The men’s terrors had been justified; only 150 were left alive.
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.
Time: January, 1498
Place: West coast of Africa
Nicolas Coelho felt great joy in his heart on hearing from the captain-major that he had got his pilot and master thus secured from rising against him, since he had put them in irons; and without much dissimulation he spoke to master and pilot and seamen, saying that he was much grieved at the captain-major’s way of treating his ship’s officers, whom he stood so much in need of in the labors they were undergoing, but what he had done was because of his being of so strong and thorough a temperament, as they all knew, and he had not chosen to wait for them to make entreaty for the liberty of the prisoners, but that whenever the ships again spoke one another he would do this. This all the crew begged him to do, with loud cries of mercy, since they would follow the flag-ship wherever it went. This Nicolas Coelho promised them, so they remained contented.
Paulo da Gama had other conversations with the officers of his ship, with much urbanity, for he was a man of gentle disposition; he also promised them that he would entreat his brother on behalf of the prisoners, and bade all pray God for the saving of their lives, and that all would end well; so that all remained consoled.
While these things were happening, the wind did not shift its direction, but, the sea being smoother, the ships were more easy, though they let in so much water that they never left off pumping. The captain-major saw this and that the ships had an absolute need of repairs; and also, because they had no more water to drink, because, with the tossing about in the storm, many barrels had broken and given way; under such great pressure, he stood in to land under sail, for the weather was moderate and was beginning to be favorable; all were praying to God for mercy, and that he would grant them a haven of safety. Which God was pleased to do in his mercy, for presently he showed them land, at which it seemed that all were resuscitated from the death which they looked upon as certain if the ships were not repaired. After that the wind came free, and they sailed along the land for several days without finding where to put in; this was now in January of the year 1498. Thus, they ran close to the land, with a careful lookout, for they did not dare to leave the land, from the great peril in which the ships were from the great leakage.
Proceeding in this way, one day they found themselves at dawn in the mouth of a large river, into which the captain-major entered, for he always went first; and all entered, and found within a large bay sheltered from all winds, in which they anchored, and all exclaimed three times, “The mercy of the Lord God!” for which reason they gave this river the name of the River of Mercy. Here they soon caught much good fish, with which the sick improved, as it was fresh food, and the water of the river was very good.
Now, at this time, in all the ships there were not more than a hundred fifty men, for all the rest had died. Soon after arriving at this place the captain-major went to see his brother and Nicolas Coelho, and they conversed, relating their hardships; and Nicolas Coelho related the treason which his men were preparing, to take him prisoner and return to Portugal, and they did not do it from the fear they had that the captain-major would follow after them, and if he caught them would have hanged them all; and they only waited for all to agree to mutiny; and he had sought those feigned words which he had spoken, and it had pleased God that Vasco da Gama had understood them, so that by his imprisoning his officers at once all had remained secure. So, all gave praise to the Lord for having delivered them from such great perils.
Then they settled about refitting the ships, for they had all that was necessary for doing it. Although they had a beach and tides for laying the ships aground, for greater security it was ordered that they should be heeled over while afloat, and thus it was arranged for by all of them. While they were on the quarter deck, Paulo da Gama entreated his brother to set the prisoners at liberty, which he did, setting free the sailors, and the master and pilot, with the condition that, if God should bring them back to Lisbon, when he went before the King he would present them to him in the same manner in chains, not to do them any harm, but only that his difficulties might be credited, and that for this he would give him greater favors; at which all the crews felt much satisfaction. Afterward they spoke with all the officers, and arranged for careening the ships, and went to look at them.
They found there was no repairing the ship of Nicolas Coelho, as it had many of the ribs and knees broken. For that reason they at once decided to break it up; and then they cut out its masts, and much timber and planks of the upper works, which, with the yards and spars of the other ships, they lashed together and fastened, and made a great frame, which they put under the side of the ship to raise it more out of the water; for this purpose they then discharged from the captain-major’s ship into that of his brother, which was brought alongside, all that they could of the stores and goods; and everything heavy below decks they put on one side of the ship, which caused it to heel over very much, and with the timber under the side, and the tackle fitted to the main-mast, they canted the ship over on one side so much that they laid her keel bare; and on the outer side they put planks, upon which all the crew got to work at the ship, some cleaning the planks from the growth of sea-weed, others extracting the calking, which was quite rotten, from the seams; and the calkers put in fresh oakum and then pitched it over, for they had a stove in a boat where they boiled the pitch.
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