Little Bits of History

Twisted Terrifying Trip

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 1, 2015
Mao of the southern tip of South America

Map of the southern tip of South America

November 1, 1520: Ferdinand Magellan’s ships enter a precarious stretch of water. Magellan, a Portuguese sailor christened Fernão de Magalhães in his native tongue, sailed for King Charles I of Spain. His goal was to sail around the globe and to that end, his ship left Europe behind as they set forth from Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 20, 1519. There were five ships sailing together at the outset. Magellan was in command of La Tinidad. The plan was to reach the Americas and then sail southward. The northwest passage, while promising, had not been located and the surest way to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic was around the tip of South America. By the time they had reached this point in their trip, they had survived a mutiny and one ship had abandoned the venture and returned to Spain.

As they approached the waters on All Saints’ Day, according to the Catholic calendar, the original name of the passage was Estrecho de Todos los Santos, or Strait of All Saints. Other names were Patagonian Strait and Victoria Strait, in honor of the first ship to enter. Today, in honor of his navigational skills, the passage is known as the Strait of Magellan. The waterway separates South America to the north from Tierra del Fuego to the south. It is an important natural passage between the two oceans. It is also treacherous to navigate. Two of the ships were sent ahead to explore what was next while the other two held back.

The trip through the Strait was 373 miles and the currents and storms were not kind. The San Antonio, captained by Vasco Gómez deserted and left for Spain on November 20. The three remaining ships forged ahead and on November 28 they entered the relative calm and vast expanse of water on the other side. Magellan called it Mar Pacifico and he and his crew were the first Europeans to reach the western side of Tierra del Fuego. The Strait is now part of Chile but the archipelago making up Tierra del Fuego is split between Chile and Argentina.

On the Atlantic side of the Strait, there are semidiurnal macrotides. This means the spring tides can range from 23 to 29.5 feet. On the Pacific side, the tides are mixed and mainly semidiurnal with spring tides ranging from 3.5 to 4 feet. There is enormous tidal energy potential in the Strait. Since the weather and navigation outside the strait is even more problematic, and since the trip is much longer if one sails completely around Tierra del Fuego, many ships still use the strait today. The last year for which figures are available is 2008. In that year there were 571 Chilean ships and 1,681 non-Chilean ships which used the passageway. All ships going through the strait must be piloted.

Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. – Abraham Lincoln

We need – and should encourage and honour – not only discoverers of facts hitherto unknown but explorers of ideas and rethinkers of values. – Walter Moberly

In any field, find the strangest thing and then explore it. – John Archibald Wheeler

Explorers have to be ready to die lost. – Russell Hoban

Also on this day: Michigan’s Bridge – In 1957, Mackinac Bridge opened.
Saint Nick – In 1894, Tsar Nicholas II began his reign.
When Harry Met Oscar (and Griselio) – In 1950, President Truman survived an assassination attempt.
A Little Learning – In 1886, Ananda College was founded.
Tsunami Destroyed Lisbon –  In 1755, Lisbon was nearly destroyed.



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