On Wednesday, September 12th, having got to about one hundred fifty leagues west of Ferro, they discovered a large trunk of a tree, sufficient to have been the mast of a vessel of one hundred twenty tons, and which seemed to have been a long time in the water.
Continuing Columbus Discovers America,
our selection from The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand by Ferdinand Columbus. The selection is presented in 6 easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Columbus Discovers America.
Place: San Salvador Island
The vessels being all refitted, the admiral weighed anchor from Gran Canaria on Saturday, September 1st, and arrived next day at Gomera, where four days were employed in completing their stores of provisions and of wood and water. On the morning of Thursday, September 6, 1492, the admiral took his departure from Gomera, and commenced his great undertaking by standing directly westward, but made very slow progress at first on account of calms. On Sunday, September 9th, about daybreak, they were nine leagues west of the island of Ferro. Now, losing sight of land and stretching out into utterly unknown seas, many of the people expressed their anxiety and fear that it might be long before they should see land again; but the admiral used every endeavor to comfort them with the assurance of soon finding the land he was in search of, and raised their hopes of acquiring wealth and honor by the discovery. To lessen the fear which they entertained of the length of way they had to sail, he gave out that they had only proceeded fifteen leagues that day, when the actual distance sailed was eighteen; and, to induce the people to believe that they were not so far from Spain as they really were, he resolved to keep considerably short in his reckoning during the whole voyage, though he carefully recorded the true reckoning every day in private.
On Wednesday, September 12th, having got to about one hundred fifty leagues west of Ferro, they discovered a large trunk of a tree, sufficient to have been the mast of a vessel of one hundred twenty tons, and which seemed to have been a long time in the water. At this distance from Ferro, and for somewhat farther on, the current was found to set strongly to the northeast. Next day, when they had run fifty leagues farther westward, the needle was observed to vary half a point to the eastward of north, and next morning the variation was a whole point east. This variation of the compass had never been before observed, and therefore the admiral was much surprised at the phenomenon, and concluded that the needle did not actually point toward the polar star, but to some other fixed point. Three days afterward, when almost one hundred leagues farther west, he was still more astonished at the irregularity of the variation; for, having observed the needle to vary a whole point to the eastward at night, it pointed directly northward in the morning.
On the night of Saturday, September 15th, being then almost three hundred leagues west of Ferro, they saw a prodigious flash of light, or fire-ball, drop from the sky into the sea, at four or five leagues’ distance from the ships, toward the southwest. The weather was then quite fair and serene like April, the sea perfectly calm, the wind favorable from the northeast, and the current setting to the northeast. The people in the Nina told the admiral that they had seen the day before a heron, and another bird which they called rabo-de-junco. These were the first birds which had been seen during the voyage, and were considered as indications of approaching land. But they were more agreeably surprised next day, Sunday, September 16th, by seeing great abundance of yellowish green sea-weeds, which appeared as if newly washed away from some rock or island. Next day the seaweed was seen in much greater quantity, and a small live lobster was observed among the weeds; from this circumstance many affirmed that they were certainly near the land.
The sea-water was afterward noticed to be only half so salt as before; and great numbers of tunny-fish were seen swimming about, some of which came so near the vessel that one was killed by a bearded iron. Being now three hundred sixty leagues west from Ferro, another of the birds called rabo-de-junco was seen. On Tuesday, September 18th, Martin Alonso Pinzon, who had gone ahead of the admiral, in the Pinta, which was an excellent sailer, lay to for the admiral to come up, and told him that he had seen a great number of birds fly away westward, for which reason he was in great hopes to see land that night;
Pinzon even thought that he saw land that night about fifteen leagues distant to the northward, which appeared very black and covered with clouds. All the people would have persuaded the admiral to try for land in that direction; but, being certainly assured that it was not land, and having not yet reached the distance at which he expected to find the land, he would not consent to lose time in altering his course in that direction. But as the wind now freshened, he gave orders to take in the topsails at night, having now sailed eleven days before the wind due westward with all their sails up.
All the people in the squadron being utterly unacquainted with the seas they now traversed, fearful of their danger at such unusual distance from any relief, and seeing nothing around but sky and water, began to mutter among themselves, and anxiously observed every appearance. On September 19th a kind of sea-gull called alcatras flew over the admiral’s ship, and several others were seen in the afternoon of that day, and, as the admiral conceived that these birds would not fly far from land, he entertained hopes of soon seeing what he was in quest of. He therefore ordered a line of two hundred fathoms to be tried, but without finding any bottom. The current was now found to set to the southwest.
On Thursday, September 20th, two alcatrases came near the ship about two hours before noon, and soon afterward a third. On this day likewise they took a bird resembling a heron, of a black color with a white tuft on its head, and having webbed feet like a duck. Abundance of weeds were seen floating in the sea, and one small fish was taken. About evening three land birds settled on the rigging of the ship and began to sing. These flew away at daybreak, which was considered a strong indication of approaching the land, as these little birds could not have come from any far distant country; whereas the other large fowls, being used to water, might much better go far from land. The same day an alcatras was seen.
Friday, the 21st, another alcatras and a rabo-de-junco were seen, and vast quantities of weeds as far as the eye could carry toward the north. These appearances were sometimes a comfort to the people, giving them hopes of nearing the wished-for land; while at other times the weeds were so thick as in some measure to impede the progress of the vessels, and to occasion terror lest what is fabulously reported of St. Amaro in the frozen sea might happen to them, that they might be so enveloped in the weeds as to be unable to move backward or forward; wherefore they steered away from those shoals of weeds as much as they could.
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