Seeking a Passage

Because of his height, or because the skin shoes he wore made his feet look enormous, Magellan named the local people Patagonians. He succeeded in capturing two of them, and Pigafetta reports the captives swallowed barrel-loads of biscuits and ate rats without bothering to skin them. One of them may have survived the voyage, and travelled to Seville after being baptised and given the Christian name Paul.

Magellan sent the Santiago, under the command of Juan de Serrao, to look for the straits, but it was wrecked in a storm. However, all the crew except one survived. Two of them made a 160-kilometre journey overland to San Julian to inform Magellan of the disaster. 

Magellan sent food to the scene of the wreck, and Santiago's men spent two months salvaging the cargo. Eventually, the remaining ships were ready to travel, and, on August 24, Magellan's fleet left Port St. Julian.  

The fleet spent two months at the Rio Santa Cruz before, on October 18, Magellan headed south, meeting storms like the one that wrecked the Santiago. 

The little fleet was now approaching Tierra del Fuego and entered the labyrinth of channels between the islands north of Cape Horn. The sailors became convinced that there was no exit into another sea. Magellan persuaded them to press on. The ships sailed again in October 1520, and on 21 October a large cape was sighted. 

The leading ships took refuge from a storm around it and found that a strait seemed to open towards the west. This stretch of water did not look any more promising than many others they had explored, but Magellan sent the San Antonio and the Concepción to investigate. 

They were gone so long - about a week - that the rest of the fleet had given them up for lost before they returned, firing off their guns in celebration, with the news that this was tidal salt water, and not another river. They reported that the strait led to an ocean beyond, but what they had thought to be the ocean proved to be only a large bay. Still, they had found the entrance to the straits that Magellan sought. 

To the Pacific

© Ian Hughes 2017