The ships lay dead between the waves, lurching so heavily that they took in water on both sides; and the men made themselves fast not to fall from one side to the other; and everything in the ships was breaking up, so that all cried to God for mercy.
Continuing Vasco Da Gama Sails Around Africa and Opens the Sea Route To India,
our selection from The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama: and His Viceroyalty by Gaspar Correa published in 1556. The selection is presented in ten easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Vasco Da Gama Sails Around Africa and Opens the Sea Route To India.
Place: West coast of Africa
The masters, seeing that the weather was freshening, took counsel as to returning to land and putting into some river until meeting with a change of weather. This they did, and, putting about to the land, the wind increased so much that they were afraid of not finding a river in which to shelter, and of being lost. On which account they again stood out to sea, and made ready the ships to meet the storm which they saw rising every moment, so that the water should not come in, with ropes made fast to the masts, and with the shrouds passed over the yards so that the masts should remain more secure; and they took away all the panels from the tops, and the sails, so as not to hold the wind; the small sails and the lower sails all struck, and with the foresails only they prepared to weather the storm.
Seeing the weather in this state, the pilot and master told the captain-major that they had great fear on account of the weather because it was becoming a tempest, and the ships were weak, and that they thought they ought to put in to land and run along the coast and return to seek the great river into which they had first entered, because the wind was blowing that way, and they could enter it for all that there was a storm. But when the captain-major heard of turning backward he answered them that they should not speak such words, because, as he was going out of the bar at Lisbon, he had promised to God in his heart not to turn back a single span’s breadth of the way which he had made; that on that account they should not speak in that wise, as he would throw into the sea whomsoever spoke such things. At which the crew, in despair, abandoned themselves to the chances of the sea, which was broken up with the increase of the tempest and rising of the gale, which many times chopped round, and blew from all parts, and at times fell; so that the ships were in great peril from their great laboring in the waves, which ran very high. Then the storm would again break with such fury that the seas rose toward the sky, and fell back in heavy showers which flooded the ships. The storm raging thus violently, the danger was doubled; for suddenly the wind died out, so that the ships lay dead between the waves, lurching so heavily that they took in water on both sides; and the men made themselves fast not to fall from one side to the other; and everything in the ships was breaking up, so that all cried to God for mercy.
Before long the sea came in with more violence, which increased their misfortune, with the great difficulty of working the pumps; for they were taking in much water, which entered both above and below; so, they had no repose for either soul or body, and the crews began to sicken and die of their great hardships. At this the pilot and masters and all the people poured out cries and lamentations to the captains, urgently requiring them to put back and seek an escape from death, which they were certain of meeting with by their own will if they did not put about. To which the captains gave no other reply than that they would do no such thing unless the captain-major did it. The captain-major, seeing the clamors of his crew, answered them with brave words, saying that he had already told them that backward he would not go, even though he saw a hundred deaths before his eyes; thus he had vowed to God; and let them look to it that it was not reasonable that they should lose all the labors which they had gone through up to this time; that the Lord, who had delivered them until now, would have mercy upon them; they should remember that they had already doubled the Cape of Storms and were in the region which they had come to seek, to discover India, on accomplishing which, and returning to Portugal, they would gain such great honor and recompenses from the King of Portugal for their children; and they should put their trust in God, who is merciful, and who, from one hour to another, would come with his mercy and give them fair weather, and that they should not talk like people who distrusted the mercy of God. But, although the captain-major always spoke to them these and other words of great encouragement, they did not cease from their loud clamor and protestations that he would give an account to God of their deaths of which he would be the cause, and of the leaving desolate their wives and children; all this accompanied by weeping and cries, and calls to God for mercy.
While they went on this way with their souls in their mouths, the sea began to go down a little, and the wind also, so that the ships could approach to speak one another, and all clamored with loud cries that they should put about to seek some place where they could refit the ships, as they could not keep them afloat with the pumps. The crews of the other ships spoke with more audacity, saying that the captain-major was but one man, and they were many; and they feared death, while the captains did not fear it, nor took any account of losing their lives. The captain-major chose that the two other ships should know his design, and he said and swore by the life of the King his sovereign that from the spot where he then was he had not to turn back one span’s breadth, even though the ships were laden with gold, unless he got information of that which they had come to seek, and that even if he had near there a very good port he would not go ashore, lest some of them should retire to a certain death on shore, allowing themselves to remain there, rather than go on with the ships trusting to the mercy of God, in which they had such small reliance that they made such exclamations from the weakness of their hearts, as if they were not Portuguese; on which account he would undeceive them all, for to Portugal they would not return unless they brought word to the King of that which he had so strongly commended to them, and that he took the same account of death as did any one of them.
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