Through-out history there have been those whose exploits ignite the passion and imagination in others to seek new adventures in far off places. Some would say to boldly go where no man has gone before. Whether it was the Vikings, Columbus, or Balboa all had an unquenchable thirst for adventure. But it took one man whose exploration that changed the world forever. His name was Ferdinand Magellan. When we retrace history to what many historians term today as the age of exploration that was during the 15th and 16th century we found many who took the challenge to risk life and limb to find new lands for fame and glory. For all those who came before that ventured out into the unknown instilled in others to push the boundaries of the known world. Almost unimaginable today to think of how these great explores managed to do what they did. With only the stars to guide them to far distant places, facing unbearable horrific conditions for months and even years at a time in ships way to small by today's standards for sailing the vastness of the oceans and, yet managed to preserve. The greatness in Magellan lies with his unwavering tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds.
It was Magellan like Columbus before that realized the potential for vast wealth from the Far-East Spices. But, at that time the only known route was by ships sailing around the tip of South Africa. A most treacherous journey where many perished along the way. In a time when many continued to assert the earth was flat left little room to think that one could actually sail west to reach the riches of the Far East. By 1500 Balboa, who followed Columbus in sailing west only to land in Panama and through further exploration crossing the terrain of Panama found a vast new ocean on the other side proved there could be a way to reach the Spice Islands by sailing west. The only problem though was finding a passageway for ships to sail through. The question was if there is a way to reach this newly discovered ocean where was the passageway? Uncharted only speculation that such a passage existed. It was Magellan who capitalized on the idea that by sailing west one would in fact reach the Far-East and fetch the riches of the Spice Islands.
The man was to become a legend. A brilliant navigator, a soldier with an authoritarian demure made him the ideal leader for what was to become histories greatest navigational expedition. The tenacity of his unrelenting resolve and his ability to find the Far East by sailing west in a time when many thought the world was still flat cemented his place as the worlds first true Global Navigator.
To understand the magnitude and scope of this undertaking we first have to realize what events honed the persona and character of Ferdinand Magellan. He was born into Portugal's aristocracy in 1480. By the time he was twelve he had already heard about Columbus and from that he craved a life filled with adventure. Some years latter he joined the Portuguese fleet and set sail to India. Sailing around the tip of South Africa was the only know way to reach India, the Far-East and the Spice Islands. The spice trade at the time was so lucrative it pitted nation against nation to capitalize on the existing trade route. It was in 1511 that Magellen became captain of one of Alfonso d'Albuguergue's ships when during a brutal battle at Malacca he was severely wounded. A wound that almost made him a cripple. Undaunted, and for the next eight years he continued sailing and fighting in the Indies and Africa. But after eight years of service Magellan finally returned to Portugal.
By the early 1500's practically every European nation was flocking to the far east for the all important spices that were so coveted. Then the only known routes were overland or by sea around the arduous southern tip of Africa and into the vast Indian ocean. It was Magellan's contention that an alternate route to the Far-East was possible by sailing west like Columbus did earlier. It was in Portugal that he tried, but, in vain to gain funding to supply an expedition to the Far-East. Rebuffed by King Manuel I Magellan went to Spain. There a young Charles I was eager to out wit his rival nation of Portugal. Charles quickly realized that if such a route existed by sailing west to the Far-East the financial rewards by the Spices would be worth the cost of out rigging a fleet to embark from Seville to the Far-East.
It is here that this remarkable story of a great explorer is told. It really begins almost right after Magellan's return to Portugal after 8 years of service to King Manuel I. On a cool autumn day in 1516, a crippled soldier knelt awkwardly before his king, Manuel I of Portugal. The sovereign gazed down at Ferdinand and nodded for him to speak. " Sire I have spent years serving my King I ask nothing but a increase in my pension." As King Manuel sat " I care not to grant your request for I have no more desire of your service. What ever you seek, seek it else where." With that Manuel waved him away. For all his service now a man without a country Magellan gradually formed a new plan.
For years his friend Francisco Serrano, who had settled in the Moluccas, had been urging Magellan to join him. The Moluccas were the spice islands, lying just to the west of New Guinea. They were the primary source of most of the spices that most Europeans desperately coveted. And, Serrano added, the profits to be made in the spice trade were fabulous. Eventually, Magellan wrote to his friend: "I will come to you soon, if not by way of Portugal, then by way of Spain." At the back of his mind as he penned those momentous words were recollections of maps and globes he had seen in the royal chartroom at Lisbon, as well as the widespread rumors that suggested the existence of an unexplored strait through the South American continent into Balboa's recently discovered South Sea. If he could discover that strait, he might open a western alternative to Portugal's fiercely defended route around Africa and across the Indian Ocean to the Indies. A most profitable route he envisioned.
Fortunately, for Magellan, several influential men in Spain were considering the same possibility. And Ferdinand Magellan, with his wealth of experience in the Indies, they all agreed, was just the man to carry out their plan. Soon Magellan's backers managed to arrange an audience with Spain's young King, Charles I. From the start Charles realized the importance of the profits Spain could expect to reap if it broke the Portuguese monopoly of the spice trade by opening a new westward route to the Indies. On March 22, 1518, King Charles approved the financing of a voyage that was to make Magellan a legend.
In the ensuing months much of what was to become life and death incidents during this expedition originated before Magellan ever left port. In Seville, preparations for this expedition took a little over one and a half years to complete. The long delay was partly the result of the machinations of King Manuel's consul at Seville. Although the expedition's destination was an official secret, Manuel's spies had found out the truth, and the king was determined to undermine this Spanish attempt to poach on the wealth of what he considered his personal realm in the Indies. Even more sinister were the plots of Don Juan de Fonseca, bishop of Burgos and counselor to the Spanish king, and German bankers who were financing the expedition. Appalled by the generous rewards King Charles had promised Magellan and fearing that the expedition was becoming too Portuguese, they planned to limit Magellan's authority. In the course of several months of intrigue, Bishop Fonseca succeeded in having his illegitimate son, Juan de Cartagena, appointed captain of one of the ships (the others were commanded by Portuguese officers) and sympathetic Spaniards placed in a number of other key positions.
Through it all, Magellan worked methodically at the task of equipping his fleet for exploration. Five ships were purchased: the Trinidad (Magellan's flagship), the San Antonio, the Concepcion, the Victoria, and the Santiago. it was Magellan who took an active role in redesigning the ships to withstand the rigors of an open sea voyage that would last years. One of the greatest problems was recruiting enough sailors to man the fleet. Haughty Castilian seamen were reluctant to serve under a foreign born commander. More important, the taciturn Magellan refused to say exactly where he was going, and professional mariners balked at signing up for a voyage of at least two years to an unknown world. The only two really willing recruits were Sergio and Antonio Pigafetta, a young Italian nobleman both men craved for adventure of the open sea. It is in Antonio's debt that the world today has a firsthand account of Magellan's momentous voyage for he was the one who kept a detailed account of everything that happened for the entire voyage. A voyage that lasted three years in which he was one of the 18 survivors to ever make it back to Seville.
Despite everything Magellan eventually managed to sign up a full complement of about 250 men. A mixed bag of nationalities including Italians, Frenchmen, Germans, Flemings, Moors, and blacks, as well as Spaniards and Portuguese. To Magellan's credit was his indomitable confidence along with his so called iron personality that would mold these men into a disciplined corps of explorers. On September 20, 1519, everything was finally ready. As Cannon thundered and banners waved the five ships glided out into the Atlantic from the port of San Lucar de Barrameda. On September 26 they put in at the Canary Islands for last-minute supplies and fresh water. Within hours a packet followed them into port with an urgent letter for Magellan from friends in Spain. The message was ominous: It warned him of the plot of Cartagena and his henchmen to mutiny and murder their leader. Magellan coolly decided for the moment to do nothing more than watch Cartagena closely. He was confident that, when the time came, his military training would be more than a match for any insubordination. The voyage continues.