Those of our readers who put on Friday between the nefarious days, are asked not to cite among the examples to comfort their opinion on the chosen day, or accepted by Messer Cristoforo Colombo, to give beginning to his first voyage of discovery. We say their opinion, and not their superstition; firstly because we do not want to be unkind to anyone, and secondly because we do not believe in this easy modern asserance that cries for superstitions the ideas that can not be given a reason. So if our readers have these ideas, and they love to keep them, we will not be the ones who will try to fight them. There are many outstanding men with ideas of this kind, and there will still be, if God wants. The wise man, who sees the form of truth and degree of certainty taking so many things that yesterday he knew of lie, of invention, of illusion and so forth, does not bubble of names derisorii things that he does not intend, or that seem to come out of him circle of recognized truths: on the other hand, the latter’s distrust, does not commit itself to claiming that they will be truth tomorrow, as they seem today.
Thus reasoning, one can easily admit that there are some nefarious days, either for everyone or for someone. But it is allowed to believe that Friday, so calumniated, is not in those days. I, if I have to question my particular experience in this regard, I have Friday for a good day. And for good it must have been Messer Cristoforo Colombo, who on the morning of August 3, 1492, being a Friday, started from Palos for his voyage of discovery, with three caravels, almost with three shells of walnut, and one hundred and twenty men of crew, between sailors, soldiers, officers on board and overloads. You do not ignore that they are called supercharged, in a ship, all the characters who have embarked on it, without having a particular service, of command or of obedience, in the aforementioned ship.
Well other thoughts, other doubts and fears occupied the spirit of the Genovese navigator, that the terror of the departure on Friday. Two of those walnut shells had been taken and set up by royal order, as if by necessity. And by necessity their sailors had been largely embarked. A first example of deaf resistance had shown him how he could make little use of the seafaring, when he had badly adjusted the rudder to the Pint, so that at the first blow of the sea he would emerge from the stern, putting the caravel in a state of no more to rule. Now it was in the water, and you had to navigate. But could not the bad talent still study any of them, to get the ships back? Fear is so ingenious! And the Almirante of the Ocean Sea recalled by the way that another caravel sent secretly by the Portuguese on the route indicated by him, to steal the glory of the discovery, had not returned to Lisbon for little desire that his commander had to go forward, but for deliberate purpose of the rebel crew.
One thing was necessary, because nothing like this happened to Christopher Columbus: that between his small naval team and the famous columns of Hercules they corrected several sea leagues. But how can we hope that those sailors, forced to navigate by force, adapted to do, without an attempt at rebellion, several hundred leagues? And if the rebellion had been there, and if the ships had to turn around, what a shame for him! what an impossibility of trying on another occasion and with other naval forces the journey! At a good point, in order not to leave too many weapons to the resistance of his people, he had immediately imagined not to mark the exact number of leagues he traveled on the book of estimate, keeping the computation true for himself. But how many other arguments of revolt to his authority would not have offered the fear to those crude, ignorant men whom he had collected with fury, not diligently chosen among the best in the maritime class?
These things thought Christopher Columbus; and these things did not make him happy, they did not allow him to fully enjoy, as he could and should have done, the honest joy of his sweating victory over so many contrarieties, on so much war of men and things. Nor was his suspicions vain. On the morning of August 6, a Monday, the third day of the trip, the Pinta signaled that it could not continue the journey, having broken the rudder; just that rudder that had been so badly fixed on the stern on Palos beach. Gomez Rascon and Cristoval Quintero, masters of the ship, who was without fault the best of the three, then returned to the rescue with their wits?
Of the wicked purpose he did not doubt the almirante, while he ruled toward the Pinta to rescue them. But the wind blew vigorously, the sea roared, and with that time it was easier to invest the Pint than to approach its edge. Fortunately, the master of the ship was Martino Alonzo Pinzon, and this was not of the opinion of the masters, in the matter of partial failures.
“Almighty!” He shouted from the head of the band, “do not be afraid of anything. I will want everyone to spoil the helm again, giving the bar on the head to the first who will talk about going back. For now the rudder will be accommodated with four rounds of hawser; and then we’ll see. Maybe limping, we will follow the captain. But I would recommend, except for your opinion, to support the Canaries, to provide a little better for this break.
It was not the intention of the admirer to stop at the Canaries, like any other island or coast of those places. But one had to bow his head to fate and follow the advice of prudence. The following day, it was no longer a question of prudence, but of absolute necessity. The Pinta, for sure, had been badly refurbished, and for the disjointed plating began to make water. The tying of the rudder had also slowed down, and the caravelle ruled badly from the beginning. The Santa Maria and the Nina had to decrease the canvas, to tighten less wind, and to go with the poor lame preserve. And the almirante, not that resolving to stop at the Canaries, thought that he would agree to look down another caravel there, to free himself from that ship, which was beginning to speak to him a true punishment of God.
But why go to the Canaries? Those islands were still very far. It was better to go back, with the two woods that still held the sea, and on which you could have transhipped all the people and the load of the Pint, because this could follow as it could, perhaps taken in tow? This was the thought of the sailors, comforted by the opinion of the pilots. Some of them, like Pedro Alonzo Nino and Sancio Ruiz della Nina, certainly thought they were very far from the Canary Islands. Perhaps less sincere, because more desirous of the return, it was Bartolomeo Roldan, another driver of the Nina. But not at all sincere, and warmer supporter of the great distance, was Perez Matteo Hernèa, pilot of the Santa Maria. He soon began to show his ill-will against the supreme commander, that he did not hesitate to judge an ambitious impostor, albeit still under his voice.
But the commander of the Pinta, of the lame ship, had himself expressed his intention to support the Canaries, and consequently to continue the journey there. With Martino Alonzo Pinzon, expert sailor and well seen by the crew, you could not fight; especially when he threatened to resort to the ad hominem arguments. Calmer, but safer in his nautical doctrine, Christopher Columbus had said: “You are deceived, in your esteem; the islands are indeed very close. Between tomorrow or tomorrow, we will certainly see them. ”
The fact followed as he had announced. On the dawn of day nine, the peaks of Gran Canaria could be seen. Unfortunately, now for too much wind, now for too little, the landing was not possible. We stayed two days waiting for a favorable opportunity, but in vain; and the almirante, not wanting to waste time beading in those waters, left the Pinta behind, ordering Martino Alonzo Pinzon to land when he could, and to look for another ship, to change his. In the meantime, he went with the other two caravels to La Gomera, for the same purpose. And he arrived at La Gomera on the afternoon of August 12, hearing with great consolation that he expected a good ship from day to day, going to Gran Canaria precisely.
“We therefore look forward to trust,” the almirante had said. “If the good ship is at that anchor, Martin Alonzo has found it, has taken it, and comes with it to join me.”
But he waited in vain for it. And tired of waiting, he left on the 23rd to meet his companion. On the 25th he arrived at Gran Canaria. Martino Alonzo Pinzon had not arrived the day before, and had difficulty; hearing from those inhabitants that the ship had been there, but that for several days it had left, nor was known for where.
We had to give up all hope of bartering the ship, and there to provide the Pinta instead. Martino Alonzo Pinzon sent the masters of the ax to the ground to look for suitable wood and quickly cut another rudder. Meanwhile, as his caravel made water, the sailors turned into caulkers, and they made to manufacture with old cables the tarred tows, which with chisels and mallets then had to stick in the shutters of the planking, in the frames, in the knots of the timber, around the dowels, and wherever it was needed, then covering every pitch thing.
Nina took advantage of all that time to change the veiling. Its Latin sails changed into squares, and as a result, the flagpoles were replaced by the antennas. For this reason, a caravel that was, and resembles a scuba, turned into a sort of pole brig. As for the veiling, of course; not as far as the tree is concerned. But the caravels wore three trees, the foresail, the mast of mast and the mizzen-tree, but the latter was much more advanced on the stern and shorter than it is in the brigantines of the post; of waves the consequence that it was not very wide the sail, artimone or mezzana that you like to call it, in its triangular and Latin form, or stern mainsail, in its square form.
When Nina explained her new veiling to the wind, she had to face the judgments of the other ships, waiting for her to move with her. The sailor is a critic critic par excellence; imagine if Nina could be spared, the day that presented itself in such a transformed line. The criticism of his sails was like a smile, the first, amid so many days of black melancholy.
– It will be beautiful, – said one, – but it seems a bit ‘awkward.
“Yeah,” another lived, “like a peasant from Biscay, when he puts on a new suit.”
“And look,” came to say a third, “between the flagpoles and the trees, that jarring of colors!
– You understand; the flagpoles are new, and the trees are old.
-Old tree …. makes good fire.
– And those trousers! they should tighten up a bit better.
“Wait till they drink, and they will tighten, they’ll be too tight.”
In short, everyone wanted to say his own. And the almirante, walking seriously on the bridge of the Santa Maria, could, as they say, hear all the bells ring, one by one, and maybe all together.
On many, he felt one that struck him, making him turn with a start. Two sailors were leaning against the band leader, a little apart from their companions, and they were thinking of vain things, not such as to arouse the attention of the admiral. But the tone is what makes music; and those two sang in a tone that made sense to Messer Cristoforo Colombo. They spoke, shortly, in the Genoese vernacular. How come two Genoese on board? And he did not know anything about it?
He had not chosen the crew of the three caravels. Those people had been taken by force, in most; and the rest had been pulled by the example of the Pinzon brothers. In Palos, Huelva, and Moguer, they were all valiant sailors; they could all be taken with their eyes closed. And for a reason, partly for the other, the almirante had not presided over the formation of his marinaresca. As for the name of everyone, the country and the other peculiarities of those people, they were things that he would have known gradually, during the trip, without having to read the register, which was kept by his first pilot.
Imagine then the sweet emotion that Messer Cristoforo Colombo tried on that day and at that time. The speech of the mother country is always the softest in the ear of man, when he finds himself outside the country. He rushes to the known sound, like a party of the soul; he listens jubilantly, he would immediately swap words too, as if he wanted to prove to himself that that idiom, which is undoubtedly the most beautiful in the world, he did not forget it. And speaking to him, after so many years, in a distant region, he feels in that idiom, in that native vernacular, a taste, a taste of novelty, which is the source of unexpected joys, the revelation of arcane beauties.
But by then it was not appropriate to stop and talk. The dignity of the command wanted the almirante to draw long; and the moment, then, was not for talk. The caravels were in line, we had to leave. The Santa Maria first moved from the anchorage of Gran Canaria, heading for La Gomera, where she had left a team of men on the ground to provide provisions for food. It was a Sunday, the 2nd of September, a month after the departure from Palos.
To go to La Gomera, we passed in front of Teneriffa, which is the central island of the Canarian group. The great peak of Teneriffa was just then in full volcanic eruption; marvelous spectacle, which for most of Cristoforo Colombo’s sailors could also be said to be new. Hearing the roar of the mountain, and the frequent thunders that made the air tremble all around, seeing the immense column of smoke that came out in torrents from the crater, the flames that darted in the middle of that smoke, the torrents of lava that came down red in the night long the sides of the cone, those poor sailors of the fifteenth century experienced the same fears that five centuries before the vulgar era had brought back the companions of Annone Cartaginese.
That fearful eruption of Teneriffa was a warning to the ills. So, by earthquakes and volcanoes, a great land had sunk down there, of which dark legends were told; that same sea that had swallowed it, could not devour from them at any moment?
The arrival at La Gomera was the occasion for other fears, no longer for the sailors, but for the supreme commander. They had recently entered the harbor, when a caravel, also from Spain, arrived, serving between those islands. It came from the Iron Island, the westernmost of the Canary Islands, and brought news of an extraordinary cruise. Three Portuguese ships had touched the island of Iron; from the speeches of the sailors, from the questions of the officers, it was possible to understand that King John II of Portugal sent those three ships to wait at the gate for an expedition of discovery, to make the commander prisoner.
Christopher Columbus, it did not last hard to understand who was expected. Seven years ago he had escaped from Portugal, not expanding anything from that king, who had always kept him at bay with good words. Called back to him, who certainly regretted and feared to see Spain make the best of the drawings of the Genoese navigator, he had no intention of returning to Lisbon. What the Portuguese feared had happened; late, really, but in time to harm Portugal’s fortune, the Castilian royals had given Christopher Columbus ships and men to try the Ocean enterprise. New islands, perhaps even continents, would therefore have been discovered for the benefit of Spain. But were not all the new lands beyond the borders of Abila and Calpe of Portugal? It was too much already that Castiglia claimed rights in the Canaries, and from time to time, after the undertaking of Bethencourt, he made acts of mastery. Nothing else had to hope, nothing else to aspire to the crown of Castile in a field now devolved to the Portuguese industriousness.
They helped this pretension, they certainly strengthened it in the soul of King John, the poor geographical and cosmographic knowledge of the time. Where did the Genovese navigator finally go? beyond the Azores? beyond Madera? beyond the Cape Verde islands? All Portuguese conquests were those; and Portuguese had to be equally all that could be found further. But if a great discovery were made on behalf of Spain, it would be difficult to dispute possession of it to Spain. With the capture of Granata and the complete extermination of the Moorish power, the royals of Castile and Aragon found themselves as strong and free as they had never been; the meeting of all the Spanish provinces under a single scepter marked the decadence of Portugal. A conquest over the seas, on the borders of Asia, of that Asia, to which all the efforts of the Court of Lisbon were aimed at then, would have brought the collapse to the Portuguese power. Hence the urgent need to put an obstacle to the work of Christopher Columbus, and at any cost take possession of him. And why, after all, could not the same undertaking be tried with Portuguese forces? Three ships set up to capture him could also continue the journey of discovery, taking advantage of his drawings and his direction. Commander with his arms bound, he would have at any rate reached his goal and earned his glory. And maybe, who knows? it was better to go prisoner, but respected, to discover a new world, on a first journey, than to return chained and humiliated by the third, after having made and secured the conquest of that new world to an ungrateful and ungrateful monarch.
But it is not given to men to foresee the future. If even Christopher Columbus had foreseen his destiny, we can be sure that he would have done what he did, as soon as he heard the news of the Portuguese cruise. He promptly ordered the cessation of commissions, called all the men on board, and had the sails unfurled.