All that Columbus asked or needed was three small vessels and their stores and crews. The largest ships engaged were little larger than the large yachts, whose races every summer delight the people of America. The Gallega and the Pinta were the two largest. They were called caravels, a name then given to the smallest three-masted vessels. Columbus once uses it for a vessel of forty tons; but it generally applied in Portuguese or Spanish use to a vessel, ranging one hundred and twenty to one hundred and forty Spanish “toneles.” This word represents a capacity about one-tenth larger than that expressed by our English “ton.”
The reader should remember that most of the commerce of the time was the coasting commerce of the Mediterranean, and that it was not well that the ships should draw much water. The fleet of Columbus, as it sailed, consisted of the Gallega (the Galician), of which he changed the name to the Santa Maria, and of the Pinta and the Nina. Of these the first two were of a tonnage which we should rate as about one hundred and thirty tons. The Nina was much smaller, not more than fifty tons. One writer says that they were all without full decks, that is, that such decks as they had did not extend from stem to stern. But the other authorities speak as if the Nina only was an open vessel, and the two larger were decked. Columbus himself took command of the Santa Maria, Martin Alonso Pinzon of the Pinta, and his brothers, Francis Martin and Vicente Yanez, of the Nina. The whole company in all three ships numbered one hundred and twenty men.
Mr. Harrisse shows that the expense to the crown amounted to 1,140,000 maravedis. This, as he counts it, is about sixty-four thousand dollars of our money. To this Columbus was to add one-eighth of the cost. His friends, the Pinzons, seem to have advanced this, and to have been afterwards repaid. Las Casas and Herrera both say that the sum thus added was much more than one-eighth of the cost and amounted to half a million maravedis.
CHAPTER III. — THE GREAT VOYAGE.
THE SQUADRON SAILS—REFITS AT CANARY ISLANDS—HOPES AND FEARS OF THE VOYAGE—THE DOUBTS OF THE CREW—LAND DISCOVERED.
At last all was ready. That is to say, the fleet was so far ready that Columbus was ready to start. The vessels were small, as we think of vessels, but he was not dissatisfied. He says in the beginning of his journal, “I armed three vessels very fit for such an enterprise.” He had left Grenada as late as the twelfth of May. He had crossed Spain to Palos,(*) and in less than three months had fitted out the ships and was ready for sea.
(*) Palos is now so insignificant a place that on some important maps of Spain it will not be found. It is on the east side of the Tinto river; and Huelva, on the west side, has taken its place.
The harbor of Palos is now ruined. Mud and gravel, brought down by the River Tinto, have filled up the bay, so that even small boats cannot approach the shore. The traveler finds, however, the island of Saltes, quite outside the bay, much as Columbus left it. It is a small spit of sand, covered with shells and with a few seashore herbs. His own account of the great voyage begins with the words: