In the afternoon of this day they saw abundance of weeds lying in length north and south, and three alcatrases pursued by a rabo-de-junco.
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
Next day, being Saturday, September 22d, they saw a whale and several small birds. The wind now veered to the southwest, sometimes more and sometimes less to the westward; and though this was adverse to the direction of their proposed voyage, the admiral, to comfort the people, alleged that this was a favorable circumstance; because, among other causes of fear, they had formerly said they should never have a wind to carry them back to Spain, as it had always blown from the east ever since they left Ferro. They still continued, however, to murmur, alleging that this southwest wind was by no means a settled one, and, as it never blew strong enough to swell the sea, it would not serve to carry them back again through so great an extent of sea as they had now passed over. In spite of every argument used by the admiral, assuring them that the alterations in the wind were occasioned by the vicinity of the land, by which likewise the waves were prevented from rising to any height, they were still dissatisfied and terrified.
On Sunday, September 23d, a brisk gale sprung up west-northwest, with a rolling sea, such as the people had wished for. Three hours before noon a turtle-dove was observed to fly over the ship; toward evening an alcatras, a river fowl, and several white birds were seen flying about, and some crabs were observed among the weeds. Next day another alcatras was seen and several small birds which came from the west. Numbers of small fishes were seen swimming about, some of which were struck with harpoons, as they would not bite at the hook.
The more that the tokens mentioned above were observed, and found not to be followed by the so anxiously looked-for land, the more the people became fearful of the event and entered into cabals against the admiral, who they said was desirous to make himself a great lord at the expense of their danger. They represented that they had already sufficiently performed their duty in adventuring farther from land and all possibility of succor than had ever been done before, and that they ought not to proceed on the voyage to their manifest destruction. If they did they would soon have reason to repent their temerity, as provisions would soon fall short, the ships were already faulty and would soon fail, and it would be extremely difficult to get back so far as they had already gone. None could condemn them in their own opinion for now turning back, but all must consider them as brave men for having gone upon such an enterprise and venturing so far. That the admiral was a foreigner who had no favor at court; and as so many wise and learned men had already condemned his opinions and enterprise as visionary and impossible, there would be none to favor or defend him, and they were sure to find more credit if they accused him of ignorance and mismanagement than he would do, whatsoever he might now say for himself against them.
Some even proceeded so far as to propose, in case the admiral should refuse to acquiesce in their proposals, that they might make a short end of all disputes by throwing him overboard; after which they could give out that he had fallen over while making his observations, and no one would ever think of inquiring into the truth. They thus went on day after day, muttering, complaining, and consulting together; and though the admiral was not fully aware of the extent of their cabals, he was not entirely without apprehensions of their inconstancy in the present trying situation, and of their evil intentions toward him. He therefore exerted himself to the utmost to quiet their apprehensions and to suppress their evil design, sometimes using fair words, and at other times fully resolved to expose his life rather than abandon the enterprise; he put them in mind of the due punishment they would subject themselves to if they obstructed the voyage. To confirm their hopes, he recapitulated all the favorable signs and indications which had been lately observed, assuring them that they might soon expect to see the land. But they, who were ever attentive to these tokens, thought every hour a year in their anxiety to see the wished-for land.
On Tuesday, September 25th, near sunset, as the admiral was discoursing with Pinzon, whose ship was then very near, Pinzon suddenly called out, “Land! land, sir! let not my good news miscarry,” and pointed out a large mass in the southwest, about twenty-five leagues distant, which seemed very like an island. This was so pleasing to the people that they returned thanks to God for the pleasing discovery; and, although the admiral was by no means satisfied of the truth of Pinzon’s observation, yet to please the men, and that they might not obstruct the voyage, he altered his course and stood in that direction a great part of the night. Next morning, the 26th, they had the mortification to find the supposed land was only composed of clouds, which often put on the appearance of distant land; and, to their great dissatisfaction, the stems of the ships were again turned directly westward, as they always were unless when hindered by the wind. Continuing their course, and still attentively watching for signs of land, they saw this day an alcatras, a rabo-de-junco, and other birds as formerly mentioned.
On Thursday, September 27th, they saw another alcatras coming from the westward and flying toward the east, and great numbers of fish were seen with gilt backs, one of which they struck with a harpoon. A rabo-de-junco likewise flew past; the currents for some of the last days were not so regular as before but changed with the tide, and the weeds were not nearly so abundant.
On Friday, the 28th, all the vessels took some of the fishes with gilt backs; and on Saturday, the 29th, they saw a rabo-de-junco, which, although a sea-fowl, never rests on the waves, but always flies in the air, pursuing the alcatrases. Many of these birds are said to frequent the Cape de Verd Islands. They soon afterward saw two other alcatrases and great numbers of flying-fishes. These last are about a span long, and have two little membranous wings like those of a bat, by means of which they fly about a pike-length high from the water and a musket-shot in length, and sometimes drop upon the ships. In the afternoon of this day they saw abundance of weeds lying in length north and south, and three alcatrases pursued by a rabo-de-junco.
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