Circumnavigating the World

Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer and sailor, was one of the first to attempt to circumnavigate the world. Unfortunately, for him, this would not happen. After an epic journey across the Atlantic, through Cape Horn (the passage he took was to be named after him, Magellan Straits), and up through the ocean he called the Pacific due to the calm, tranquil waters. He travelled by a fleet of ships, the Trinidad (his boat), the Victoria, the Conception, the San Antonio (all carracks) and the Santiago, a caravel.

He was sailing under the flag of Spain, sponsored by King Charles, although he was Portuguese himself, much to the chagrin of King Manual of Portugal who believed Magellan should be travelling under the Portuguese flag. King Manual did his utmost to stop the circumnavigation by harassing his family and sending a fleet to intercept Magellan.

The journey was fraught with problems. His Spanish crew did not like to be led by a Portuguese Captain, the team and some of the captains tried mutiny, and this led to the San Antonio returning to Spain. Magellan had one of the captains killed and abandoned another at Port San Julian in Patagonia.

Diseases, Scandals and Death

The Santiago was shipwrecked before leaving the Atlantic. The crew would have slept on deck exposed to the wind and the rain and sea spray. Fresh food became a problem. There was no food containing vitamin C, which led to the deaths of many crew members due to scurvy. Food became so scarce that the crew eventually soaked animal hides, used to protect the rigging in seawater for days, to soften them for consumption. Rats were caught and sold for half a ducat. While still travelling around the coast, Magellan claimed to have found a tribe of giants and abducted one who later passed away before reaching his destination.

On entering the seas to the west of Chile, they found themselves in the calm Pacific Ocean. As the reason for the journey was to find a route to the East and its spices, Magellan continued for 98 days before coming to the Spice Islands. He desired to spread Christianity to these pagan lands and although achieving great success, some of the peoples he met objected and he proceeded to threaten chiefs who resisted and even burnt down villages. This led to his demise on Mactan Island when he was speared and stabbed to death.

Enrique, the real Circumnavigator

His depleted crew continued with the mission guided by Magellan’s slave who was native to these lands. Magellan had enslaved him, Enrique, on a previous trip to the East via southern Africa, so, after they had loaded the ships with spices and continued, Enrique, became the first person to circumnavigate the world! The Trinidad was attacked by a Portuguese ship and sunk. The fleet was now down to one ship, the Victoria, and captained by Juan Elcano; they successfully arrived back in Spain after three years. Of the 270 crew that left Spain, only 18 returned.