"Geographical Background of the First Voyage of Columbus" by Clarence B. Odell, Ph.D., and Dale Edward Case, Ph.D. in "Cartocraft Teaching Aids" (Series 1962-63, Vol. III, No. 5) A Service Publication of The Geographical Research Institute A Division of the Denoyer-Geppert Company, Chicago A. INTRODUCTION Columbus did not search for a new continent. He sought a new path to an old world.(1) His voyages were the most spectacular and most far-reaching geographical discoveries in recorded human history. To the learned men of the 15th and 16th centuries his four trips to the "New World" helped to reveal for the first time the existence of one-half of the globe hitherto unknown.(2) The explorations of Columbus and those of his contemporaries completely revised the world picture. As a result, cartographers were stimulated to devise new methods for depicting the enlarged world. But the voyages did even more: they relegated the Mediterranean to a secondary place in world affairs by diverting trade between Europe and the Orient to the Atlantic. Furthermore, the voyages encouraged men to perfect their scientific instruments of ocean navigation, to seek accurate and advanced knowledge of the sphericity and size of the earth, and to give thought to the patterns of atmospheric circulation, ocean currents, magnetic forces, and other natural phenomena. The principal enterprise of Columbus was simply to reach "The Indies" by sailing westward, but he never accomplished his mission.(3) Across his way lay land barriers without water- throughways. By accident, he discovered the coastlines of two continents and their fringing off-shore islands.(4) Nevertheless, Columbus is honored by us for something which he never intended to do and never knew what he had done. Despite the fact that he is one of the most controversial figures of history, we honor him. We are assured that no other mariner of his generation had the persistence, the determination, and the courage to strike out boldly across thousands of miles into uncharted ocean until land was found. Myths and Misconceptions The above pertinent facts may be recognized, discussed, and analyzed in today's classrooms; and it is a fact that too often class-members retain only the myths and misconceptions which have been passed from one generation to another because teachers have not given an "in-depth" treatment to the "Age of Discoveries". When asked what is remembered about the great mariner, invariably an adult and a grade-school child give the rhythmic answer: "In 1492, Columbus first sailed the ocean blue." To be sure, other misconstrued answers may be given, such as "Columbus discovered America," and "Columbus proved the earth to be round." We need to give careful thought to such answers and to evaluate them. This is especially true with such terms as "discovery" and "sphericity".(5) We also need to clarify any misconception that Columbus and his crew-members had a "dinner-plate idea" f the shape and form of the earth. Geographical Framework The geographical framework upon which rests the Columbus story is a part of every classroom discussion. The framework includes the attitudes and the conditions under which Columbus and his crew worked, and the activities in which they were engaged--the preparations for the voyages, the westbound passage, the discoveries, and the homewardbound return. It also includes the physical forces to which the first enterprise was related-- the ocean currents, the zone of calms, the trade-wind belt, the westerlies, the cyclonic storms, the magnetic lines and others. It is the geographical framework which helps to give meaning and substance to the current events of that period of world history. B. HOW THE "KNOWN WORLD" APPEARED TO COLUMBUS Ask any grade-school child to describe the boundaries of the "known world" of the 15th century, and in most cases you will draw a blank. There will be blind-spots, because it is difficult to visualize the world as it was conceived to be during ancient and medieval times--ancient because the scholars and men of general learning of the late Middle Ages relied upon the world concepts of earlier map-makers. When the "Age of Discoveries" is analyzed, we should keep before our minds the quaint notions of the earlier philosophers, friars, manuscript-scribes, scholars, and others. We should first begin by banishing the modern map from our thoughts and substitute an ancient map in its place.(6) Map of the Middle Ages An anonymous medieval map show geographers view of the world in the 15th century as only containing Europe, Asia and Africa. There is no way of knowing whether Columbus was familiar with it. Dated 1485, the map was drawn by an anonymous cartographer who, unknowingly, described the "eastern hemisphere" for the first time. Five interesting points stand out: * 1. The design is based on a world map of Ptolemy (170 A.D.), one of the early scholars who advanced the theory of the earth's sphericity. * 2. The map shows the medieval Christian belief in an earthly Paradise which had been depicted on maps for over 1,000 years prior to the 15th century. Four rivers--the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Indus, and the Nile--radiate out of the East (i.e., Eden and the place of the rising run). * 3. The map shows the known world divided into three parts (Europe, Asia, and Africa) and reaching to the edges of the drawing. The ocean is limited to a narrow circle. * 4. The map shows the known mountains whose rivers are presented by conventional signs. * 5. Engrovelant (i.e., Greenland) is shown as a peninsula of the Eurasian continent, a word which had not been introduced by the geographers. During the time of Columbus, the map-makers continued to base their work on mere half-mythical traditions, unrelieved and uncorrected by the results of actual discoveries. Their maps were still much like picture-books, filled with biblical and literary lore (e.g., dragons, four-wind symbols), indicating but a slight attempt to incorporate exact measurements and outlines. Columbus was familiar with sailing charts, the Italian portolano, which were attempts at geographical representation. The portalons were designed as practical aids to navigation for Mediterranean and Bay of Biscay mariners and were based on observations. By Columbus' time the charts had reached a high degree of accuracy. The coasts, bays, islands, and promontories were plotted and drawn with striking correctness. They did not, however, undertake to give the internal features of the countries whose coastlines they depicted. If European sailors should follow the coast of Africa south of the 27 degree parallel, of north latitude, or of Europe north of the 50 degree parallel, or if they should direct their course into the western ocean beyond the azores, they would be sailing into the unknown. C. WHAT DID COLUMBUS BELIEVE ABOUT THE SIZE OF THE EARTH? Columbus had definite convictions regarding the size of the world, its areal extent, its distribution of land and water masses, and how to reach "The Indies". His beliefs were based upon the works of ancient and medieval scholars and map-makers. He firmly believed that ... * 1. The earth was a sphere and could be circumnavigated in an east-to-west journey. Its circumference had a measurement of 360 degrees. * 2. At the equator, the circumference of the earth could divided into twenty-four parts (24 hours), each part containing 15 degrees. * 3. The "known" lands of the ancients covered fifteen parts (hours) of the earth's surface, and they stretched from the Canary Islands to the city of Thinae (some place on the eastern coast of Asia). * 4. The Portuguese had advanced the western frontier one additional part (one hour) by discovering the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. * 5. Eight parts (hours) remained unknown and unexplored, therefore, the most easterly part of Asia could not be separated from the Azores by more than one-third of the globe. * 6. Peninsulas and islands of Asia could well fill the space remaining (i.e., eight parts--hours). * 7. A reduction of the size of the degree of longitude (east-west measurement) would make the earth's circumference even smaller.(8) * 8. By pursuing a direct course from east to west a navigator would arrive at the extremity of Asia and its offshore islands. D. WHAT WAS THE STATE OF THE PUBLIC MIND? The 15th century was one of general excitement to all who were connected with marine life, or who resided in the vicinity of the ocean. Recent discoveries and rediscoveries (West Africa, South Africa, Madeira and Azores islands) had inflamed the imagination of people and had filled them with visions of other islands to be discovered in the Atlantic Ocean.(9) The story of Antilla, "discovered" by the Carthaginians, was frequently cited, and Plato's imaginary Atlantis once more found firm believers. One of the strongest symptoms of the excited state of the popular mind at this eventful era was the prevalence of rumors respecting unknown islands casually "seen" in the ocean. Many of these were fables. All rumors of islands were noted with curious care by Columbus, and may have had some influence over his imagination. E. WHAT WAS THE CONCEPT OF THE EARTH'S SPHERICITY? The theory that the earth was spherical in shape was familiar to the Greeks and Romans and was supported during and at the close of the Middle Ages by the great authority of Aristotle. Astronomers, philosophers, scholars, and even navigators and pilots were quite familiar with the idea and quite in the habit of thinking of the earth as a sphere.(10) There were those, however, who were aware of the theory but found the idea to be abstract. One noted historian writes, "The conception of the sphericity of the earth was really a matter of mental training. In the 15th century those who had gained this knowledge were fewer than in modern times, but the class who did so believe were no less sure of it."(11) One of the most popular Columbian myths pertains to the "Case of Columbus versus the Council of Salamanca." Several writers, sensing a gripping struggle between two forces--an obscure navigator and the learned professors and theologians-- elaborated and permitted their imaginations to run freely. They played up the drama of a non-academic person who sustains his thesis of a spherical globe in opposition to the "pedantic bigotry" of flat-earth churchmen. Washington Irving was such a writer. In his wonderful chapter, Irving describes the meetings of the Council in 1486, at the University of Salamanca.(12) Before an imposing body of distinguished professors, friars, and church dignitaries, Columbus appeared. In an eloquent rhetorical style Irving writes, "We are told that when he (Columbus) began to state the grounds of his belief, the friars of St. Stephen (one of the colleges of the university) alone paid attention to him.... At the very threshold of the discussion, instead of geographic objectives, Columbus was assailed with citations from the Bible and the Testament; the Book of Genesis, the Psalms of David, the prophets, the epistles, and the gospels.... Doctrinal points were mixed up with philosophical discussions, and a mathematical demonstration was allowed no weight, if it appeared to clash with a text of Scripture.... Thus, the possibility of antipodes, in the souther hemisphere, became a stumbling block with some of the sages of Salamanca."(13) One present-day writer who deeply appreciates the contributions made by Irving, but who nevertheless criticizes the above statements as a glorified myth, is Samuel Eliot Morison (Pulitzer Prize Winner). He writes, "What becomes of the celebrated sessions of the University of Salamanca, before whose professors of mathematics, geography, and astronomy Columbus argued his case, and was turned down because he could not convince them that the world was round? That is pure moonshine. Washington Irving ... took a fictitious account of this non-existent university council published 130 years after the event, elaborated on it, and let his imagination go completely."(14) He further comments, "...the whole story is misleading and mischievous nonsense. The University was not asked to decide.... The sphericity of the globe was not in question. The issue was the width of the ocean; and therein the opposition was right."(15) F. WHAT WERE THE OBJECTIVES OF COLUMBUS? Columbus had one main objective, and it was simply to reach "The Indies" by sailing westward. That was the main idea to which everything else was subordinate. What did he expect to find? * 1. He expected to find gold, pearls,a nd spices or to get them either by trade or by conquest. * 2. He expected to find one or more islands on the way, which might prove convenient as ports of call, if they were not profitable in themselves. Between 1600 and 1892 leading historians accepted the thesis that Columbus was looking for some portion of Asia, such as Cipangu or Cathay, or both, and that America was his by chance. They accepted the writings of Columbus' generation. However, around 1900 men began to write about the Admiral in terms of "hidden documents" and newer interpretations. Many of them advanced hypotheses that Columbus was not looking for "The Indies," but was actually seeking new Atlantic islands in order to found a valuable estate for himself and his heirs.(16) G. PREPARATIONS FOR THE FIRST VOYAGE Space does not permit a complete discussion of the preparations which were made for the first voyage. A few details will suffice in terms of the selection of Palos as the embarking point, the types of ships employed, the recruitment of crew- members, and the "shake-down cruise" to the Canary Islands. Why Did the Ships Sail from Palos? The voyage of Columbus began at Palos de la Frontera a sea- faring port on the Rio Tinto. The town is situated on an undulating coastal plain which is traversed by two tidal rivers-- the Odiel and the larger Tinto--which unite a few miles from the Golfo de Cadiz. Prior to 1481, Palos had been one of Castile's seaports engaged in the African slave trade.(17) Cadiz, principal port of Andalusia, was preoccupied during the summer of 1492 with the embarkation of the Jews, who were forced into exile. When Columbus arrived at Palos he found it to be inactive. Because the citizenry had committed municipal demeanors, the Spanish Sovereigns (Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand) levied fines on them. The people were now asked to furnish two caravels in ten days' time for the overseas expedition. What Did the Vessels Look Like? Every school child knows that Columbus had three vessels for the first expedition westward--the Santa Maria (the flagship), the Nina (nicknamed the Santa Clara), and the Pinta--and that he returned with the Nina and Pinta. They may not know that the Santa Maria was grounded on the north coast of Hispaniola. Before his return to Spain, Columbus ordered the dismantling of the ship for the construction of a fort at La Navidad, located on the northern coast of Hispaniola. According to Morison, no data, woodcuts, or documents exist that might give measurements and descriptions of the three vessels. "Every picture of them is about 50% fancy, and almost all are inaccurate in some important aspect ... so- called models, replicas, or reproductions of the Santa Maria and her consorts are not models, since no plan, drawing, or dimension of them exists. They merely represent what some naval architect, archeologist, artist, or ship-modeler thinks these vessels ought to have looked like."(18) The vessels were not "crates" or "cockleshells," as some writers would have us believe.(19) They were seaworthy and functional, in terms of negotiating wind and current. How Many Men Comprised the Crew? Ninety men sailed on the first voyage: the Santa Maria, 40 men; the Pinta, 26 men; and the Nina, 24 men. Most of the crew- members came from some town or village in the Niebla region of Rio Pinto (Palos, Moguer, Heulva, and Lepe). Some came from the towns of Andalusia (Cadiz, Seville, Cordova, Jerez, and Puerto Santa Maria). Only five were not Spaniards: one each from Portugal, Calabria, and Venice; two, including, Columbus came originally from Genoa. The crew included a number of landsmen with specific duties. Among them was Luis de Torres, a converted Jew, who was taken along as an interpreter. Others were a marshall, a secretary, a comptroller (bookkeeper and recorder), a butler, a page-boy, and surgeons.(20) Some of the duties of the petty involved work in carpentry, coopering, and boat-caulking. How Did He Recruit His Men? As a Genoese, Columbus was a foreigner and a comparatively unknown one in the Rio Tinto area; therefore, it is difficult to believe that he could have induced seafaring men and boys to embark with him on a voyage of dubious safety and improbably success. After all, the original Royal Order of the Sovereigns wanted the expedition to be underway within ten days. There is some evidence that the Pinzon family, which arranged for the use of the Santa Maria, had much to do with the recruitment of man power for the three vessels. No doubt the family also had something to do with the procurement of naval stores, fittings, and equipment. Outfitting a fleet for a year would be no small task for a single person; and then, too, there were some delays in labor-recruitment. According to later testimony, the local seamen of Palos were held back less by fear than by skepticism: "all thought that the enterprise was a vain one."(21) Some writers have mentioned that the crew included cutthroats, murderers, and desperadoes. Far from it!(22) Most of the members were local young men and their neighbors and friends from near-by seaports. In other words, Columbus' vessels were "home-town ships," an expression commonly used in 19th century New England. H. THE ATLANTIC CROSSING It was Friday, August 3, 1492, when Columbus and his pilots and crew moved on high tide down the Rio Tinto toward the open Atlantic. Ten weeks had passed--well beyond the original Royal decree of ten days--but the delay in preparation and recruitment worked out finally to Columbus' later advantage: the first voyage missed the September hurricanes of the North Atlantic. Many people had been drafted in readying the vessels. Among them were timber merchants, carpenters, ship-chandlers (i.e., dealers in small wares), bakers, provision dealers, other traders. Columbus' plan was to sail to the Canaries, and then due west to "The Indies". His vessels entered the Atlantic Ocean. Their white sails were painted with crosses and possibly other heraldic or religious devices. This was to be an economic expedition, one interested in trade and commerce; it was also to be a religious one: the conversion of people of unknown lands to the Christian faith. Why Did He Consider the Canaries? The Canary islands belong to Spain. The group of seven islands is situated within the belt of the northeast trades, known during the 15th century as the Portuguese Trades. The island-group is washed by an equatorward-moving cold current, running parallel to the west coast of Africa, and known as the Canary Current. Moreover, the islands lie on the 28th parallel of latitude, which happened to be also the latitude of the "northern end of Cipangu," according to its supposed location in the western Atlantic.(23) Since the lack of chronometers in the 15th century made the calculation of longitude and time very inaccurate, it was the custom for navigators to sail due north or due south to the parallel of their proposed destination. A course due east or due west could then be set. Columbus' decision to negotiate a landfall at the Canary islands served to determine the Bahamas as the first landing- place in the "New World". The Canaries as an outpost and the beneficent trade winds combined to make the voyage into the unknown one of short duration.(24) Columbus Looks Westward Thirty-two weeks will pass before Columbus will see again the port of Palos. The successful achievement of the first voyage will lead to three subsequent ones, and collectively the four will set off a chain reaction to be felt throughout maritime countries. Fortunately, he will not live to experience humiliation and to hear his claims of discovery and motives challenged. There will be denials, falsifications, forgeries, and ridicule in the years which lie ahead. Indeed, for four centuries his "Journal" and the writings of his family and friends will be attacked, and they will be microscopically scrutinized by historian and professional researcher. But there will be glory; and there will be applause, too. His likeness will be perpetuated in stone, and his name will be commemorated in both North and South America--in names of streets, cities, rivers, states, and federated districts; and a "Columbus Day" will be assigned to the calendar. This is all in the future. Right now--as we see him--Columbus is poised for his first journey westward, a voyage which will have a tremendous impact upon world thought and opinion. In the weeks ahead, his "Journal" will carefully record his observations and impressions. Let us take a look at it. Calendar of the Voyage with Comments * August 3 - September 9, 1492 A five-week "shake-down cruise" permitted officers and crew to become accustomed to one another, to know the vessels-- their seaworthiness and maneuverability. August 3 - August 9 Six days' journey--1,000 nautical miles--from Palos to Canary islands. Ocean between Spain and the Canaries is rough water, and Spaniards were generally required to take 8 or 10 days. They called it el Golfo de las Yeguas (the Sea of Mares), because so many brood mares shipped to the Canaries died on board. August 9 - September 9 One month's stay in Canaries in order to repair rudder of Nina and to give her square-rigging. Took on wood, salt meat, wine. * September 9 - October 12, 1492 Thirty-three days covered from time of departure to first landfall. Columbus made careful observations and notations in his "Journal" (log not invented until mid-16th century), keeping two records: one for the Sovereigns, one (falsified) for his crews. He noted the following: speed, distance covered daily, direction taken by vessels, sargassum weed, magnetic needle variations, false landfalls, wind occurrences, birds in flight, dead-reckoning and celestial navigational observations. * October 12 - October 14, 1492 First landfall--San Salvador (Guanahani, or Watlings island) in the Bahamas. Columbus met "Indians" for the first time, remained on island for day and half. * October 14, 1492 - January 16, 1493 Searched for Cipangu and Grand Khan of Cathay. Vessels moved through Bahamas to north coast of Cuba (Oriente Province), to Hispaniola (northern Haiti and Santo Domingo). The wrecked and dismantled Santa Maria became source of materials for the fort, La Navidad (Hispaniola), where 39 men were left to establish a beachhead, and to be killed by the natives during Columbus' absence in Spain. * January 16 - February 12, 1493 Homeward bound with the Nina and Pinta. Vessels encountered rough seas and first of a series of winter cyclonic storms. * February 12 - February 24, 1493 Forced to seek shelter in the Azores; Portuguese were not too friendly. * February 24 - March 13, 1493 Nina and Pinta separated during second encounter with winter cyclonic storms. Winter of 1492-93 was a severe one in Europe. Columbus reached Lisbon, Portugal. * March 13 - March 15, 1493 Nina reached the Rio Tinto first, but Pinta (under the Pinzons) immediately followed, and both vessels rode high tide together upstream to Palos. Columbus' "Journal" is a record of his day's work and is a report of the courses steered and the distances covered.(25) Meticulously, he describes objects sighted at sea and lands discovered. Long descriptions are given of people seen, places visited, and plant and animal life observed and gathered. He gives his own reflections and conclusions on cosmography (map-- and chart--construction), on future colonial policy--toward established beachheads and enslavement of natives--and on many other subjects. The Admiral identifies birds and their flight habits and plants in their tropical habitats, but invariably he is incorrect because he had little background in the fields of ornithology, biology, zoology, and plant ecology. He tries his hand at celestial navigation but fumbles. In his day he did not have instruments of precision, and the art of celestial navigation was in its infancy. Neither he nor his shipmates knew very much about it. His observations of Polaris for latitude were of no use to his navigation, because he never knew the proper corrections to apply. His "Journal" reveals that he was unable to use the astrolabe knowingly in his first voyage, but for having an eye for dead-reckoning navigation, Columbus was superb. He took his course off his mariner's compass. This instrument was the most reliable and most indispensable of his instruments aboard. I. SOME PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCES Columbus' route was greatly affected by several natural conditions. Three may be recalled for our consideration: wind and pressure patterns, ocean currents, and magnetic fields. First awareness of their existence in the North Atlantic Ocean led to careful studies, analyses, and chartings--as effective physical environmental influences (or controls)--which are today going forward in the fields of meteorology, oceanography, and geophysics. Wind and Pressure Patterns In order to understand the planetary wind system of the North Atlantic, it is necessary to recognize the existence of large generalized pressure areas: The North Atlantic region is overlain, from north to south, by alternating high and low pressure areas; namely, the Arctic Dome (a high-pressure cell), centered over the North Pole; the Icelandic Trough (a low-pressure area), lying in the vicinity of Iceland and covering an area between Nova Scotia and Ireland; the Azores-Bermuda Ridge (a high-pressure area), stretching between West Africa and Bermuda; and the Equatorial Trough (a low-pressure area), lying astride the equator. We must understand that these barometric pressure areas migrate north and south during the year. Consider the movement of air away from a high- pressure area toward a low-pressure area: * 1. Air flowing off the Arctic Dome and down the northern slope of the Icelandic Trough gives rise to the northeasterlies, or "easterlies"; these are cold polar winds. * 2. Air flowing off the northern slope of the Azores-Bermuda Ridge and down the southern slope of the Icelandic Trough creates the prevailing southwesterly winds, or "westerlies"; these were the winds which aided Columbus in his return to Spain. * 3. Air draining down the southern slope of the Azores-Bermuda Ridge and into the Equatorial Trough produces the northeast trade winds. Of all the winds these seem to be the most dependable. There is no hint in his "Journal" or elsewhere that Columbus knew that the northeast trade winds would carry him across the atlantic. However, he must have observed on his earlier African voyages that a westward course from the Canary islands would enjoy a fair wind as soon as one passed away from the Azores. It was merely his good fortune that the same wind carried his fleet all the way to his first landfall, or to be more specific, his first "windfall". Columbus sailed westward with the aid of the northeast trades; he returned to Spain with the help of the westerlies. He had no way of knowing the basic wind-and-pressure patterns; neither did he know about the convergence of warm-moist and cold-dry air masses (the cyclonic storms) which are associated with the westerlies. Ocean Currents In general, the ocean currents of the North Atlantic Ocean (and it may be applied also to the entire world picture) follow the flow of air around the major air pressure systems. Such currents as the North Equatorial Current, the Gulf Stream, the North Atlantic Drift, and the Canary Current flow at a slight angle to the winds of the Azores-Bermuda Ridge and form a complete circle around this pressure cell. The ocean-current circulation produces a clockwise gyre which encloses a sea--relatively warm, salty, poor in phosphates, and blue in color. In the North Atlantic this is the Sargasso Sea. Many myths have been built around the dangers of the Sargasso Sea. The sargassum weed (from the Portuguese) was known to most mariners of the 15th century, through actual experience or by hearsay; and we may assume that Columbus had heard tales of its existence. The gulfweed gets its name from the indigenous, yellow- brown weed which is found throughout this portion of the Atlantic Ocean. Columbus' ships moved without trouble through great floating masses, although his "Journal" reveals that his crew-members were somewhat alarmed. Magnetic Fields Certain ores, geological formations such as basaltic lavas near the surface, and other conditions cause local irregularities in the amount of magnetic compass declination. When free to turn in the horizontal plane, the direction of the magnetized needle, relative to the geographical north which is true north, is called the magnetic declination. This is reckoned "positive" to the east and "negative" to the west. The distribution of the declination over the earth's surface can be indicated by lines along each of which declination is constant. These are called isogonic lines (or isogones). The two magnetic poles and the two geographical poles (North and South Poles) are points toward which isogones converge, for all values of declination. The isogones for which declination equals zero are called agonic lines. Along these lines the compass needle points to the true north or the true south (i.e., in the southern hemisphere). Long before Columbus' generation mariners were familiar with easterly variation, but not with westerly variation. The real test of the theory of compass declination came when mariners began to navigate the Western Ocean. Then the compass needle began to act very strangely. On his first voyage, Columbus noted that far from pointing true north, his compasses--Flemish and Genoese--showed a declination most of the time, depending on the longitude, and that rarely ever did they point true north as they did as a point 2.5 degrees east of Corvo in the Azores, where, he reported, there was "no variation". The magnetic needle has been the subject of innumerable controversies. We must not doubt that Columbus was somewhat aware of its variations. According to his "Journal", he reported as of September 13 that the needles varied to the northwest of Polaris, and in the morning to the northeast.... On September 17, the compasses showed northwesterly variation, but found the needles to be indicating true north in the morning. Columbus reasoned that the cause was that Polaris appeared to move and not the needles. he was right! In 1492, Polaris described a radius of 3 degrees, 27 minutes about the celestial poles, as against as 1 degree radius, or polar distance, today. In other words, Columbus was one of the first navigators of the 15th century to discover that Polaris, is not directly overhead at the North Pole, but that it described a circle, during a 24-hour period, of more than 3 degrees from the celestial pole (an elongation of the geographical pole). Some writers have led us to believe that the poleward "bulge" in Columbus' first voyage was a result of the concern of his crew-members: they became mutinous when they learned of the variations in the compasses. This does not seem to be the case. During a six-day period (September 20-25) the fleet ran out of the northeast trades and had to change course. Columbus' "Journal" reports, "... sailed this day (September 20) to the West by North and West- Northwest, because the winds were very variable." The fleet had reached that part of the Atlantic Ocean that has the largest percentage of calms, light air currents, and variable (i.e., changeable) winds. In this section of the Azores-Bermuda Ridge (the high- pressure area), air currents descend slowly to the Sargasso Sea, and vessels carrying sails have much trouble in movement. Columbus was lucky to have had some wind. On September 25, Columbus reported having observed masses of gulfweed which were believed to be signs of land. The fleet was now more than 750 leagues west of the Canary islands. Pinzon believed Columbus had missed Cipangu and its associated islands; therefore, he urged Columbus to spend more time looking for them. He was refused and the fleet continued on its westerly dead-reckoning course. Although it has been claimed many times in the classroom that the compass variation accounts for the poleward bend in the dead-reckoning course, the "Journal" reports otherwise. We must recognize, however, that few navigators other than Columbus had the task of quieting the panic and suppressing the mutiny in a superstitious crew when word got around early-- September 14--that the compass was misbehaving. Perhaps Columbus was also alarmed, but he added to his own navigational problems by carrying both Flemish and Genoese compasses, and while the Genoese needle was set in line with the north point of his compass card, the Flemish needle was probably offset to the east of north by three-quarters of a point (8.4 degrees) as was the custom.(26) The first westbound Atlantic crossing was one of the easiest voyages from a nautical point of view, because there were no storms or prolonged calms, no foul winds or heavy seas, no shortage of food or drink, and no practical differences. Even those differences which did occur were purely psychological. The three vessels were well-built, well-equipped, well-rigged, and well-manned. J. CONCLUDING THOUGHT The first voyage depended upon one principal consideration: the distance between the Canary islands and Cipangu (Japan). It is here that Columbus was helped by an error which he shared with many geographers of his day. The Caribbean area was made known to him because he underestimated the size of the earth and overestimated the length of Asia. Not only did Columbus accept the earth's equatorial circumference to be 20,400 geographical miles, which was Ptolemy's estimate, but he accepted the distance around the world at parallel 28 degrees north latitude to be about 14,000 miles. As a result of his wrong calculation, he estimated the distance between the Canaries and Cipangu to be about 2,500 miles, a figure which expresses the approximate distance between the island and the West Indies. Therefore, in conclusion, we may say that the Columbus story is based upon a case where the littleness of knowledge was not a dangerous but a helpful thing. If Columbus had proposed to sail westward for nearly 12,000 miles, the approximate distance between the Canaries and Japan, could he have expected his crew- members to have made the voyage with him? Hardly! Under such conditions there would have been no first voyage to record as of the 15th century. Endnotes 1. Refer to Atlas A48p, "Our United States: Its History in Maps" (Edited by Edgar B. Wesley), Denoyer-Geppert Company, p. 12. 2. At no time during the life of Columbus, nor for some years after his death, did anyone use the phrase "New World" with conscious reference to his discoveries. 3. In his "Geography in the Middle Ages", George H.T. Kimble comments that the term "The Indies" is a vague term, for in the Middle Ages there were at least three Indies; viz., India Minor, India Major, and India Tertia, i.e., the Sind, Hind and Zinj of the Arabs. The first two were located in Asia, the last in Africa (possibly Ethiopia). The word India in the Middle Ages had no exact geographical meaning to Europeans; it was a convenient expression denoting the East beyond the Mohammendan world. 4. During the 15th century the word continent was not used to describe the land masses of continental status. Medieval geographers tended to contrast land with sea, zone with zone, part with part, West with East, the known world with the unknown. 5. For an informative discussion, read Wilcomb E. Washburn, "The Meaning of 'Discovery' in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries," "The American Historical Review", Vol. LXVIII, No. I, (October 1962). 6. Refer to Map B1, "Ancient World," "Denoyer-Geppert Social Studies Map". Illustrated are six maps of the world according to Homer, Eratosthenes, Ptolemy, et al. 7. The medieval map is discussed by Erich Woldan (Vienna) in his article, "A Circular, Copper-Engraved, Medieval World Map," in "Imago Mundi" (Edited by Leo Bagrow), Vol. XI, pp. 13-16. 8. Columbus proceeded to base his measurements on the assumption that the length of a degree of longitude at the equator was 56.6 geographical miles, instead of the correct figure of 69.172 miles. See "Cartocraft Teaching Aids", Vol. II, No. 1 (Series 1961-62), Denoyer-Geppert Company. 9. The legendary island of Antillia was thought to be in front of, opposite to, or on the other side of the Atlantic. The Greater and Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean area have borrowed the name. The journeys of the travelers of the later 13th and 14th centuries were a veritable revelation to Europeans. All made Cathay (China) a land of intense interest; similarly, the great island of Cipangu (Japan), lying a 1,000 miles further to the eastward, though never actually visited by Marco Polo, and described by him, was of equally keen interest. Also of interest were the "12,700 islands" at which he calculates the great archipelagoes which lie in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. For Marco Polo's travels, see Map WH8, "Mongol Ascendancy to A.D. 1300," "Denoyer-Geppert World History Series" (Edited by William H. McNeill), Edition 1958, Denoyer-Geppert Company. 10. It is suggested that careful thought be given to the "popular" children's stories which highly exaggerate and dramatize the mutinous attitude of the crew-members of the first voyage. Columbus' "Journal" gives no clue that his men were afraid of "falling off the edge of the earth". Neither are there any accounts to be found in the writings of Ferdinand Columbus, Bartolome de las Casas ("Historia de las Indias"), Peter Martyr, and Oviedo, contemporary writers of the period. Debunkers of the Columbus story published books, pamphlets, and articles after 1900, and although many have proved to be false, their suppositions have made indelible impressions. One such writer was Henry Vignaud. See footnote 16. 11. Edward Potts Cheyney, "European Background of American History," "The American Nation: A History--1300-1600" (Edited by Albert Bushnell Hart), Vol. I (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1904, p. 19. 12. Refer to inset map "Columbus in Europe (1484-1492)," of Map WA6, "The Age of Discovery, 1492-1580," "Our America, Wesley Social Studies Series", (Edited by Edgar B. Wesley), Edition 1962, Denoyer-Geppert Company. 13. "The Life and Voyages of Columbus," "The Works of Washington Irving", (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company), p. 59. Editor's note: the term antipodes refers to points opposite (i.e., to a location or to a person on the other side of the earth in the southern hemisphere). Cosmus (535 A.D.) had asked the question: "Are there antipodes, i.e., people, with their feet opposite to ours: people who walk with their heels upward, and their heads hanging down?" 14 Samuel Eliot Morison, "Admiral of the Ocean Sea, A Life of Christopher Columbus", (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1951), p. 89. A paperback version (A Mentor Book) has been published under the title, "Christopher Columbus, Mariner" (New York: The New American Library of world Literature, Inc., 1962). 15. Ibid. 16. Henry Vignaud, who wrote two volumes and numerous pamphlets, asserted that Columbus falsified his Journal, forged the Toscanelli letter (not covered in this "Cartocraft Teaching Aid"), and had no intention to look for "The Indies". Vignaud's theory is discussed in his book, "Toscanelli and Columbus" (London: Sands & Co., 1902). 17. Castile had renounced her African trade in the Treaty of 1481. 18. Morison, op. cit., p. 113. For a highly informative discussion of the Santa Maria (a ship), and the Nina and Pinta (caravels), read his Chapter IX. 19. Ibid., p. 131. 20. de Torres knew Hebrew and a little Arabic. It was commonly believed that Arabic was the mother of languages, and it was expected that de Torres would be able to converse with the Great Khan of Cathay. 21. For more than fifty years after the death of Columbus, the High Courts of Spain handled the claims of the heirs of Columbus and of those of the Pinzon family. Morison handles some of the details in his volume (op. cit.), pp. 61-78. 22. One crew-member had committed a murder. He had been held on the charge, along with three companions who tried to aid in his escape. All of the men later redeemed themselves, and three sailed on the three subsequent voyages. 23. From the Toscanelli letter which Columbus had in his possession, as well as from an accompanying map, he deduced a course due west from Lisbon to Quinsay (Cathay) to be about 5,000 nautical miles; however, there was an alternate route, possibly a shorter one by way of Cipangu (Japan). This one passed Antillia, the island which was thought to lie 2,000 miles from Cipangu. 24. Ellen Churchill Semple, "American History and Its Geographic Conditions" (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1903), p. 7. 25. Technically, the "Journal" is known as the Book of the "First Navigation and Discovery of the Indies". 26. Lloyd A. Brown, "The Story of Maps" (Boston: Little, Brown and Company), p. 133.