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Christopher Columbus and the New World
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The Second Voyage
The second voyage of Columbus, profoundly interesting as it must have been to him and
to the numerous company to whom these waters were a strange and new region, has not
the romantic interest for us that his first voyage had. To the faith that guided him on his
first venture knowledge and certainty had now been added; he was going by a familiar
road; for to the mariner a road that he has once followed is a road that he knows. As a
matter of fact, however, this second voyage was a far greater test of Columbus's skill as a
navigator than the first voyage had been. If his navigation had been more haphazard he
might never have found again the islands of his first discovery; and the fact that he made
a landfall exactly where he wished to make it shows a high degree of exactness in his
method of ascertaining latitude, and is another instance of his skill in estimating his dead-
reckoning. If he had been equipped with a modern quadrant and Greenwich chronometers
he could not have made a quicker voyage nor a more exact landfall.
It will be remembered that he had been obliged to hurry away from Espanola without
visiting the islands of the Caribs as he had wished to do. He knew that these islands lay to
the south-east of Espanola, and on his second voyage he therefore took a course rather
more southerly in order, to make them instead of Guanahani or Espanola. From the day
they left Spain his ships had pleasant light airs from the east and north-east which wafted
them steadily but slowly on their course. In a week they had reached the Grand Canary,
where they paused to make some repairs to one of the ships which, was leaking. Two
days later they anchored at Gomera, and loaded up with such supplies as could be
procured there better than in Spain. Pigs, goats, sheep and cows were taken on board;
domestic fowls also, and a variety of orchard plants and fruit seeds, as well as a provision
of oranges, lemons, and melons. They sailed from Gomera on the 7th of October, but the
winds were so light that it was a week later before they had passed Ferro and were once
more in the open Atlantic.
On setting his course from Ferro Columbus issued sealed instructions to the captain of
each ship which, in the event of the fleet becoming scattered, would guide them to the
harbour of La Navidad in Espanola; but the captains had strict orders not to open these
instructions unless their ships became separated from the fleet, as Columbus still wished
to hold for himself the secret of this mysterious road to the west. There were no disasters,
however, and no separations. The trade wind blew soft and steady, wafting them south
and west; and because of the more southerly course steered on this voyage they did not
even encounter the weed of the Sargasso Sea, which they left many leagues on their
starboard hand. The only incident of the voyage was a sudden severe hurricane, a brief
summer tempest which raged throughout one night and terrified a good many of the
voyagers, whose superstitious fears were only allayed when they saw the lambent flames
of the light of Saint Elmo playing about the rigging of the Admiral's ship. It was just the
Admiral's luck that this phenomenon should be observed over his ship and over none of
the others; it added to his prestige as a person peculiarly favoured by the divine