Ferdinand Magellan
Portuguese Explorer and Sea Captain


Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese sea captain who commanded the first ship to sail around the world. For many years he had studied Columbus' sailing methods, maps and routes and in 1505 he went to sea.

In 1513 Magellan asked King Manuel's permission to sail to the Spice Islands which had been acquired by Spain in 1494. His best maps had convinced him that he could reach the islands by going around the southern tip of South America. He thought that that route would be shorter than the old route around the southern end of Africa and across the Pacific Ocean. Manuel refused.

For the next two years Magellan studied astronomy and navigation. Ruy Falesrio encouraged Magellan and influenced him to pursue his dream. In 1517 Magellan went back to Spain and presented what he had learned about the islands and navigation but Manuel still refused. A year later Magellan convinced Charles I of Spain to support his voyage. The king granted Magellan one fifth of the profits from the voyage.

Getting the ships ready and provisioned took more that a year. The voyage began on September 20, 1519 with the first port call in southern Spain. Magellan commanded a total of 241 men and a fleet of five ships. They sailed across the Atlantic and followed the South American coast landing in the bay where Rio de Janeiro now stands and remained there for two weeks. In late March 1520, they sailed southward seeking a passage to the Pacific Ocean but winter approached and they were forced to anchor at Puerto San Julian in what is now southern Argentina. During the winter a storm destroyed the Santiago. In addition, a mutiny erupted shortly after setting up winter quarters but on Oct. 18, 1520, the voyage resumed.

They were the first Europeans to sail across the Pacific, and it was far larger then anyone had imagined. They went for 98 days without sighting land, ran out of food and used almost all their water. They ate rats and sawdust to avoid starvation. Nineteen crew-members died before reaching Guam on March 6, 1521. Conflicts with the people of Guam and the nearby islanders prevented Magellan from fully resupplying his ships but they finally got enough food to set sail towards the Philippines.

They were docked in the Philippines for many weeks and got to know the natives well but on April 27, 1521, Magellan was killed when he took part in a battle between rival Filipino groups on the island of Mactan. After the battle only 110 of the original members remained. That was not enough to sail three ships so Conception was abandoned. The two remaining vessels sailed to the Spice Islands and were loaded for the return journey.

The Trindad sailed eastward to the Pacific Ocean but was caught in foul weather and lost more that half of her crew. The rest were forced to return to the Spice Islands where they were imprisoned by the Portuguese.

The Victoria returned to Spain but had experienced many hardship and many of the crew members died of malnutrition and starvation. On September 6, 1522, they reached Sanlucar de Barrameda nearly three years after the voyage started. Only Del Cano and 17 others made it back.

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