La Arribada

Baiona is a village in northwestern Spain, just below Vigo. Its claim to fame was the product of circumstance, for it was there, on March 1st 1493, that Martin Pinzón’s caravel made landfall from the Americas—or as the Spaniards thought at the time, the Indies.

I’m in the business of tying loose ends right now for the final revisions to Clear Eyes, and that entails a couple of visits to Spain and Italy—the cherry on the cake will be a brief viewing of the original maps of the Venetian sailor Andrea Bianco, dated 1436. There are a couple of fascinating things on those maps, including an area labeled Questo Xe Mar de Baga.

Baga, or bagas, means berries in Portuguese and Spanish, and if this chart is to be believed, then the Portuguese sailors knew about the Sargasso Sea, where the berry-bearing floating seaweed grows, in the early part of the XVth century—and that is nothing short of amazing, because it means the Atlantic was explored well to the west of the Azores much earlier than is generally reported.

The Pinta was in very poor condition by the time it made port in Baiona. The two remaining caravels of Columbus’ fleet were separated in a fierce Atlantic storm off the Azores in mid-February 1492, and Pinzón’s ship limped into a Galician port, where the vessel was careened before sailing for Palos de la Frontera—it’s safe to assume it wouldn’t otherwise have made it to Pinzón’s home town, which is now twinned with Baiona.

Columbus fared little better, he made it to Lisbon with stripped masts—árbol seco, the Spanish called it. But he sailed past Cascais, the gateway to the Tagus Estuary, on March 4th, and therein lies Baiona’s claim to eternal glory, for it was here that the discoverers of the Americas first reached Spanish soil.

To celebrate Pinzón's achievement, The US sent an underwater glider to Baiona—it took 235 days to cross the Atlantic.

To celebrate Pinzón’s achievement, The US sent an underwater glider to Baiona—it took 235 days to cross the Atlantic.

The United States celebrated this achievement by deploying an underwater glider straight out of the SLOCUM program, a science fiction tale by Henry Stommel. He was an eclectic scientist who never got his doctorate but taught at Harvard and MIT. The imagined glider program involved the release of about one hundred million dollars worth of kit that tracked the world’s oceans—and in 2009, RU27 crossed the bridge from fiction to fact by crossing the Atlantic Ocean—it made landfall in Baiona on December 9th.

The Pinta stayed in Baiona for ten days, and then Pinzón sailed it home—he got to Palos on March 15th, the same day as Columbus—it’s astounding that they arrived only hours apart.

From a historical perspective, the trip home is at least as interesting as the journey out, so whereas most books on Columbus would finish with his triumphant arrival in the Indies, Clear Eyes goes well past that and deals with the intricate politics of his return—it ain’t over till it’s over.

The Sun was (in)famous for Page 3 girls, but Page 2 of the Spanish passport is an even bigger boob!

The Sun was (in)famous for Page 3 girls, but Page 2 of the Spanish passport is an even bigger boob!

The Galicians are children of a lesser God when it comes to the Kingdom of Spain—the good people of Baiona discovered a few years ago that the Spanish passport bears an image on the second page which is a slight to their town. Why? Because it shows the route of Columbus rather than Pinzón—the fleet shares the outbound route, but the return voyage ends up in… Lisbon.

The mayor of Baiona has made this a personal cause, but so far the government in Madrid has displayed a bad case of ‘merchant’s ear’. Much like the discovery of Australia by the Portuguese, where no one wants to change the narrative of Captain Cook.

And in Castile, no one fucks with Columbus.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

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