The conduct and appearance of the natives were such as to show that the Spaniards had no reason to fear their hostility or treachery. Simple, harmless, naked, and unarmed, they seemed rather to be at the mercy of their visitors. Equally timid and curious, they were at first shy; but being encouraged to approach the strangers, they at length became entirely familiar with them, and received presents with expressions of the highest delight. The new comers to their shores were thought to have dropped from the skies, and the articles bestowed were received as celestial presents. All was a scene of wonder and amazement indeed to both parties.
They pursued their course until two in the morning, when from the Pinta, which generally sailed ahead, the thundering signal was heard, the order being that a gun should be fired as soon as land hove in sight. It was indeed land at this time. It lay before them, now dimly seen, about two leagues distant. The joy which Columbus and his crew felt at the sight, surpasses the power of description. It is difficult, even for the imagination, to conceive the emotions of such a man, in whose temperament a wonderful enthusiasm and unbounded aspiration prevailed, at the moment of so sublime a discovery. Utterance was given to his intense feelings by tears, and prayers, and thanksgivings.
The fleet consisted of three vessels, one furnished by himself, through the assistance of his friends, and was to sail from the little port of Palos in Andalusia. Two of the vessels were caravels—that is, light vessels without decks—the other was of a larger burden, though not amounting even to an hundred tons. How such craft could survive the waves and storms of the Atlantic, is one of the marvelous circumstances of the undertaking. The number of men received on board amounted to one hundred and twenty. The preparations having been finished, the undaunted navigator set sail on the morning of the 3d of August, 1492, having first with his whole crew partaken of the sacrament.
The Pinta, being separated from the Nina, was supposed to have been lost; but this proved to have been a mistake, as she reached Spain nearly at the same time with the other caravel. At the time of their greatest extremity, when all hope of safety had departed, Columbus, anxious that the knowledge of his discovery might be communicated to the world, wrote a brief account of his voyage; and having properly secured it in a barrel, committed the latter to the ocean, in the hope that it might afterward be found, should he and his crew never see land again. But they were mercifully preserved, as the storm at length subsided, and, within a few days, they reached the island of St. Mary's, one of the Azores.
Pictures of Columbus, Cabot
With the explorations of Columbus on his first and his three later voyages (in 1496, 1498, and 1502) we are less concerned than with the first voyage itself as an illustration of the problems and dangers faced by the navigator of the time, and with the effect of the discovery of the new world upon Spain's rise as a sea power. The three caravels in which he sailed were typical craft of the period. The Santa Maria, the largest, was like the other two, a single-decked, lateen-rigged, three-masted vessel, with a length of about 90 feet, beam of about 20 feet, and a maximum speed of perhaps 6-1/2 knots. She was of 100 tons burden and carried 52 men. The Pinta was somewhat smaller. The Niña (Baby) was a tiny, half-decked vessel of 40 tons. Heavily timbered and seaworthy enough, the three caravels were short provisioned and manned in part from the rakings of the Palos jail.
Columbus watching for land
Correct chart of westward route from Europe to Asia, for comparison with the chart of Columbus