Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations


Category: Christopher Columbus




The fresh north-east wind helped the fleet to sail speedily through the sea of weeds into open water. The race to sight land began again. The “Nina” and the “Pinta” sailed ahead trying to get the reward. They were coming close to the 750 leagues promised by Columbus as their voyage’s end.

At sunset on September 25, while the “Santa Maria” and the “Pinta” were sailing close together, Martin Alonso Pinzon suddenly rushed up to the “Pinta’s” poop deck and shouted, “Land! Land! I claim the reward!”

Men clambered up the masts. A long black line like a range of mountains was seen to the south-west.

Christopher Columbus fell to his knees. The men joined him and the men aboard the three ships began singing a hymn of thanksgiving. The course was changed to south-west and alf night long no one slept, but all stayed on deck.

At dawn the sea was empty. The disappointed men left the rail and lay on deck to get some rest. It had been a false landfall, a cloud against the setting sun.

The disappointment was great. Men gathered in groups all over the ship and threw dark angry looks up at the poop deck, where Columbus stood grimly staring ahead.

Columbus knew very well what the men on the main deck were talking about.

Should he turn back? No, he could not do that. There had to be land not far away. But could he calm his men for long enough? Would this be his end — a knife in his back — after so long a time chasing this dream? Only one thing could save him now — his celebrated tongue.

He summoned the crew together.

“I want to remind you,” he told them, “that if you return to Spain without me, you will be burned alive. You may kill me if you will, but it will not help you. Think about that.

And, while you are thinking, sailors of Spain, think also of the golden lands that lie ahead. On the isle of Cipango the roofs are tiled with gold and the streets are paved with it. Think of the glory that will be yours when we return in triumph to Spain.”

He told them about the voyage of Marco Polo and the riches that traveller had found at the court of the Grand Khan.

He spoke until he could see the men changing. The black looks disappeared, some of the men began smiling.

“I promised you land by 750 leagues,” he reminded them, “and there are yet a hundred leagues to go.”

He allowed them to go. They returned thoughtfully to their posts. He had won, Columbus knew — but for how long?

Not for long. Day after day passed without sight of land. The old seamen calculated that they had long since passed the 750-league mark set by their captain. Even the fair wind that blew westward alarmed them.

Would,there ever be a wind that blew the other way, one that could bring them home?

The crew was alarmed even more when Martin Pinzon said that they were going the wrong way. To pacify Pinzon, Columbus changed the course to south-west.

If they by-passed Cipango, he reckoned, they would reach the mainland of China, anyway, and they could land on Cipango on the way back.

But, day by day, slowly, he changed the course to more westerly direction. Great flocks of birds flew overhead in the direction of west-south-west, and Columbus decided to follow their flight. The Portuguese had discov­ered the Azores by following the flight of birds.

But land was not in sight. There were more false landfalls.

The “Pinta” and the “Nina” came close. The Pinzon brothers were having trouble with their crews, too. They rowed over to the “Santa Maria” for a conference.

“Give me three days, just three more days,” asked Columbus. “I can’t turn back now — not after we’ve gone so far. I promise to turn back if we don’t sight land in three days!”

The Pinzons rowed back to their ships and the fleet went on. The men of the crew were glad. “Three days,” they said smiling, “and then…”

Columbus did not sleep. He stayed on the poop deck looking at the western horizon. He could feel the danger and tension in the air. Every time he heard a footstep behind him, he put his hand on his dagger.

The next morning the wind began to blow from the east again. The men, alarmed, crowded to the poop deck shaking their fists. This wind was carrying them even faster and farther from home. There was no return!

Columbus talked, talked, talked. He reminded them of their promise to wait for three more days. Again he described the wealth of the Indies and the riches that would be theirs very soon. But the men did not want to listen to him any more. They came closer.

Suddenly a loud shout was heard. One of the men pointed to the “Nina”. She was sailing towards the “Santa Maria”. All her flags were flying and every man on board was shouting showing joy. As the “Nina” approached, Vicente Pinzon held up a green branch with flowers on it. He had just picked it up out of the sea. It was a sure sign that land was near!

Revolt was forgotten. Everyone crowded to the forward rail and looked ahead. The “Pinta” and “Nina” sailed ahead, trying to be the first to sight land. The men forgot completely that half an hour before they had been ready to kill Columbus.

On the “Nina” and “Pinta” the Pinzons told their men, “Look sharply now! An extra flagon of wine, plus the reward, to the first man who sights land. I want a Palos man to be the first, you understand?”

All the next day, Thursday October 11th, the fleet sailed westward. The “Nina” picked up another green branch and a carved cane. Land was near.

That night nobody slept. At ten o’clock Columbus stood on the forecastle. Soon, soon, he knew, the dream of his life would be realized. His heart sang. He imagined that others stood beside him to share with him this quiet hour before glory — Papa Domenico and Bartholomew and the carrack cap­tain who had believed in him.

And then he saw it — a tiny light in the distance. However, the light was too uncertain and he did not want to call out a false landfall. He sent for Pedro Gutierrez to join him. Pedro thought he saw the light, too, but he was not sure. “Let’s call Rodrigo Sanchez,” he said.

But Rodrigo could not see the light and he grumbled, “I don’t see a thing!”

Aboard the “Pinta”, racing ahead, Rodrigo de Triana, a look­out on the forecastle, saw something like a white sand cliff gleaming in the moonlight on the western horizon. Then there was another cliff and a dark line connecting them. There was no doubt. It was land.

“Tierra! Tierra!” he shouted. Martin Pinzon loaded the lombard and fired the cannon shot.

The ships moved slowly towards the land. The sun came up and showed it right ahead, green and lovely.

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