Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Voyages of One Amerigo Vespucci and His Loyal Coxswain


I, Renalfo Petturino, am the coxswain of the flagship for Sr.Vespucci, the "Girmand." This begins my account of our voyage in the Fall of 1499 to the Americas. Throngs of people from the surrounding towns crowded the dock to see us off and to wish us good fortune on our voyage. Caught up in the excitement, the deckhands and sailors gladly loaded all the food, livestock, water, weapons, clothing, chests, and other items needed for the long voyage to a foreign shore. Wives and relatives came to bid us farewell and see us off. Most of us are in our 20's and have never been more than 10 miles from home. We were as raw as you could possibly imagine, but eager to embark on the incredible journey set before us. None of us felt any terror, as we were under the command of one of the greatest sea faring explorers ever, Amerigo Vespucci, and we felt like nothing could stop us.

Amerigo came on board and shouted, "All hands make ready to get under way!" I took my spot on the steering platform and got ready for the next group of orders to come from his mouth. All the deck hands were busy untying the anchor knots and cranking the wheel to release the anchors from the sandy depths up to the hull to ready the ship for sea. The sails were unfurled at his command. The ship was now ready to sail and Vespucci ordered me to steer course 090 and head out into the Atlantic on our way to land somewhere in Brazil. We were the lead ship in our column followed by 3 smaller vessels carrying soldiers and munitions should it be necessary to defend ourselves as we ventured westward towards what Christopher Columbus called, the "New World."

October 4, 1499:

We are sailing west at course 160 towards the coast of Brazil at 4 knots with wind from the west at 12 knots. Just completed another 14 hour shift as coxswain of Amerigo's flagship. We have had perfect sailing conditions so far and I hope this continues for the balance of our 2 month voyage. I sincerely doubt it will stay sunny with a light surf and moderate winds for the duration of the voyage, however. After sitting down to enjoy dinner, I along with several other officers discussed the progress of our voyage and what may lie ahead. I am suddenly feeling very tired. I should lie down and get some shuteye while we continue our westerly push towards the "New World."

Well, I had just fallen asleep when I was abruptly awakened by the rough shake of a deck hand. "Get your butt on deck," he growled. I bolted to the deck to see all of the ship's gunners running to open up the cannon ball storage area and dashing downstairs to load the ten 64pdr cannons and the two 10pdrs that were mounted on deck. I rushed to my position, and took out my spyglass. In the distance I saw the flag of a pirate ship! Sr. Vespucci emerged from his cabin and ordered the sails to be laid out into the wind for more speed. The pirates opened fire on us! I am ordered by Vespucci, who is following the flight of the cannonballs, to put the ship hard to starboard. Thankfully, they missed by 40 feet. We shot back, hitting the pirates mid ship, causing them to turn hard to port and retreat. We all celebrated our efforts and victory, however, some are angry that we did not sink the pirates' ship. Fortunately we did not sustain any damage.

November 1st 1499:

We have been on the ship for a month and a half and the conditions on board are starting to deteriorate. The food has begun to spoil and some of the men are complaining of stomach aches. That is not the worst of it, as we have started to run out of fresh water. We have had to resort to rationing. Drinking sea water would be a terrible alternative; I don't know how the body would be able to take that. The conditions are becoming unsanitary. There is waste stinking up the bilge of the vessel and inside the cargo bay. We had occasionally dropped sail to let everybody dive off the boat for a short swim, however when a deck hand lost his leg to a hungry shark we were not anxious to go swimming anymore. We are all very smelly but there is nothing we can do about it until we reach land. I pray none of us become ill. I am beginning to miss home.

Several of the younger men have started talking about mutiny if we do not reach the Brazilian coast by the 21st . We all know that mutiny is punishable by death. When a squealer informs Sr. Vespucci about the impending uprising, the instigators are strung up as a message to all of us.

Sr. Vespucci ordered me to change course by 10 degrees. This course is supposed to get us to the mainland. I remain confident in the captain and feel we will reach land soon. I dream about finding many treasures, but I have been wrong before; so all we can do is hope.

December 3rd 1499:

"LAND HO!" shouted the look-out. Everyone ran to the bow except me, because I had to steer the ship so that we would not hit an un-charted shoal and tear apart the keel. Sr. Vespucci signaled the other 3 ships to form up, and we sailed towards a good spot to lay anchor and go ashore. We found a place in a secluded bay to lay anchor. About 40 of us went ashore with the captain to scout out the landscape and look for fresh water, while the other ships sent soldiers ashore to protect us from the possibility of attack by savages.

As we spread out across the beach and moved into the forest, someone spied movement ahead. Suddenly we saw several painted men in a clearing. The one adorned with feathers and large brilliant necklaces we assumed to be the leader. Sr. Vespucci communicated using hand motions which the natives seemed to understand. They left us and returned later with many gifts including items made of gold. Excited by thoughts of a fortune waiting for us nearby, we implored them to take us to the gold. In exchange for the gold we would give them a spy glass, three horses, plus some gunpowder. Excited by the spy glass that allowed them to see far into the horizon, the horses that ran like the wind and the "magic" powder, they took us to a cave carved out of a mountain. In the cave were objects of solid gold along with glistening gemstones. Several of the sailors returned to the ship to gather the chests to fill with our new found treasures. We would fill our vessels with water, fresh food and treasure and return to Spain in a few days.

Suddenly, without warning, angry savages popped out from behind the trees shooting darts at us from hollow reeds. Instantly the soldiers responded with swords and gunfire. Within moments the aggressors are decimated. We are then ordered to massacre the entire tribe, which we did, and headed back to the ships to count up our haul.

The tally for our bounty was a cache of bows and arrows, 9,000 items of gold, chests of jewels, several pythons and other animals, exotic fruit and fauna and many unusual items which added up to an entire hold of treasure for Ferdinand and Isabella. We then set sail for Spain. Once again I was steering Sr.Vespucci's flagship.

Near the end of my shift the captain emerged from his cabin. He approached me and thanked me for my diligent work maintaining course, avoiding the rocks and maneuvering the ship away from the pirates. I expressed my gratitude for his kind words and how honored I was to serve under him. I told Sr. Vespucci that I would do whatever it took to keep the ship and the men safe from harm whether it be rocks or cannons, to which he was very supportive and grateful.

Using the compass and the astrolabe, I made some tiny adjustments to our course, to keep us away from drifiting towards Africa and maintainig a heading towards Spain and home.

February 3rd 1500:

We sight the harbor of Cadiz, Spain so we hoist our flags. Our flags signal to those on shore that we are sons of Spain returning from a successful expedition to the "New World". As we get nearer to the port, church bells begin to ring and the docks fill with hundreds of men, women and children. The men on board can't contain their excitement as they search the shore for their familes who are waiting for us to pull in and offload. We lay anchor at the dock and coil the ropes around the pilings of the dock.

The crew jumps to attention as Amerigo Vespucci comes on deck. With a snap of a salute and three cheers from his crew, the captain descends the gangplank and into a waiting carriage that will take him to the palace. Behind him will follow the endless caravan of carts carrying the treasures from the "New World". Once the sailors have secured the ship and its cargo, they rush into the arms of their families. I, too will finally get to see my family after 5 long months at sea.

Sr. Vespucci instructs me to accompany him to see the king and queen. We arrive at the palace and are escorted to a huge ballroom. After bowing deeply, we tell them of the success of our mission. We tell them of the treasures that we have brought home, of the gold, the jewels, the exotic animals, fruits, flowers and unique weapons. We sadly recount the loss of the 15 men killed by savages and by sickness. We are pleased to hear that the king and queen consider our voyage a success.

Afterwards we go and see each of the men to give them their share of the treasure. The payment seems so small for all of the sacrifices made by the men and their families over the last five months. The greatest honor of all is given to me by Amerigo, a ship all my own to captain as part of his fleet. I am overwhelmed. One journey has ended only as the beginning of a new one.


Vespucci is most well known for having America named after him, hence America coming from Amerigo. He described in detail the natives of Brazil, he discovered never before seen lands and acquired knowledge and wealth for both Portugal and Spain. His published diaries sold better than those of Christopher Columbus. Unfortunately Amerigo Vespucci died at the age of 58 from malaria.