The Voyage

Christopher Clumbus' First Voyage Christopher Clumbus' First Voyage © Betsy Arvelo

In 1492, after seven years of antechambers and considerations, Christopher Columbus received Queen Isabella's political support to embark in a trip, that according to his personal convictions, would discover new routes to Asia of the Indies, how they were referred to in those times. Taking advantage of cartographic advances of this era, Columbus suggested that traveling around 700 nautical miles to the west of the Canary Islands would take you to the islands of Catay and Cipango, legendary empires of the Great Khan dynasty that Marco Polo had described two centuries before.


A sailor of Genovese origin, Cristoforo Colombo spent his youth navigating in the Mediterranean Sea. Later, he lived in Portugal, the European center of new navigation, base of explorations and geographic discoveries. At that time he navigated extensively, knowing from the west coast of Africa to the north seas, even reaching Iceland.

His nautical knowledge was specifically influenced by the travels of Marco Polo, Imago Mundi and the Rerum History, three important works that suggested, among other things, not only the roundness of the world, but also it's possible navigation.


With his plan having been denied by the Portuguese crown, Columbus moved to Spain where he counted with the help of Franciscan Astronomer Fray Antonio de Marchena, and friar Juan Perez, one of Queen Isabella's confessors. During his stay in Spain, he also sent his brother Bartholomew to try to present the project to the kings of England and France.

After his authorization, the Spanish monarchs signed a series of contracts which stipulated that Christopher Columbus, now General Captain, would navigate towards the west in the direction of "certain islands and mainland", and that should he find them would have the right to belong to the nobility with the titles of viceroy and Admiral of the Ocean Sea, as well as a tenth share of the treasures collected in the discovered lands.

The queen would provide the ships, sailors and provisions for the trip. The expenses for the expeditions reached around one million maraveis (some 30,000 of today's dollars) and was financed primarily by a loan from Luis de Santangel, an investment by a ship builder from Palos de Moguer, Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and with the Captain General's own resources.

This is how, on the 3rd of August of 1492, the small fleet departed from Palos. Christopher was ahead of the expedition in the Santa Maria, a "nao" (ship) of around eighty feet, with a round hull and three masts, that although being larger, was also much slower.

It was followed by two caravels, the Pinta, supposedly the fastest, commanded by Martin Alonzo Pizon himself, and the Niña, smaller and that ended up yielding the best results, and commanded by his brother, Vicente Yanez Penzon.

Between the three vessels the crew was made up of 90 men, mostly Castilian. There was no religious participation nor specialized soldiers, equally, the military equipment was very limited: some muskets, arquebuses, crossbows and a short range canon.

From Palos the fleet headed to the Canary Islands, where they loaded more provisions; and sailed definitely towards the west on September 6th. In this trip the explorers had a lot of luck since the ships moved very fast with the aid of the Trade Winds, having had the misfortune to miss them at this latitude and spend days without advancing.

As soon as they sailed from the Canaries, the Captain General lifted the crew's morale with "great offerings of land and riches", keeping to himself the information of the real distances they were traveling, "so that they didn't think that they were as far from Spain as they were".2

Once in the Atlantic Ocean, the three vessels found themselves accompanied by a diversity of birds, marine fauna and large masses of floating algae that the crew accepted as signals, keeping alive the hope that they were near the mainland. Something was certain, they were in constant alert to see land, since it would not only mean their salvation, but the Monarchs had promised the sum of ten thousand maraveis annually for life to the first to announce it.

The trip would continue in this fashion, observing seaweed, encountering albatross, turtles, doves, flying fish, tunas and whales, always watchful for the first hint of land.

monstruo marinoOn October 11th, thirty two days since the Canaries, "The Pinta crew saw a reed and a stick and another stick that seem to be carved with iron, another reed and some weed that grows in soil and a small piece of wood"... "with these signals they breathed and all became very happy".3 That night, around ten, the Captain General thought he saw a light and called the baker who was close by who saw it also, they then found the Monarch's seer, Rodrigo Sanchez de Segovia but this one couldn't see it because he didn't climb fast enough to the place from where you could actually see it. They only saw it once or twice more". Later on, close to sunrise, "the Pinta, that being such a great sailboat was ahead, made the signal for land, which was first seen by Rodrigo de Triana when they were two leagues away".

How attentive Must Rodrigo de Triana have been to see it first; it is curious then that only his name made it in history, since the ten thousand maraveis was not given to him by the Catholic Monarchs, but to the admiral that had seen the light in the darkness, denoting the spiritual light that had guided him to them".4

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