On the High Seas With Columbus

The excerpts on this page are from `The Log of Christopher Columbus,' translated by Robert Fuson. Written between Aug. 3, 1492, and March 15, 1493, the original log was given to Queen Isabella of Spain, but has not been seen since her death. A copy made for Columbus during his lifetime, known as the Barcelona copy, was abstracted in the early 16th century by a Dominican friar, Bartolome de Las Casas, and became the basis of his longer work about the Admiral, `Historia de las indias.' Mr. Fuson has taken the abstract journal, edited and modernized it, adding information from `Historia de las indias' and from a biography of Columbus by his illegitimate son, Fernando.

MOST Christian, exalted, excellent, and powerful princes, King and Queen of the Spains and of the islands of the sea, our Sovereigns: ... I left Granada on Saturday, the 12th day of the month of May in the same year of 1492 and went to the town of Palos, which is a seaport. There I fitted out three vessels, very suited to such an undertaking. I left the said port well supplied with a large quantity of provisions and with many seamen on the third day of the month of August in the said year, on a Friday, h alf an hour before sunrise. I set my course for the Canary Islands of Your Highnesses, which are in the Ocean Sea, from there to embark on a voyage that will last until I arrive in the Indies ... and do all that Your Highnesses have commanded me to do. To this end I decided to write down everything I might do and see and experience on this voyage, from day to day, and very carefully. Friday, 3 August, 1492

We set sail on this third day of August, 1492, at 8 o'clock in the morning, from the bar of Saltes. The wind is strong and variable, and we had gone 45 miles to the south by sunset. After dark I altered course for the Canary Islands... . Monday, 6 August

The rudder of the Pinta, in which Martin Alonso Pinzon was traveling, slipped from its socket. I believe this was deliberately caused by Gomez Rascon and the owner of the caravel, Cristobal Quintero. Neither of these men wanted to make this voyage, and even before we departed Palos they had attempted to ... prevent the enterprise. All the time they were complaining and concocting excuses for not sailing. Tuesday, 7 August

Today the wind blew very hard, and the ropes holding the Pinta's rudder broke. We were again delayed while makeshift repairs were made. [Captain] Martin Alonso wanted to go directly to the island of Lanzarote, but I ordered him to proceed to Grand Canary. We made 75 miles today between day and night. Tuesday, 28 August

All repairs move apace. Thursday, 30 August

The rudder is almost finished. Praise God! Tuesday, 4 September

Today we loaded and stored dried meat and salted fish and some fruits. The fruit will have to be consumed early, for it will spoil if the voyage is of three weeks' duration. We will load the biscuits tomorrow. Wednesday, 5 September

The ships have been loaded, and all is ready for the voyage. Tonight I shall order a special service of thanksgiving; at sunrise I will lift anchors to begin the journey westward. Sunday, 9 September

This day we completely lost sight of land, and many men sighed and wept for fear they would not see it again for a long time. I comforted them with great promises of lands and riches. To sustain their hope and dispel their fears ... I decided to reckon fewer leagues than we actually made. I did this that they might not think themselves so great a distance from Spain as they really were. For myself I will keep a confidential accurate reckoning. Saturday, 15 September

I sailed to the west day and night for 81 miles, or more. Early this morning I saw a marvelous meteorite fall into the sea 12 or 15 miles away to the SW. This was taken by some people to be a bad omen, but I calmed them by telling of the numerous occasions that I have witnessed such events. I have to confess that this is the closest that a falling star has ever come to my ship. Thursday, 20 September

Today I changed course for the first time since departing [the Canary Islands] because the wind was variable and sometimes calm. ... About 10 o'clock in the morning the two terns flew over the ship, and a little while later another one came. The men caught the bird like a tern, except it was black, with a white tuft on its head, and it had webbed feet. Very early this morning three little birds flew over the ship, singing as they went, and flew away as the sun rose. This was a comforting thought, for un like the large water birds, these little birds could not have come from far off. The sailors caught a little fish, and we saw much weed of the kind I have already mentioned, even more than before, stretching to the north as far as you can see. In a way this weed comforted the men, since they have concluded that it must come from some nearby land. But at the same time, it caused some of them great apprehension because in some places it was so thick that it actually held back the ships. Since fear evokes imag inary terrors, the men thought that the weed might become so thick and matted that there might happen to them what is supposed to have happened to St. Amador, when he was trapped in a frozen sea that held his ship fast. Monday, 24 September

I am having serious trouble with the crew, despite the signs of land that we have and those given to us by Almighty God. In fact, the more God shows the men manifest signs that we are near land, the more their impatience and inconstancy increases, and the more indignant they become against me. All day long and all night long those who are awake and able to get together never cease to talk to each other in circles, complaining that they will never be able to return home. They have said that it is insanity

and suicidal on their part to risk their lives following the madness of a foreigner. They have said that not only am I willing to risk my life just to become a great Lord, but that I have deceived them to further my ambition. They have also said that because my proposition has been contradicted by so many wise and lettered men who considered it vain and foolish, they may be excused for whatever might be done in the matter. Some feel that they have already arrived where men have never dared to sail and that

they are not obliged to go to the end of the world, especially if they are delayed anymore and will not have sufficient provisions to return. I am told by a few trusted men (and these are few in number!) that if I persist in going onward, the best course of action will be to throw me into the sea some night. Thursday, 11 October

About 10 o'clock at night, while standing on the sterncastle, I thought I saw a light to the west. It looked like a little wax candle bobbing up and down. It had the same appearance as a light or torch belonging to fishermen or travellers who alternately raised and lowered it, or perhaps were going from house to house. I am the first to admit that I was so eager to find land that I did not trust my own senses, so I called for Pedro Guitierrez, the representative of the King's household, and asked him to watch for the light. After a few moments, he too saw it. I then summoned Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, the comptroller of the fleet, and asked him to watch for the light. He saw nothing, nor did any other member of the crew.

The moon ... rose in the east shortly before midnight. I estimate that we were making about 9 knots and had gone some 67 1/2 miles between the beginning of night and 2 o'clock in the morning. Then, at two hours after midnight, the Pinta fired a cannon, my prearranged signal for the sighting of land.

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