Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle

Magellan Discovers the Straits

At first the voyage southward was pursued under fair winds, and with soft breezes that wafted the ships swiftly over the waters. They had not proceeded for many days, when they came in sight of a promontory which jutted far out into the sea. Scarcely had they got opposite to it, when a terrific tempest burst upon them. The ships creaked, shook, and strained; some of the masts were carried away, and some of the sails were torn to shreds, as if ripped by unseen giant hands; and for several days it was an even chance whether the little fleet should founder or weather the storm. One of them came very near being dashed upon the grim and frowning promontory; another sprang a leak, and the men were forced to work desperately at the pumps night and day; a third narrowly escaped being driven out to sea, and thus parting company with the rest.

At last, the fleet was able to find shelter below the promontory, in a little bay; and now Magellan named the promontory Santa Cruz, (or, the Promontory of the Holy Cross.)

Here the sailors once more grew clamorous to return to Spain. They were worn and weary with the voyage; they despaired of a successful ending of the expedition; and they loudly demanded, even before the Admiral himself, that the prows of the ships should be turned homeward.

But Magellan was not to be terrified into retreating. He sternly told his men to hold their peace and trust in him.

"I shall go on," he said, "even till we reach the ice-seas of the southern pole. The land of this continent must end somewhere; and when we reach this limit, we shall have achieved our end. We have still food, water, and clothing, and goodly ships. Why, then, should we despair?"

The confidence and courage of their commander restored the sailors to submission, and they finally returned, without further complaint, to their tasks.

The voyagers only remained at Santa Cruz long enough to repair the damage which the storm had done to the fleet. Once more the flagship set forth, and the others followed, and favoring breezes carried them rapidly forward.

Magellan little thought when he rose on the sunny morning of October 21st, 1520, that he was near the object most dear to his heart. It was the day consecrated to the eleven thousand virgins; and on all festival days of the Church, Magellan was wont to ordain a religious ceremony on the ships. On rising, therefore, he took care to attire himself in his finest suit, with velvet doublet, plumed cap, and jeweled sword; he little knew that he was habiting himself to witness the chief event of his life.

As he had proceeded along the coast, he had been blindly groping for a passage which he could only guess existed, but of which he had no positive knowledge whatever. He knew not what a day might bring forth; he was all in the dark as to the distance he had to go; and he had now be-come used to seeing the day go by, and the night close in, without having made the great discovery.

When he emerged from his cabin, and stood upon the deck, the officers and crews, in their best apparel, were already assembled. Two priests had set up a little altar on the poop, and were standing, arrayed in their sacred robes, ready to perform the mass. The Admiral took his place in front of the rest; and as the good ship sped on, the voices of the priests mingled with the splash of the waters and the flapping of the sails, in the performance of their solemn rite.

Scarcely was mass concluded, when one of the sailors, perched on the lookout forward, cried out loudly that a long cape was in sight. Magellan walked to the side of the ship, and gazed in the direction in which the sailor pointed. There, indeed, was a jutting cape, beyond which nothing could be seen.

Pretty soon the fleet was off the point. On rounding it, Magellan's heart leaped within him to perceive that there was a broad inlet, running in a southwesterly direction; and that, while the land was plainly visible on its southern side, its limit inland could not be discerned. Naming the cape the Cape of Virgins, he gave orders that the fleet should boldly enter the inlet, and endeavor to find out whither it led.

The aspect of the shores, and of the inlet itself, was very remarkable. Lofty mountains, snow-shrouded, loomed on both shores. These shores were jagged and uneven, many lesser inlets running from the larger one far into the land, and craggy islands seeming in several places, to completely choke up the channel; here and there were patches of green forests, but the general appearance of the place was desolate and for-bidding.

The ships advanced carefully, for on every side the jutting reefs and piled-up breakers threatened destruction. As the flagship progressed, Magellan anxiously watched the channel ahead, fearing every moment lest it should come to an end, and once more dash his hopes of a passage. At last they came to a round bay, sheltered on every side by lofty masses of rock. It was now nearly dark; the fleet could not pursue its course much further, amid so many perils; and Magellan gave the order to anchor in the bay.

So favorable for a sojourning place and point of departure did this bay appear to Magellan, when he rose next morning, that he resolved to remain in it, with the flagship, while he sent two of the other ships to explore the channel further on, and see if they could not find the outlet. Accordingly, calling Mesquita and Serrano, the captains of the San Antonio, and the Conception, he told them to set out, without delay, on this dangerous and difficult errand.

They had scarcely disappeared among the islands, before a storm arose, so fierce that the two ships that remained in the bay were forced to weigh their anchors, and be tossed to and fro violently at the will of the winds. This continued all night, and for the greater part of the next day; when at last the tempest subsided, without having seriously damaged the ships.

Meanwhile, no signs appeared of the two vessels that had gone forward to explore the channel; and for a time Magellan much feared that they had foundered in the storm. After several days, however, he was relieved by seeing them speeding rapidly towards the bay, and what filled his heart with good cheer, with their flags and streamers flying gaily from their mastheads. They were soon alongside the flagship; and Mesquita, hastening on board, eagerly advanced to Magellan, and fell at his feet.

"Praise be to God, admiral," cried he, when he could recover his breath so as to speak, we have found the outlet!"

Magellan, with flushed face, his whole body trembling with excitement and emotion, raised the faithful captain from the deck, and clasping him about the neck, burst into tears of joy.

"Is it indeed true?" he said, with faltering voice. "And have you seen the other ocean—the western ocean beyond?"

"We have indeed seen it, with these very eyes," replied Mesquita. "We came near perishing in the storm; but we kept on, and we have succeeded."

Magellan turned to Serrano, who had now come on board from the Conception, and the other officers, and tenderly embraced them. Then in exultant tones, he spoke.

"My comrades, at last we have triumphed! Our perils have been great, our trials and hardships sore and many. But the reward of all has come. The passage that conducts from the Atlantic to the further ocean, that affords the nearest way from Spain to the precious isles of the Moluccas, is found! It is just before us; we shall pass through it, if God pleases to still protect us, and shall sail into the ocean beyond. We shall make other discoveries; find wealth and fame for ourselves, and dominion for our monarch! Captains, repair to your ships; assemble your crews, and tell them the good tidings; let your cannon awake deafening echoes among these crags; float the royal standard and ensigns of Spain from your mastheads; array your decks with streamers and ribbons; let wine and meat in plenty be set forth; and render thanks to God for conducting us to this great discovery!"

The admiral's orders were obeyed with a will. Ere long the four ships, riding at anchor in the hay, side-by-side, put on an air of festivity and good cheer. The sailors crowded the decks, singing and capering, embracing each other, and every now and then breaking out into hoarse and lusty cheers. The cannon boomed with quick succeeding volleys, their voices of thunder resounding from point to point; the flags waved with joyous fluttering in the fresh breeze; and then followed a bounteous feast on each deck, of which officers and men partook together.

The religious thanksgiving for the discovery was not forgotten. The remains of the feast were cleaned away; instead of the tables, altars arose on the decks; and the priests, with deep-toned voices, chanted the song of triumph which their church ordained. When he had grown somewhat calmer, Magellan took the two captains, Mesquita and Serrano, into his cabin, and asked them to relate the particulars of their adventures.

"At first," said Mesquita, "we met with headwinds, which would not allow us to weather the cape at the end of the bay; and we attempted to turn round, and come back to the other ships. In making this attempt, we were very near being stranded upon the shore. Every moment we feared that we should be lost; meanwhile, the tempest carried us gradually toward the head of the cape, which we finally reached. It seemed to us that the inlet ended there; and on rounding the cape, we were surprised to see a small mouth, or corner of the inlet. We sailed for this, in the hope of sheltering ourselves from the storm. On approaching nearer, we found that this led into another bay, which we forthwith entered. Crossing this bay we reached another narrow channel, through which we sailed, until we came to still a third bay, larger than either of the others; thence we passed into a third strait, from which we could plainly discover the boundless ocean itself. Lying there overnight, we returned to-day, to impart to you and our comrades the glorious news we brought."

The weather was fair, and seemed settled; and Magellan was eager to follow in the route that the Conception  and the San Antonio  had pursued. He therefore ordered the whole fleet to set sail, and advance through the channel. In no long time the ships had entered the last strait described by Mesquita and all the adventurers now caught a glimpse, in the far and dim distance, of the white-crested billows of the further ocean. They then anchored off a cape that jutted into the strait, which Magellan named Cape Forward.

But Magellan found that, once here, he had by no means found an easy passage through. The channel seemed to divide into two, and to present two branches, one to the southeast, the other to the southwest. Which should be taken? Without doubt, one of them led to the ocean; the other probably found its termination in a bay; nor could he decide, from the point where he then was, which to attempt.

He therefore resolved to again send out the two ships, the Conception  and the San Antonio, to explore the two channels, and to report to him their discoveries. Before doing so, however, Magellan called together his officers and principal men, and said to them:

"We have, no doubt, discovered the passage from the Atlantic to the further seas. Ere very long our ships will ride the waters of the sea beyond. It remains to decide whether we shall push further forward, and seek the Moluccas; or return with our good news to Spain. We have only provisions for three months; the voyage to the islands must be very long and tedious; we may have to undergo stern trials, severe privations. On the other hand, if we succeed in-reaching the Moluccas, vast riches await us there. We shall gain dominion for the king, and receive yet greater fame and honor in Spain, when at last we seek the hospitable shores of home. I ask you, comrades, for your voices. Which shall we do?"

A loud shout promptly answered the Admiral's question.

"Let us go on!" was the eager response of Magellan's companions.

One, however, Gomez, the pilot of the San Antonio, did not join in the cry. When silence was restored, he spoke boldly in favor of returning to Spain.

"Our fleet," he said, is worn with so much sailing. The ships are out of repair, and little able to withstand the storms of unknown seas. We have already lost one of them by shipwreck. Let us go back, and return next year with a new and larger fleet."

"Enough of this!" retorted Magellan, angrily. "We will go on, even if we have to eat the leather off the ship's yards!"

The Conception  and the San Antonio  started off on their errand of exploration; several days elapsed, but they did not return. Magellan feared that they were lost. He was too impatient to wait for them, however, and one day he set sail, with the two ships that remained, through the strait that led southwestward. This, on reflection, seemed most likely to lead to the open sea.

On their way they passed through a wide river, which, from the number of little fishes they found in it, Magellan named the River of Sardines. Anchoring in this river, he sent out two of the long-boats, well supplied with men and provisions, to reconnoitre the further end of the river. The boats returned after three days, with the intelligence that the river led to the sea, the shores of which they had touched.

As the Trinidad  (the flag-ship) and the Victoria  were advancing through the river, to Magellan's delight the Conception, which he had given up for lost, suddenly appeared in view. She soon came alongside, and Serrano, the captain, told Magellan that he had got lost in the straits and among the islands. He had seen nothing of the San Antonio  since he parted from her. Magellan accordingly sent back the Victoria  to the entrance of the passage in search of her; and told the captain, if he did not find the missing vessel, to hoist a flag on the summit of a hill, and place a letter in a jar at the foot of the flag-pole; so that if the San Antonio  saw the flag, its officers might learn by the letter, what course the fleet was holding.

The Victoria  returned to the entrance, but saw no sign of the San Antonio. The captain raised the flag, and deposited the letter, as he had been directed; and placed another flag and letter on a little island at the mouth of the strait.

What had really become of the San Antonio, may be related here. The pilot, Gomez, who had urged Magellan to return to Spain, was indignant at the stern response he had received. He was one of those Spaniards who had all along been jealous of the Admiral; and, as it happened, most of the sailors who went in the San Antonio  had the same vindictive feeling.

When, therefore, the San Antonio  had got well out of sight of the fleet, and night had come on, Gomez incited the crew to mutiny. They seized Mesquita, the captain, Magellan's faithful friend, wounded him, put him in irons, and imprisoned him in his cabin. Then Gomez took command of the ship, sailed back through the strait, and at once put to sea on his way to Spain. On his arrival there, he everywhere spread the report that Magellan's expedition had miserably failed, and that the other ships had been lost; and this was believed there for many months.

The three other ships, the Trinidad, Conception, and Victoria, soon reached the mouth of the River of Sardines. At the point where it flowed into the ocean appeared a hilly cape, stretching out into the water. This Magellan called Cape Desire, because, he said, this was a place he had long desired. As he saw beyond the jutting cliffs, the long sweep of billows, the boundless expanse of waters, his eyes filled with tears of joy, and he lifted his hands heavenward in mute thanksgiving to God, that at last his eyes were permitted to behold the ocean he had sought. Once more the cannon awoke the echoes of the lofty and forbidding shores, and once more the priests chanted their praises to the beneficent Creator.

Near Cape Desire the ships found a good harbor, where they could easily cast anchor, and where the crews could go ashore. On the high hills which, in this place, rose for a long distance from near the water's edge, and which terminated in towering, snow-crested mountains, they formed vast cedar forests, and plenty of pure spring water. They caught many fish, too, among them a fish that so much resembled sardines that they called them by that name; and they found a sweet and succulent herb, which was similar to celery in taste and appearance. This grew in damp places, near the springs.

The prospect in every direction was very striking and picturesque. The crags and foaming gulfs of the straits, the lofty mountains, the rich green forests of cedar, the luxuriant herbage, and the limitless ocean, formed a scene which deeply impressed itself on the minds of the weary wanderers.

The adventurers greatly enjoyed their stay at Cape Desire. Their trials were forgotten amid the attractions of their resting place; the weather was growing cooler, but was not yet bleak; sea and land afforded an abundance of fresh provisions; and the Admiral allowed his crews, while on shore, the largest liberty. They wandered among the odorous forests, and roamed over the hills, and some even ventured to climb one of the mountains, until they found themselves up to the waist in snow.

The natives of the region were very much like those whom they had seen on the other side of the straits; only they seemed brighter and more intelligent, and had a language which they spoke rapidly, with a guttural accent that amused the sailors very much. The latter soon learned enough of this strange jargon to talk a little with the natives, who, after they once became accustomed to the Europeans (the like of whom they had never before seen), were very good-natured and sociable. They were of gigantic stature, and made their faces hideous, by painting and branding them. They brought provisions to the ships, and were greatly delighted with the beads, buttons, little bells, and so on, with which Magellan rewarded them.

These natives lived for the most part on a juicy root which grew in great abundance in the marshy places, and which they cooked after a rude fashion. They had a way of rubbing sticks together very rapidly, with the pith of a tree between, and thus striking a light.

Magellan only tarried in this harbor long enough to repair his ships, rest his crews, and take in a fresh supply of wood, water, and provisions, and determine on his future course. He made an excursion along the coast, and perceived that, as far as he went, it stretched away almost due northward. He therefore concluded that, if he sailed in that direction, he would sooner or later reach the equator; and that, if on approaching this line, he altered his course towards the northwestward, he must in time arrive at the Moluccas. He had now constructed, in a rude way, a pretty fair chart of the world; though, of course, he could not give a true outline of the shape of the continents of Africa and South America.

One day, early in December, the fleet once more set forth, upon an ocean which, in that region at least, had never before been plowed by the keels of an European ship. More than a year had passed since the voyagers had sailed out of the harbor of Seville. What strange countries and peoples they had seen; what thrilling adventures they had had! But the perils and the scenes they had passed through were to be outdone by those they were yet destined to encounter.