Columbus went to sea when he was fourteen years of age, and served there almost continuously for twenty-three years. The strain of a sea-faring life, from so tender an age, is not conducive to literary exactness. Still, for the very reason of this sea experience, the “log” should be correct.
This is composed of the courses steered, distances sailed over, bearings of islands from one another, trend of shores, etc. The recording of these is the daily business of seamen, and here the entries were by Columbus himself, chiefly to enable him, on his return to Spain, to construct that nautical map, which is promised in the prologue of the first voyage.
In crossing the Atlantic the Admiral understated to the crew each day’s run, so that they should not know how far they had gone into an unknown ocean. Las Casas was aware of this counterfeit “log,” but his abridgment is from that one which Columbus kept for his own use.
If the complicated courses and distances in this were originally wrong, or if the copy of them is false, it is obvious that they cannot be “plotted” upon a correct chart. Conversely, if they are made to conform to a succession of islands among which he is known to have sailed, it is evident that this is a genuine transcript of the authentic “log” of Columbus, and, reciprocally, that we have the true track, the beginning of which is the eventful landfall of October 12, 1492.
The student or critical reader, and the seaman, will have to determine whether the writer has established this conformity. The public, probably, desires to have the question settled, but it will hardly take any interest in a discussion that has no practical bearing, and which, for its elucidation, leans so much upon the jargon or the sea.
It is not flattering to the English or Spanish speaking peoples that the four hundredth anniversary of this great event draws nigh, and is likely to catch us still floundering, touching the first landing place.
First. There is no objection to Samana in respect to size, position or shape. That it is a little island, lying east and west, is in its favor. The erosion at the east end, by which islets have been formed, recalls the assertion of Columbus that there it could be cut off in two days and made into an island.
The Nassau vessels still find a snug anchorage here during the northeast trades. These blew half a gale of wind at the time of the landfall; yet Navarette, Varnhagen, and Captain Becher anchored the squadron on the windward sides of the coral reefs of their respective islands, a “lee shore.”
The absence of permanent lagoons at Samana I have tried to explain.
Second. The course from Samana to Crooked is to the southwest, which is the direction that the Admiral said he should steer “tomorrow evening.” The distance given by him corresponds with the chart.