2015 Log Book

Following Columbus

2015 Log Book


Where Columbus First Set Foot in the Americas

Report of the Following Columbus Expedition

03-15 December 2015

This final report of the 2015 Following Columbus Expedition is being written as Captain David Calvert sails Destiny II home to Cat Island, Bahamas with historian Josiah Marvel and expedition leader Tim Ainley aboard. We have enjoyed a good south east breeze on the starboard tack for a steady eight knots with the Jumento islands slipping by on the horizon as we make way to the Santa Maria point of Long Island, and the final passage.

In conclusion, we assert that there are three strands of mutually reinforcing evidence that together point powerfully to Grand Turk, in today’s Turks and Caicos Islands, as the initial landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. The evidence is drawn from the records of Christopher Columbus’s maiden Atlantic crossing; from eyewitness testimonies and from other contemporary references to the place of his first landing; and his log of the ensuing exploration of the Lucayan Islands.

A wide range of observations by land and sea by the Following Columbus Expedition in November last year, 2014, and again this year validate the conclusion of the Grand Turk landfall.

The Grand Turk landfall theory is further sustained by modern computer simulations. In 1990, Roger A. Goldsmith and Dr. Philip L. Richardson, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, reported:

In summary we think there is ample evidence that westerly magnetic variation occurred in the vicinity of the West Indies and that it caused Columbus’ course to be set imperceptibly southward. Documenting the exact field of magnetic variation in the Atlantic and West Indies will permit us to infer how much Columbus was set southward and help reveal his first landfall. The evidence to date implies that Grand Turk is a reasonable choice for the first landfall based on the transatlantic voyage.

Numerical Simulations of Columbus’s Atlantic Crossings. 09 November 1990, p.39

The objective of the 2015 Following Columbus Expedition was to make a combined historical, archaeological and nautical examination of the latter part of Columbus’s navigation among the Lucayan Islands, for the purpose of corroborating the Grand Turk landing theory.

They included:

Searching for a datable Lucayan presence on Mayaguana, near Columbus’s inferred third and fourth anchorages,
.Learning more about the habits of the unique Bahamian Inagua parrot,
.Ultimately verifying the presence of potable water on the northern peninsula of Great Inagua (three ponds of sweet water just inland from Man of War Bay have been documented),
.Navigating from an estimated point north of the North West Point of Great Inagua, northward past Castle Island, just beyond the southwest cape of Acklins Island, to a point southeast of the Diana Bank, and then south southwest and due west towards the center of the Ragged Islands, figured to be Hog Cay, in time to permit a navigation south past the Ragged Islands proper to an anchorage over sand, in shallows, on the Columbus Bank.

On Mayaguana, we identified three sites inland from its south coast which an adverse wind prevented us from examining. We established that even though we could remark indications of a Lucayan presence on Booby Cay and the east coast of Mayaguana, we found no evidence of Lucayan habitation on this coast, exposed as it is to the trade winds. We acknowledge the existence of some eleven Lucayan sites on the Western half of Mayaguana which have never been dated. In the community of Abrahams Bay we found numerous wells of “hard water”, as in “drinkable in hard times”.

We have yet to find the remains of a Lucayan settlement near Abrahams Bay and Columbus’s third anchorage, the morning of 17 October, where he took on a limited supply of potable water at each of these two places.

On reaching Great Inagua, we hoped to find the green parrots which had caught Columbus’s eye. He had seen flocks which had obscured the sun. Numerous residents of Matthew Town informed us that the parrots had just migrated from their summer quarters in the many ganep trees which line the streets, causing much noise and annoyance. They had now completed their harvest of the fruit, however, and had flown north into the island’s unpeopled interior.

Henry Nixon, warden of the National Flamingo Park, did mention that a few late birds might still be around. This prompted Charles Laurence, our reporter, to take a stroll. The noise of three vigilant guard dogs which objected to his presence resulted in a squawk of indignation from above, and from the branches flew a small parrot bright in two shades of green. He seemed a stout little fellow, his wings flapping at high revs to bear him over the road and into a distant canopy.

Josiah Marvel and Captain Tim Ainley heading ashore at Ragged Island
Josiah Marvel and Captain Tim Ainley heading ashore at Ragged Island
The expedition historian at work aboard Destiny II
The expedition historian at work aboard Destiny II

We can confirm the presence of at least one Bahamas Inagua parrot. Mr. Nixon tells us that there are between 12 and 15 thousand, and that we should come back next August to view as many as we could wish.

In the absence of wind, we were obliged to motor at about 6 knots north towards Castle Island. On approaching the island, we noted that Acklins terminates in a very high bluff, descending abruptly to the water. This would be visible before Castle Island and could well have been the “green cape” of Fernandina as reported by Columbus. But on approach it became necessary to steer to port in order to round Castle Island, which in the failing daylight and faint moonlight could give the appearance of being an extension of Acklins.

Our reconstruction of this part of Columbus’s route follows below:

We note that the morning of 25 October, Columbus sailed, with an east wind, 13 miles south southwest and 29 miles west, to arrive at a point 13 miles from the Ragged Islands, permitting him to count their number at between seven and eight before steering south, in the direction of Cuba, to anchor south of the islands on the Columbus Bank.

All central Bahamas hypothesis figure the navigation from the north end of Long Cay/Fortune Island sailing from midnight of October 23rd to the late evening of October 24th, placing him slightly south of Diana Bank, in order to follow his recorded directions to the midpoint of the Ragged Islands. This central Bahamas track identifies the “green cape” as Cape Verde at the south tip of Long Island. How Columbus could go from here to just south of the Diana Bank remains an unresolved mystery at the heart of the central Bahamas landing hypothesis.

In other words, it takes Columbus 18 hours to sail 11 miles in order to have sight of the “green cape,” and then a further 12 hours to go 11 miles in the almost exactly opposite direction, all the while with the wind increasing to gale force but without changing its direction.

We can now reconstruct the Columbus route through Lucayan Islands from midnight of October 23rd to dusk of the 24th:

Columbus departs his anchorage near the north point of Great Inagua at midnight with the wind easterly. He stands to sea in order to clear the land and sails five and half hours west southwest at an estimated speed of slightly more than 6 knots. He makes 35 nautical miles.

At dawn of the 24th, the wind calmed, and it rained. Columbus spends some five and a half hours with little wind, steering west southwest, and makes 5 miles.

From that dawn of the 24th, having cleared Great Inagua, he is subject to a northward current for twelve hours. This bears him north some 15 miles. From 1 pm to 5:30 pm, we infer that the wind has shifted to blow from the south, gradually increasing in strength, announcing the passage of a cold front. Unable to continue his west southwest course, he sails north before a following wind.

The wind builds from “very loving” to gale force. “There was a very great storm cloud, and it was raining,” Columbus notes. We estimate that he sailed for 4 ½ hours at an average speed of 7 knots plus. This takes him 32 miles towards the north.

At this point, at sunset, 5.30 pm, the lookout sees the “green cape” of what Columbus thinks is the south west point of Fernandina, (Mayaguana). Columbus reckons that he is 19 miles southeast of it. We infer that he was approaching Castle Island.

Because of the force of the wind, Columbus strikes all of his sails, except the foresail and continues on with it alone. He passes Castle Island in the light of the waxing crescent moon, 17 days after full moon. The wind now blows dangerously hard and the fleet spends the night lying a-hull under bare poles, in the rain. We estimate that this places the fleet southeast of the Diana Bank, some 55 miles from the Ragged Islands, which Columbus approaches with an easterly wind the next day.

He navigates 13 miles west southwest, then turns due west for 29 miles until about 3 in the afternoon, when the lookouts see land. We believe that this places the fleet 13 miles east of Hog Cay, just north of the Raggeds.

Guided by the Lucayans, he turns south, skirting Great and Little Ragged Islands, and anchors 13 miles south in sand over the shallows of the Columbus Bank.

“He departed thence for Cuba,” records Las Casas in his 1550 paraphrase of Columbus’s logbook , “because by the signs the Indians were giving him, of its size and its gold and pearls, he was thinking that it was it, that is, Cipango (Japan).”

Respectfully submitted; Josiah Marvel and Charles Laurence.