The Legazpi Expedition

Self had always assumed that this expedition left from Spain, but Legazpi left from Nueva España (New Spain, the name given to Mexico), from the port of Navidad. The date: Nov. 21, 1564, between 2 and 3 a.m. It was a quicker journey than from Spain, as it involved only one direct shot, straight across the Pacific, to the Philippines. There were no land masses to present physical impediments — only a vast body of water, and storms. Legazpi’s flagship was the San Pedro.

The flagship fired a salvo . . . crew members proceeded to untie the mooring ropes or lift the anchors while others raised the sails. Slowly, the San Pedro turned toward the immensity of the Pacific Ocean. Moments later, the other vessels went through the same motions. The fleet must have cleared the bay by sunrise and continued to catch glimpses of the Mexican coast for several hours.

Conquering the Pacific, p. 80

Quelle je ne sais quoi! Meaning: I Just Don’t Know What

Self has also just learned (an hour ago) from reading this book that the much-despised “hardtack”, which all Portuguese and Spanish seafarers were very familiar with, as it was a primary food commodity for long sea voyages (obviously, it never spoiled), was actually biscocho, a very delicious toasted biscuit, which self has been eating ever since she was a wee tyke growing up in the Philippines (silent scream silent scream).

And here self always imagined that hardtack was something disgusting. Like vegemite.

Stay tuned.

Instructions to Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, Leader of an Expedition to the Philippines

Preserving Legazpi’s life was a top priority. Yet, as the instructions went on to observe, “all of us are at the mercy of death.” An ironclad procedure was therefore in place for such an eventuality. No second-in-command had been named. Bitter experience had shown that designating a successor could incite rivalries, mutinies, and murder. Instead, Legazpi’s replacement was to remain unknown until the time of his death, when the survivors would be permitted to look in the commander’s cabin for a steel coffer “of about one palm in length and one hand and two fingers in width.” This hidden box, “nailed shut and wrapped in cloth with three royal seals, contained a piece of paper with the name of the substitute commander. Should this person die, too, a second steel coffer, slightly smaller than the first but similarly closed, wrapped, and with three royal seals, bore the name of the third person in the line of command. The identities of the two replacements were wholly unknown to the expeditionaries — including Legazpi and the two chosen successors themselves. Now we know that the first (and surprising) replacement was the once treasonous military commander Mateo del Sauz . . .

Conquering the Pacific, pp. 77 – 78

These names were probably (self assumes) decided by Philip II himself?

It’s a good thing Mateo del Sauz didn’t know he would take over command if something happened to Legazpi!

Stay tuned.

First to Use the Sun to Establish Latitude

Since Portuguese navigators were so daring, it follows that they were the first to cross the equator (around 1471). Thus, they were also the first to realize that dead reckoning, the method by which all sailors used to navigate (using the North Star as a point of reference) was impossible after crossing the equator because “the North Star dipped below the horizon and disappeared entirely from view.”

The one celestial body that did not disappear after crossing the equator was the sun. After a very painstaking series of experiments and trial and error (and years, frankly; many, many years), they found a way to map the path of the Sun across the sky. They found a way to “determine latitude by the noontime altitude of the sun.” (Do NOT expect self to summarize all the calculations here!).

Portuguese ships were the first to reach the tip of Africa (in 1488). A decade later, the Portuguese had found the route to India.

Meanwhile, Spain looked like an absolute laggard, since all they had were the Spice Islands!

Later, Spain had the Philippines, which were actually in the Portuguese half of the world, as determined by the Treaty of Tordesillas. But maybe Spain exercised squatter’s rights: the Philippines remained a Spanish colony for 333 years.

“For twelve years, the Portuguese persisted … “

Amazing to think that in the early 1480s, a tiny country like Portugal led all the great powers in the thirst to explore. She was Spain’s most fearsome rival (even though Spain had at least 10x more men and material), and the early history of the Philippines is full of accounts of sea battles between the two countries as they tried to establish primacy in the Pacific.

According to Conquering the Pacific, the Portuguese were the first to learn how to navigate past “the bulge of Africa” at Cape Bojador, the “veritable point of no return” — where “strong winds blew consistently from the continent toward the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and the currents ran in the same direction, reinforcing the effect of the wind.”

This is the most amazing thing:

To go beyond Cape Bojador, fifteenth-century Portuguese navigators had to take a leap of faith, letting themselves go into the Atlantic Ocean very far from shore in search of more favorable conditions. Through trial and error, they perfected a maneuver that they called la volta do mar lago (the loop around the great sea), or la volta for short in Portuguese and la vuelta in Spanish. It consisted of sailing away from the African coast for hundreds of miles in a northwesterly direction before turning around in mid-Ocean back to Portugal. Their growing awareness of this gigantic ring of currents and winds in the North Atlantic was both exhilarating and full of possibilities.

Conquering the Pacific: An Unknown Mariner and the Final Great Voyage of the Age of Discovery, p. 26

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