WHY COLUMBUS CAME – A SUMMARY
Written and Edited by F. Carrington Weems II
Curiosity? New trade route to the spice islands of the Far East? Of course, but there were other reasons that enabled him to make his trip at this time. Emanuel Chrysolares and Jacobus Angelus rediscovered and translated Claudius Ptolemaeus’ eight volume “Geographia” from Greek to Latin in 1406. Ptolemy’s great work originated in 160 A.D. A German scholar, Nicolaus Donis, made a set of maps to accompany the text. In 1450, the Gutenburg printing press was invented. Over the next 30 years or more 7 folio editions of the “Geographia” were printed and widely distributed. The world came to accept Ptolemy’s geographic concepts as proven fact.
Then came the development of a ship capable of making long ocean voyages, the caravel, which allowed the Portuguese to dominate the sea from 1415 to 1499. This was also largely due to the navigational skills and leadership of Prince Henry, the son of King Joao I, the Duke of Viseu and the Governor of Algarve. Prince Henry established in Sarges a central place, an admiralty office, a maritime academy and navigation center to record and study new information from recent voyages. This was also to develop new theories and project and plan yet longer and more probing voyages principally down the West Coast of Africa, and to seek a sea route to the Far East. Portuguese sailors rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. The race to find the shortest route to India and the Far East had begun. In 1490, Martin Behaim made a globe showing the distance between Europe and Japan to be 2,400 to 3,000 miles instead of 10,600 miles.
Columbus now had everything he needed to venture west. The compass had been developed and was in general use, and he had the astrolabe to plot latitude. He had printed charts and maps, albeit they were incorrect. He had secured financing from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to build the strongest, fastest, and most maneuverable ships available at that time, the caravels, which were capable of long ocean voyages.
The typical caravel was rigged with three masts, each carrying lateen sails which were like the small sport “Sunfish” of today. They were, therefore, called “Caravela Latina.” They were admirable in a bear to windward in a moderate sea. However, in heavier weather, the “Lateen” rig is awkward, labor intensive, and inefficient. Columbus knowing that he was going to have a prevailing trade wind from the northeast for his voyage west, sailed to the Canary Island where he rerigged the Nina using two square sails on the main and foremasts. This was called “Caravela Redondo.” Square sails perform extremely well in wind coming from dead astern or from that quarter. The Pinta was already “Redondo” rigged.”
Now, comes the big question, what kind of ship was the Santa Maria? Scholars disagree. Some say she was a large caravel with a redondo rig on the fore and main masts. Others say she was a carrack which is wider, had deeper draft then the caravel, and is high ended with three masts. Carracks were well developed at this time. Columbus referred to her simply as “La Nao” which means “the ship” in Latin. Some say she was 100 tons. Others say she was 80 to 90 tons with a length of 80 feet (24 meters).
Columbus landed on Guanahani on October 12, 1492, and renamed it San Salvador, then Cuba, and finally Hispaniola on his first voyage. He did not know that he had discovered a new land. He believed he had found islands off the southeast coast of Asia or Japan. The Santa Maria ran perilously aground in a gale off the north coast of Hispaniola (Haiti) on Christmas night in 1492. It was abandoned, establishing a settlement of 38 men with food, ammunition and stores for one year. The Pinta commanded by Martin Alonso Pinzon had disappeared on November 21. Columbus was left with only the Nina in which he set sail for Spain on January 4, 1493 connecting with Pinzon and the Pinta on January 6. Columbus sailed back 40 miles to safe anchorage where he and Pinzon quarreled in a bitter scene aboard the Nina. Finally, resolving their differences at least well enough to call it a truce, the two ships again set sail for Spain on January 16, 1493. The first weeks were smooth sailing, followed by storms that seriously threatened to drown these brave mariners. On February 18, Columbus at last cast anchor at Santa Maria in the Azores. On February 24, he set sail for Spain. More storms assailed him. At dawn on March 4, he recognized the Rock of Sintra and entered the TagusRiver. He was received by the King of Portugal on March 9 with full honors. Columbus sailed on to an enthusiastic welcome at Palos on March 15, and was joined by Pinzon that same day. Pinzon had sought refuge at Bayona near Vigo where he sent a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, which was loyal to Columbus and the discovery. Pinzon was totally exhausted and died on March 20. Columbus also wrote the king and the queen a letter. They responded on March 30 from Barcelona asking him to come to court at once, fearing that the King of Portugal would steal a march on the discovery. At the end of April 1493, Columbus was a hero, despite a few flaws in his character. He was named the “Christ-Bearer” as well, and “Colonizer” of a new world, but didn’t know it.
Columbus made three more voyages to the New World: September 25, 1493; May 30, 1498 and May 9, 1502. Columbus was a dreamer who believed he had been divinely chosen. At times, his sanity was in question. But, he was strong and in spite of the odds, successful. His geography was a mixture of scientific truth and wild fantasy. It is, therefore, not clear if he ever realized during his lifetime that he had not reached the Far East and Asia, and instead found a rich, new, virgin territory, which the cartographer, Martin Waldsemueller first called “America” in 1507-1513.
Columbus made his will on May 19, 1506 and died the next day in Valladolid, Spain. He was buried without and unusual expression of public sorrow, with no mention of his end by historian or chronologist or even by his friend, Peter Martyr, an important 15-16th century histographer, until 10 years after the Admiral’s death. He died then in relative oblivion, but his discoveries began the Spanish Entrada, the plunder and the ultimate development of the New World, our homeland.
MODELS FROM THE WEEMS COLLECTION –
A PERSONAL VISION
Ship models make an eloquent statement about regional maritime economies, radical changes in world trading patterns, and the collision of great civilizations. World history is reborn and interpreted in these quality reproductions.”
“I saw this quote in England some time ago,” wrote collector F. Carrington Weems. “I don’t know who said it, but I totally agree.” A ship model of good quality is a well-crafted work of art as well as serious three-dimensional historical representation of water craft. A variety of endeavors important to mankind were pursued in, over, under and across the sea…Each fine model tells its own story. It is a marriage of art, science, engineering and history.”
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TO VIEW CARRINGTON WEEMS TOUR AT THE MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN HISTORY
OF ORIGINS AND INFLUENCES, FIVE CENTURIES OF SHIPPING AND MAPPING
Sincere interest in historical developments and the gradual evolution of better and better shipping methods led to my becoming a collector. I love the way these ships look. They stir the imagination. It takes very little expertise to appreciate the incredible craftsmanship. The pride of ownership of a fine model is extraordinary, and to have a one-of-a-kind is special. If I had the room and the money, I would own several hundred of these beauties. One can never have enough.
These models have now become separate entities with lives of their own, reaching out to captivate all those who have an interest. It was in this spirit that I was most proud to lend a portion of this collection to further enhance the dedication and opening of what became a truly great institution, the Texas Seaport Museum.
“There are basically six kinds of ships: warships, ocean liners, cargo vessels, work boats (tugboats), fishing boats and yachts. These ships protect our shores, pursue political objectives, conduct world trade, harvest our seas, transport people across the oceans, and provide sport and recreation. To show the evolution of each of these categories is the object of my collection.”
“Sovereign of the Seas”
“The Royal William”
The American Frigate “Boston”
The American Frigate “Essex”
The American Frigate “Philadelphia”
The Confederate Raider “C.S.S. Alabama”
The Battleship “U.S.S. Texas” (BB-35) “The Mighty T”
“Our Most Famous Texan”
The Battleship “U.S.S. Arizona”
The “U.S.S. Constitution”
World War II Destroyer “Modeste”
“Texas Navy Brig”
The Dutch Master “Friesland”
Cunard Turbine-Driven Quadruple Screw Atlantic Liner “Mauretania”
The White Star Lines “Olympic”
The American Ocean Liner The “S.S. United States”
“Rob’t E. Lee”
The “New World”
American Extreme Clipper Ship “Comet”
The American Extreme Clipper Ship “Champion of the Seas”
“Rye Harbor Ketch”
Antique Ship in a Bottle
Standard Contemporary Tug
The Shrimp Trawler “Captain Frank”
Diorama of a Whaling Scene
“Steam Harbor Launch”
Two Masted Royal Yacht
Open Speed Boat