CHAPTER 12: The First Month at Sea after Departing the Bay of Horses
THE HAVEN we set out from we gave the name Vaya de Cavallos [Bay of Horses]. [Twelve years later, Indians led a detachment of De Soto's expedition to this cove of Apalachicola Bay, where scattered charcoal, hollowed-out logs that had been used for water troughs, etc., could still be seen.]
We sailed seven days among those waist-deep sounds without seeing any sign of the coast of the open sea. At the end of the seventh day we came to an island [probably St. Vincent's], close to the main. From my lead barge we saw five canoes approaching. When we went after them, the Indians abandoned them to us at the island. The other barges passed mine and stopped ahead at some houses on the island, where we found a lot of mullet and dried eggs of these fish, which were a grateful relief. After this repast, we proceeded a couple of leagues to a strait we discovered between the island and the coast which we named Sant Miguel [Saint Michael], its being that saint's day [September 29].
We passed through the strait and beached on the coast of the open sea. There we made sideboards out of the canoes I had confiscated, to raise our gunwales another half foot above water level.
Then we resumed our voyage, coasting [westward] toward the River of Palms [presumably thinking it closer or more certainly findable than their own ships to the south], our hunger and thirst growing daily more intense because our scant provisions were nearly exhausted and the water-bottles we had made had rotted. We wove in and out of occasional bays, which stretched far inland, but found them all shallow and dangerous.
For thirty days we went on like this, every once in a while catching sight of Indian fishermen - a poor, miserable lot.
The night of the thirtieth day, when our want of water had become insupportable, we heard a canoe coming. We stopped when we could make it out but, although we called, it went on. The night was too dark for pursuit, so we kept our course. Dawn brought us to a little island, where we touched to look for water, but there was none.
While we lay [in the lee] there at anchor, a great storm broke over us. For six days while it raged we dared not put out to sea. Its already having been five days since we had drunk, at the time the storm erupted, our extreme thirst forced us to drink salt water. Some drank so unrestrainedly that five suddenly died.
I state this briefly because I think it superfluous to tell in detail what we went through in those circumstances. Considering where we were and how little hope we had of relief, you may sufficiently imagine our sufferings.
Our thirst was killing us; the salt water was killing us. Rather than succumb right there, we commended ourselves to God, and put forth into the perilous sea as the storm still raged. We headed in the direction of the canoe we had seen the night we came here [back, off the Alabama coast]. The waves overwhelmed our barge many times this day, and none of us doubted that his death would come any minute.