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The Navigator, Atlantic Crossing

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As Magellan continues his voyage sailing down the African coast trouble was already brewing. The first of two encounters with Captain Cartagena was soon to take place. The Captain was still filled with resentment that Magellan was the appointed Captain General and not him. For days he bided his time waiting for that precise moment to challenge the captain general. The time came a few days latter with Magellan who was following Da Gama's course south along the African Coast when the fleet arrived at what is today's Senegal. It is there that Cartagena and another captain openly questioned Magellan on why the fleet had not headed west earlier following a direct route like Columbus. The out come of that conversation left no doubt that Magellan was in charge. Tensions among the captains of the other ships were just beginning to surface. This only after a short while into their voyage. After enduring violent storms off the coast of Sierra Leone, the fleet finally altered course and headed southwest. It wasn't long before the ships were caught in the equatorial doldrums. For three weeks the ships lolled idly on the glassy sea. The unrelenting sizzling sun melted tar, the ships timber split in the baking heat, and the men began to grumble about the futility of the voyage. Give Magellan credit for it was his resolve that kept the fleet together. After three long weeks of endless calm and scorching heat the trade winds started to blow again.

When the trade winds returned the ships resumed their journey even though reports of insurrection were still floating around the crews were kept busy. It is said that one evening another challenge to Magellan's authority occurred. As it was written in the ships journal that one of the other ships Captains refusal to personally carry out the customary salute he turned the duty over to his boatswain. This time the boatswain rudely addressed the captain-general simply as "captain." Magellan in response sharply upbraided the sailor but took no immediate action against Captain Cartagena. Three days later, however, in a face-to-face confrontation, Cartagena abruptly announced that he would no longer obey Magellan's orders. This was an act of open mutiny exactly what Magellan had been waiting for. Grabbing Cartagena by the shirtfront, he icily declared that the Spaniard was his prisoner. Immediately Cartagena was placed in custody of another officer, and that evening Magellan appointed a new captain.

Favorable winds now blew the ships steadily across the Atlantic, and before long the shores of Brazil were sighted. Sailing south past jungle-clad coasts, the fleet finally dropped anchor in mid-December. This spectacular bay would in time become the site of Rio de Janeiro. There Magellan allowed his weary sailors two idyllic weeks ashore. The local Indians, Pigafetta, the ships scribe, noted, were cannibals. Fortunately for the Europeans, they were greeted as gods and regaled with banquets of suckling pig and fresh pineapples-certainly a welcome change from pickled pork and ship biscuit. There was also much delighted chasing of Indian girls who wore no clothes and whose parents were more than willing to give them up as slaves in exchange for a knife or an ax. Just imagine with two weeks leave the crew of Magellan could have sired offspring from these native women and today there could be descendants of Magellan's crew in Brazil.

Magellan, who a few years earlier married a Spanish woman kept a vigil over his men but remained just a bystander while his men were on leave. Soon it was time to drag his reluctant men back to their duties. There were fouled water casks to scour and refill, worn timbers to repair, torn sails to stitch. All good things must end and on December 27, to the tearful farewells of native girls, the captain-general ordered his men to weigh anchor. New Year's Day 1520 passed almost unnoticed as the explorers scanned Brazil's impenetrable coast for any sign of the strait. Hopes soon soared only to fall when, after two weeks and more than 1,200 miles of sailing, they discovered a broad westward channel at just about the latitude where all the existing charts indicated the strait would be. Unfortunately, the channel rapidly narrowed to nothing more than a river, the modern-day Rio de la Plata.

A bitter disappointed, Magellan concluded that the charts were wrong. The strait had to be farther south in the frozen regions of Terra Australis, the legendary landmass that was presumed to exist at the bottom of the globe. Many sailors were so discouraged they wanted to turn back, but Magellan's iron will and his contempt for cowardice that drove them on. Sailing headlong into the approaching autumn and winter of the Southern Hemisphere, the five ships were beaten by brutal seas, violent winds, and persistent hailstorms. Ice began to clog the rigging faster than the sailors could hack it away. During this period Magellan like his men slept no more than a couple of hours at a time and, and existed only on cold rations. "The fool is leading us to destruction," Cartagena is said to have muttered. "He is obsessed with his search for the strait. On the flame of his ambition he will crucify us all."

At the end of March, with his crew freezing Magellan decided to winter ashore. The fleet anchored in a forbidding but sheltered bay he named Port St. Julian, near the southern tip of Argentina. There were no friendly welcoming natives: only gray cliffs and desolate beaches. A mood of general depression settled down like a fog. After six months at sea the explorers had reached nowhere, found nothing. Of what use was this sterile coast to Spain? they asked. Where was this imaginary strait to the Spice Islands. The captains pleaded with Magellan to return home or at least go back to the milder latitudes of Rio de la Plata for the winter, but Magellan stubbornly refused. In no time at all the mutiny he had so long expected broke out. According to Pigafetta, the ringleader in the plot was once again Juan de Cartagena. Gaining control of three ships, he apparently planned to make a dash for the harbor entrance and head for Spain. Magellan on the other hand managed to slip some of his own men aboard one of the mutineers' ships. Soon Magellan quickly took possession of her and with his three remaining ships formed a blockade across the harbor's mouth and regained control of all five of his ships.

Magellan immediately court-martialed the leaders of the plot, and they were found guilty of mutiny. Against a background of jagged rocks he staged a ritual execution in the presence of officers and men. One of the mutinous captains was led to the block, where his own servant cut off his head. His body and that of another captain who had been killed in the fighting were drawn and quartered, and the pieces hung from four gibbets erected on the shores of the bay. Magellan's authority was reestablished beyond question. As for Cartagena, he and a mutinous priest would be marooned when the fleet eventually left the desolate bay.

The fleet was at Port St. Julian for two months before the Europeans saw any natives. Then, one day the crew suddenly saw a naked man of giant stature on the shore of the harbor, dancing, singing, and throwing dust on his head. As noted by the ships scribe "This strange creature, with hair painted white and face daubed with red and yellow, was so tall that we reached only to his waist." The first giant soon was followed by others, who became friendly with the explorers and went so far as to dance with them, leaving footprints four inches deep in the sand. The skins they wrapped around their feet were apparently packed with dry grass for added warmth. Consequently, Magellan called the giants Patagones (Spanish and Portuguese for "big feet"), and the name of their country soon became Patagonia.

Anxious to continue his exploration, Magellan now sent the Santiago south to reconnoiter the coast. The ship was wrecked in a storm, fortunately with only one life lost. The surviving crew managed to report that they discovered a much more favorable harbor. So, after five months in their grim anchorage at Port St. Julian, the four remaining ships set sail late in August for their new port, where they remained until October 18. By then, spring in the Southern Hemisphere was fast approaching, and Magellan was eager to resume his search for the elusive strait. Three days later and about 100 miles farther south, the fleet rounded a sandy headland and found yet another vast bay. The captains protested that it was useless to waste time exploring there: There could be no strait through the bay's western end. But the captain-general would not pass by any possibility. He ordered the captains of the Concepcion and San Antonio to seek a western outlet in the bay.

A sudden storm swept the two ships out of sight behind a rocky promontory jutting into the bay, and for two days rough weather prevented Magellan from following. When he finally was able to round the headland himself, the two lost ships soon reappeared. Pretty soon the San Antonio drew near enough for her captain to shout that the ships had sailed more than 100 miles into a deep narrow channel with strong tides and no sign of fresh water. The conclusion was that this inlet was no mere river mouth it had to be the strait to the great South Sea. Sailing west the voyage continues into the vast pacific and date with destiny awaits ahead.

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