in London. After a careful study of the map and comparison with others of the time such as that by Waldseemuller, Gallez concluded that Columbus certainly had a copy of the Martellus map and Magellan was undoubtedly aware of it. Gallez identified the river systems of South America far to the south on the map.

The Martellus map is one of several derived from the original world map by Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria. Most depict South America as a vast peninsula joined in the north to Asia, in particular China, which was the main point of interest. With a stretch of the imagination, the maps could be likened to a drawing of a dragon and South America was described as the Dragon’s Tail. At the bottom of the Dragon’s Tail was clear water all the way to China, but it was sheer speculation.

This view was not widely held in Seville and the former Chief Pilot of Spain, Juan de Solís, believed the strait to lie in what we now call the estuary of the River Plate. His exploration of the estuary was cut short by his encounter with cannibals, who literally kept him for dinner.

Magellan did not believe this was El Paso but he needed to prove his point to the Casa de Contratatión and his own captains. He shifted aboard the little Santiago, ideal for survey work, and went exploring much to Pigafetta’s anxiety that he might share the fate of Juan de Solís.

    Magellan sails southwards