Wednesday, January 25, 2017

World Without Columbus, part 2

"Columbus left with three small ships. The largest was the Santa Maria, a carrack owned and captained by Juan de la Cosa. La Niña and the Pinta were small caravels owned by the Pinzón brothers, Martin and Vicente Yáñez. Most of the crews were experienced Portuguese sailors, loyal to the Pinzóns.

On October 12, the lookout sighted land after a voyage of only five weeks. Columbus thought he had found the Japans, but it was actually the Bahamas. By October 28, the expedition found Cuba, which Columbus assumed was China. He should have known better. Even by his faulty mathematics, it was too soon. The Earth could not be so small, and it did not take a genius to realize that these islands were not the Indies.

Martin Pinzón was a more experienced and accomplished sailor than Columbus, and they often disagreed on matters of navigation. After the expedition left Cuba on November 21, he took the Pinta and went exploring on his own.

When the Santa Maria broke on a reef off the Northern coast of Hispaniola on Christmas morning, Columbus had the difficult task of loading as much plunder as possible on the tiny caravel, La Nina, in order to make the voyage back to Spain. Gold, tobacco, and slaves were among the precious cargo, which Columbus needed to justify the expense of the expedition. Most of the crew would be left on the island, along with considerable provisions. As it was, La Nina would be seriously overburdened.

Just in time, on January 6, the Pinta returned and distributed the load between the two ships. Even so, 39 men had to be left behind. They founded the settlement known as La Navidad, and were wiped out by the local Caribs within a year.

On the return voyage, the ships encountered a fierce winter storm. Many scholars believe that the skills of the Pinzón brothers were all that prevented the heavily laden caravels from being lost in the storm. What might have happened if Martin Pinzón had not returned to the expedition? For whatever reason, the region of the Northern Caribbean known as the Bermuda Triangle has claimed many victims. What if the Pinta had been one of them?

Alone in the Mid-Atlantic storm, and burdened beyond capacity or reason, La Nina would surely have capsized and gone down with all hands."

-- From the Afterword of Burning Woman and the Ghost Lance, available on

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