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CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (Greatest seamen/navigator of all time)


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Christopher Columbus was one of the greatest seamen and navigators of all time. He is called the discoverer of America, even though Indians had lived in both North and South America for thousands of years before Columbus arrived in 1492. Europeans didn’t even know that this continent existed.

Christopher Columbus (greatest Seamen/navigator Of All Time)

The exact date of Columbus’ birth is not known, however he was born sometime between 25 August and 31 October 1451 in Genoa, then the capital of an independent Italian republic. His family name was Columbo. His father Domenico Colombo was a wool weaver and his mother Susanna Fontanarossa, was the daughter of a wool weaver. The eldest of five children, his brother Bartholomew, planned the great voyage with Columbus and became his right-hand man in all his enterprises. His youngest brother Diego, helped him to rule Hispaniola.

As a young lad, he would often attend work with this father. During this time, he would dream of sailing the seas. Genoa was an important seaport. The Genoese ships traded thought the Mediterranean region, and many small boats sailed between Genoa and other coastal towns. Columbus would often catch rides aboard some of these boats when he was young and it was here he learned how to handle oars and sails.

Columbus had very little schooling. When he was abroad, it was imperative that he knew the Spanish language so he learnt to read and write it. He also taught himself Latin as most geography books were written in Latin.

A chance to go to sea came some time between his 19th and 20th birthday as a crew member aboard a Genoese galley. The galley had been chartered by King Rene of Provence to punish the Barbary pirates. After this, he made one or two voyages to the island of Chios. Then came the voyage that almost cost Columbus his life. His ship the Bechalla, formed part of a convoy bound from Genoa to England. In 1476, the convoy was attacked by a hostile fleet off Lagos, Portugal. Columbus was wounded and his ship sank. With no option, he jumped into the sea and grabbed onto a long oar. Using the oar to keep him afloat, he managed to reach shore and raise the alarm. A few months later he was back on the high seas on a Portuguese vessel sailing to the North of Ireland and back to Lisbon.

In Lisbon his brother Bartholomew, kept a shop which sold charts and nautical instruments.

Christopher Columbus (greatest Seamen/navigator Of All Time)

Columbus never intended to prove the world was round as so often has been said. He didn’t have to, most at the time already knew it. Columbus was simply trying to find a short sea route to the Indies. He was trying to reach the Indies (which at the time meant India, China, the East Indies and Japan) by simply sailing around Africa. What he wanted to find in the Indies were gold, gems, drugs, and spices, which reached Europe only by long costly overland caravans. While the Portuguese seamen were trying to reach the Orient the hard way around Africa, Columbus thought of what he believed to be the easy way, sailing due West.

There he also planned to establish a great city for trading the products of the East and the West. In the Philippine Islands, which the Spaniards occupied some 60 years after his death, his dream was achieved.

Columbus wrongly estimated the size of the globe and the width of the Atlantic. This mistake made him believe that Japan was in fact located where the Virgin Islands are.

Columbus asked for three ships equipped and maintained at the Kings expense, a large share in the trade, the governorship of the many islands he may discover on route, the title of Admiral, and noble rank. He also wanted all these privileges to be able to be passed onto his sons. Never before had any of the Portuguese explorers demanded so much. King John II of Portugal chose not to invest in an enterprise which his experts declared to be impractical, so his request was refused.

In the meantime, Columbus continued to sail Portuguese ships travelling to Madeira and the Gulf of Guinea, and earning the title ‘Captain’.

In 1479, Columbus married a Protuguese lady, Felipa de Perestrello, settling together in the Madeiras. She died shortly after their only child Diego was born.

In 1485 Columbus travelled to Spain to offer his services to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, whilst back home, brother Bartholomew was talking to Henry VII of England and Charles VIII of France.

Columbus learned of a Franciscan friary called ‘La Rabida’, which conducted a school for boys. Columbus decided to leave his son Diego there whilst he went to court. When they both arrived, they ate bread and drank a jug of water together. Whilst he waited for arrangements to be made to leave his son, he met with Friar Antonia de Marchena, who then recommended him to Queen Isabella.

The queen was sympathetic to Columbus and immediately put him onto the Royal payroll. However her experts were less sympathetic and told the sovereigns to dismiss Columbus, but Louis de Santangel, the Royal Treasurer persuaded the queen that she was missing a great opportunity. She immediately sent for Columbus and even offered to pawn the crown jewels to raise money. But the treasurer supplied most of the funds to fit out the fleet.Christopher Columbus (greatest Seamen/navigator Of All Time)

Columbus was riding a mule homeward when the queens messenger caught up to him and together they returned to the Queen. He was given everything he asked for , ships honors, titles and percentage of trade. No discoverer had been promised so much before, ever.

On his first voyage, he had three vessels. The Santa Maria and two smaller vessels, the Pinta and Nina. All vessels at the time were made of wood, had not engines or motors, and very few comforts. The Santa Maria had a staff of 40, the Pinta 26 and Nina 24 men. Only the officers had bunks to sleep on. Cooking was done with wood in a firebox on the top deck.

The fleet sailed from Palos Spain and reached the Canary Islands nine days later. It was here they would make repairs and load provisions. Columbus set a course due west. He had good winds and smooth seas, his only trouble came from his crew. There was no evidence that they feared falling off the edge of the earth, but they were afraid that they would be unable to sail back home against the wind which always seemed to blow in from the East. After three weeks of continuous sailing, the longest anyone had ever sailed in one trip. Out of sight of land, it was becoming harder to convince his men to keep going. It was then that collectively, the crew decided to sail on for another three days and then if they saw no land, they would turn around and head home. Two days later, the island Columbus named San Salvador in the Bahamas was sighted by a moonlit night. Columbus and his crew landed on the beach at Fernandez Bay and took possession of a New World for Spain. He believed as always that this was an island of the Indies near Japan or China. He also believed that the gentle Arawak (Arawak Indians) were Indians from the West Indies. It took 30 years to prove Columbus wrong, but everyone to this very day, continue to call the native inhabitants of America ‘Indians’ and the islands he first reached ‘West Indies’.

The fleet only stayed a few days in San Salvator and as they entered the Bay of Bariay, off Cuba, Columbia believed he had found China. Here they explored ten or twelve harbors and sent men up country to Holguin in the hope that this native village was Peking and that they could finally present a letter from Ferdinand and Isabella to the emperor of China. The found no emperor, but saw natives smoking cigars, the first time any European had seen tobacco. He then commanded his fleet to sail along the north coast of the island of Hispaniola. The climate reminded him of Spain, so he named it ‘La Isla Espanola’ (the Spanish Island).

On Christmas Eve, the Santa Maria was wrecked on a reef near the present Cap-Haitien, in the Republic of Haiti. The local indian chief helped save Columbus’ cargo, so as a friendly gesture, Columbus decided to build a fort and leave forty men to hunt for gold. Columbus then returned home on the Nina. With him he took several Indians he had captured.

The trip home was very rough and both the Pinta and Nina were separated by the huge winds and waves. The Nina nearly sank, which prompted Columbus to seal up an account of his discoveries in a cask and throw it into the sea.

Christopher Columbus (greatest Seamen/navigator Of All Time)

The Nina called at the Portuguese Island of Santa Maria in the Azores. There the governor thought Columbus was lying and had been poaching in Africa. He arrested Columbus and his men, but later let them go when Columbus threatened to shoot everyone in the town. With the Nina back on the sea, she was crippled by another huge storm forcing her into Lisbon after most of her sail was ripped off.

There Columbus met with King John II and he got great satisfaction exhibiting the Indians who had survived the voyage. The Nina finally reached its home port of Palos and later that day, so did the Pinta.

Columbus rode horseback across Spain with some of his officers and the captured Indians to report back to Ferdinand and Isabella. The received a grand reception and confirmed his title of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, which meant that he had the right to judge admiralty cases anywhere in the Atlantic Ocean. He was also given the title Viceroy of the Indies. He immediately set about organizing his second voyage with the intent of colonizing Hispaniola and exploring it further.

For Columbus’ second voyage, he was in command of 17 ships, carrying around 1,000 colonists all men to the New World. This particular fleet made the ocean crossing in excellent time, just 21 days. They reached the West Indies in 1943. In three weeks of sailing, they reached Cap Haitien. All the men Columbus had left previously with his first voyage had been killed by the Indians, whom they had mistreated. When he heard about this, he turned eastward and founded Isabela, on the north coast of Hispaniola. This was the first European colony to set themselves up in America.

Leaving his brother Diego in charge, she took the Nina and two caravels to explore the southern coast of Cuba. On the same voyage, he discovered Jamaica. Returning to Isabela, he found the colonists fighting among themselves and with the Indians. After defeating the Indians and restoring order, he once again returned to Spain in 1496.

Back in Spain, he was shocked to hear that many Spaniards who returned with him complained that he was a cruel taskmaster. This of course was not true. The problem was that he had been to lenient. The Spaniards unsatisfied said there was no gold in Hispaniola. There was some, but not enough to satisfy them. Regardless, the King and Queen put all their faith into Columbus. They sent more men and supplies to the colony. They also gave Columbus one ship and two small caravels to make a third voyage of discovery.

Columbus once again departed from Spain in 1498. This time he chose a southerly route, thinking it would lead him to land where more gold could be found. The fleet were becalmed for eight days, while the men suffered heat exhaustion. When the southeast trade wind sprang up, it carried the three ships to the island of Trinidad. Sailing through the treacherous Serpents Mouth, the crossed the Gulf of Paria to the coast of Venezuela. When he finally made contact again with the Hispaniola colony, they were seething with discontent because there was not enough gold to make everyone rich in a year. The Spaniards complained that they couldn’t eat the corn and cassava, a typical Indian food and main part of their diet. He tried to restore calm by giving them portions of land and letting them enslave the Indians to work it, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy the men. Many chose to return home where they demanded backpay and the Admirals head. Columbus’ son Diego and his second son Ferdinand, who mother was Beatriz Enriquez de Harana, were pages at court.

In 1500, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sent Francisco De Bobadilla to settle the troubles at Santo Domingo, the new capital of Hispaniola. He place Columbus and his two brothers in chains and shipped them back to Spain for trial. There they were immediately released by order of the King and Queen. Ferdinand and Isabella appointed Ovando as governor of Hispaniola, and Ovando set off with a fleet of thirty ships and another 1500 new colonists.Christopher Columbus (greatest Seamen/navigator Of All Time)

As a last chance to regain his fortune, the Admiral asked for ships to make one last voyage of discovery. Again the King and Queen granted his request, mainly to get rid of him.

In 1502, Columbus set sail on his fourth, last and most adventurous voyage to America. He commanded four caravels. This time his 13 year old son Ferdinand went with him. On this voyage his son had plenty of friends as a least one third were boys between the age of twelve and eighteen, The purpose of this voyage was to find a passage to the Indian Ocean between Cuba and the Other World found four years before. Columbus believed that South America lay a short distance southeast of China. This was a common belief until Magellan’s ship returned from a voyage around the world in 1522.

The fleet crossed from the Canaries to Martinique in 21 days, and then sail to Santo Domingo. Columbus noticed the signs of a West Indies hurricane about to break and sent a captain ashore to warn Ovando. Ovando scoffed at Columbus and sent a big fleet to sea. It was struck by the hurricane, and 20 ships were sunk with all their crews. Several ships struggled back to San Domingo. But only one, which happened to be carrying all the gold Columbus had collected reached Spain safely. In the meantime, the four ships led by Columbus came through the hurricane with little damage, The ships met in the port of Azua west of San Domingo.

From Azua they sailed past Jamaica to southern Cuba and cross the Caribbean to the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. Now 1502, for the rest of the year they sailed east and south along the coast of Central America, looking for the strait that just didn’t exist. They had to tackle headwinds and foul weather along the Mosquito Coast. Everyone was tired and soaked to the bone. On reaching Almirante Bay, Columbus learned that another ocean lay only a few days march across the mountains. But he couldn’t find the strait that led to that ocean. He spent New Years Day anchored off the site of the present United States Naval Base at Coco Solo, Canal Zone. But the explorers never learned how near the Pacific Ocean was.

This time the Indians of Costa Rica and Panama were far more civilized than those that the Europeans met previously. Columbus traded cloth, beads and various small items for a valuable load of copper and gold objects such as masks, great disks and bird shaped pendants. After passing Porto Bello and finding no strait, he turned westward again and tried to start a colony in the province of Veragua where gold was plentiful and easy to mine. However the local Guaymi Indians were willing to trade but did not want the Spaniards as permanent guests. The local chief was friendly at first, but it eventually turned ugly. Batholomew, Colubus and Diego captured the chief and kept him as a hostage. The Indian chief jumped escaped by jumping overboard. The chief then led his warriors to attack the village that the Spaniards were building beside the Belen River. The Indians killed a number of Spaniards, including one of the captains of the other ships before they were driven off. Columbus could not leave the rest to certain death, so he took them onboard and started home.

Christopher Columbus (greatest Seamen/navigator Of All Time)

Columbus had to move slowly along the coast as far east as possible, because his ships were leaking badly from holes eaten into the planking by shipworm. Abandoning the two least seaworthy ships, he cut across the Caribbean. Finally, two waterlogged ships were beached at St. Anns Bay on the north coast of the large island of Jamaica.

It would be here, Columbus would be marooned for a year. He sent one of his captains in an Indian dugout canoe to Hispaniola for help. He reached Hispaniola, but Governor Ovando blocked efforts to help because he feared that Columbus might get his job as governor. In the meantime, the admiral had to put down a mutiny of his men. In order to obtain food from the Indians, he used the famous eclipse trick. He learned that there would be a total eclipse of the moon. Columbus told the Indians god would punish them by removed the light unless the promised to supply the Spaniards with plenty of cassava, corn and fish. The Indians did not take to much notice of this, but before the eclipse was complete they came running from every direction laden with provisions, praying the admiral to fix things. Columbus promised to do his best, and after that the Spaniards were given plenty of food in return for glass beads, rings and other articles.

Christopher Columbus (greatest Seamen/navigator Of All Time)

In 1504, Columbus and 100 survivors, out of 135 who had left Spain, sailed from Jamaica in a little caravel. The admirals last voyage ended at Sanlucar, Spain on 7 November, 1504.

Before Columbus was allowed to come to court to tell of his adventures, Queen Isabella died and King Ferdinand would do nothing for him. The admiral was 53 years old and in failing health. He suffered from arthritis and could now scarcely move. He had enough money to live on, but want the governorship and his rightful share in American trade restored to him. The few remaining months of his life were spent with in bed or painfully travelling by muleback to be near the king in the hope he would relent. On May 20 1506, in a humble dwelling at Valladolid, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea’ died. With him at the end were his two sons, and a few faithful servants. He was buried in Valladolid. His grandson took his remain to Santo Domingo. The tomb in the cathedral to Seville covers the ashes of his son Diego.

Columbus voyage to America ranks among history’s most important events. It led to lasting contacts between Europe and America and opened new windows to science and to all knowledge. Modern History owes a great debt to Christopher Columbus.

Christopher Columbus (greatest Seamen/navigator Of All Time)




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