Water, Water Everywhere (WWE) Challenge: The Mighty Pacific

Still reading Conquering the Pacific: An Unknown Mariner and the Final Great Voyage of the Age of Discovery, by Andrés Reséndez.

p. 174:

  • On the morning of May 1, the San Jeronimo cleared the capacious bay of Acapulco and entered “the true sea that makes all others appear like rivers and puddles.” — Juan Martinez, soldier, 1 May 1566

For the WWE Challenge, a view of that same ocean, viewed several hundred miles north of Acapulco. Self took this picture last month on the Mendocino Headlands. It was a very cold day. A storm was approaching.

Still cannot get over the fact that leagues and leagues east, on the other side of that ocean, is self’s home country, the Philippines. There is nothing between self and the Philippines except WATER. Imagine crossing that expanse in the 16th century, at the mercy of currents and the vagaries of wind.

Many attempts were made to reach the Philippines after Magellan. Villalobos reached it but left immediately after. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in 1565 and stayed to become the Philippines’ first governor (Legazpi was pretty old, for an explorer: he was in his 50s. His nickname was El Adelantado)

Legazpi had his two grandsons with him, both teenagers. One, Felipe de Salcedo, 18, became captain of Legazpi’s flagship, the San Pedro, on the vuelta.

What an incredible feat. Truly. And such courage for an 18-year-old. They almost didn’t make it.

His younger brother, Juan de Salcedo, 17, stayed and made a home for himself in what is now the province of Vigan. His grandfather died a year after arrival in the Philippines, but Juan de Salcedo spent the rest of his life there, even bringing his widowed mother and his sister to the islands! (These Salcedo women must have been made of very stern stuff: the trans-Pacific crossing, in the sixteenth century, was no walk in the park)

Legazpi’s Flagship, the San Pedro

Of course the San Lucas made it to Navidad, in Nueva España, or we wouldn’t be reading a book about it today.

The second ship from the Legazpi expedition to make it back to Navidad was the commander’s flagship, the San Pedro. Legazpi himself had stayed behind in the Philippines. The San Pedro’s captain on the return voyage was Legazpi’s 18-year-old grandson, Felipe de Salcedo (Legazpi had another grandson, also a teenager, Juan de Salcedo, who remained behind in the Philippines. This boy ranged all over the Philippine archipelago, even leading a “starving” Spanish company of 40 into the mountain provinces. The boy was forced back by the Igorots).

Self cannot imagine an 18-year-old commanding a ship all the way across the Pacific! But command it he did, and it made its way back to Nueva España. He was lucky his pilot was Andres de Urdaneta, 57, probably the most renowned navigator of his day.

Stay tuned.

A Revolt on the San Lucas

When word about re-crossing the Pacific spread through the San Lucas, however, several crew members revolted. The San Lucas was a dispatch boat meant to explore coves and inlets in shallow waters, not a vessel intended for the vuelta. The plan all along had been to attempt the return aboard one of the two largest ships in the fleet, the San Pedro and the San Pablo, weighing four or five hundred tons and built at an outrageous cost for this very purpose.

Conquering the Pacific, p. 145

The Return, Vuelta

Are dear blog readers suffering from whiplash, yet? Self is back to reading Conquering the Pacific.

It is not enough to get to one’s destination, the more important leg is the return.

The San Lucas arrived first in the Philippines; it was also the first to leave, in late April. The commander of the San Lucas is quoted as saying, “I would rather die at sea in the service of His Majesty than among these Filipinos . . . and my determination was to complete the voyage or die in the attempt.”

While Doing the Wash

More unforeseen events occur.

On March 4, 1565, the San Lucas pulled up anchor and continued rounding the immense island of Mindanao . . . at an unspecified site, the voyagers found a good place to wash their clothes. An officer and two cabin boys were dispatched ashore with everyone’s dirty garments. The two servants had just started washing when they spotted several islanders closing in on them and thus had to run for their lives, abandoning a mountain of clothes that the voyagers would miss sorely when the weather turned extremely cold later in their adventure.

Conquering the Pacific, p. 131

The conquistadores have lost their clothes! Self doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

Stay tuned.

The Unforeseen

Human nature is incalculable. Four of the twenty crew from the San Lucas (the first ship from the Legazpi expedition to reach the Philippines; they beat the commander by about a month) mutiny, steal a rowboat, several arquebuses, and — this is the real clincher — the only flint stone on the San Lucas, which was used not just for cooking but for lighting fires in general. As the commander later reflected, “without fire the Indians would gain the upper hand over us at any time they wanted.”

It therefore becomes vitally important to track down the four escapees.

“One evening, the men of the San Lucas spotted a campfire in the distance. The four runaways were boldly moving inward toward the closest” native settlement, “willing to take their chances with” a native they had just met.

WHAT? Why would they do that? Escape from their countrymen and hope the natives will help them? What’s in it for the natives? Talk about stupid.

The men giving chase from the ship are able to steal up to the mutineers’ campsite, and the lookout is shot (with “27 pellets” from an arquebus, from about a tree away). All four men are marched back to the ship (including the one who was shot; guess being shot with 27 pellets from an arquebus isn’t so bad!)

When they get to the ship, the commander finds himself in a real pickle: the San Lucas has a skeleton crew of 20. The punishment for mutiny is hanging. If the commander follows the letter of the law and hangs the four, he’ll only have a crew of 16.

Oh my goodness!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“I take possession . . . in the name of the Spanish Crown.”

This is how Commander Miguel Lopez de Legazpi took possession of the island of Guam in the name of the Spanish Crown in the Year of Our Lord Fifteen-hundred and Sixty-Five:

He walked around the beach, cutting tree branches with his sword, pulling some grass, making stone monuments, and carving crosses into some of the coconut trees. The Augustinian friars said mass.

Conquering the Pacific, p. 124

Dammit! This exact same scene is in self’s novel! Why is she having such a hard time getting an agent? Self’s version is ever so much more dramatic because she has crabs scuttling on the beach, and monitor lizards sticking out forked tongues, and coconuts falling on the heads of the Spaniards as they kneel in prayer. In other words, her version is so much more immersive. It just isn’t FAIR!

But, enough of this whining. Reading further, self learns that Legazpi was tempted to stop his expedition in Guam. Then the Philippines would have remained FREE! Woo hoo! Can’t you just imagine?

Alas, someone reminded Legazpi that his instructions from the Crown explicitly stated THE PHILIPPINES. Fearful of the repercussions if he disobeyed his monarch’s orders, Legazpi and his ships continued.

It is so ineffably sad that the natives of the Philippines had absolutely no idea that they were in the sights of a monarch from across the sea, a monarch they had never even heard of.

Stay tuned.

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

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.

“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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