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Christopher Columbus and the New World

The Last Voyage
The four ships that made up the Admiral's fleet on his fourth and last voyage were all
small caravels, the largest only of seventy tons and the smallest only of fifty. Columbus
chose for his flagship the Capitana, seventy tons, appointing Diego Tristan to be his
captain. The next best ship was the Santiago de Palos under the command of Francisco
Porras; Porras and his brother Diego having been more or less foisted on to Columbus by
Morales, the Royal Treasurer, who wished to find berths for these two brothers-in-law of
his. We shall hear more of the Porras brothers. The third ship was the Gallega, sixty tons,
a very bad sailer indeed, and on that account entrusted to Bartholomew Columbus, whose
skill in navigation, it was hoped, might make up for her bad sailing qualities.
Bartholomew had, to tell the truth, had quite enough of the New World, but he was too
loyal to Christopher to let him go alone, knowing as he did his precarious state of health
and his tendency to despondency. The captain of the Gallega was Pedro de Terreros, who
had sailed with the Admiral as steward on all his other voyages and was now promoted to
a command. The fourth ship was called the Vizcaina, fifty tons, and was commanded by
Bartolome Fieschi, a friend of Columbus's from Genoa, and a very sound, honourable
man. There were altogether 143 souls on board the four caravels.
The fleet as usual made the Canary Islands, where they arrived on the 20th of May, and
stopped for five days taking in wood and water and fresh provisions. Columbus was
himself again—always more himself at sea than anywhere else; he was following a now
familiar road that had no difficulties or dangers for him; and there is no record of the
voyage out except that it was quick and prosperous, with the trade wind blowing so
steadily that from the time they left the Canaries until they made land twenty days later
they had hardly to touch a sheet or a halliard. The first land they made was the island of
Martinique, where wood and water were taken in and the men sent ashore to wash their
linen. To young Ferdinand, but fourteen years old, this voyage was like a fairy tale come
true, and his delight in everything that he saw must have added greatly to Christopher's
pleasure and interest in the voyage. They only stayed a few days at Martinique and then
sailed westward along the chain of islands until they came to Porto Rico, where they put
in to the sunny harbour which they had discovered on a former voyage.
It was at this point that Columbus determined, contrary to his precise orders, to stand
across to Espanola. The place attracted him like a magnet; he could not keep away from
it; and although he had a good enough excuse for touching there, it is probable that his
real reason was a very natural curiosity to see how things were faring with his old enemy
Bobadilla. The excuse was that the Gallega, Bartholomew's ship, was so unseaworthy as
to be a drag on the progress of the rest of the fleet and a danger to her own crew. In the
slightest sea-way she rolled almost gunwale under, and would not carry her sail; and
Columbus's plan was to exchange her for a vessel out of the great fleet which he knew
had by this time reached Espanola and discharged its passengers.
 
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