CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, 1436-1506, V
Meanwhile, the four caravels of Columbus, denied access to the harbour, had been driven before the storm. They were separated one from the other, and disabled, but they succeeded in meeting together again, and by the 14th of July, the squall had carried them within sight of Jamaica. Arrived there, strong currents bore them towards the islands called the Queen's Garden, and then in the direction of east-south-east. The little flotilla contended for sixty days against the wind without making more than 210 miles, and at length was driven towards the coast of Cuba, which led to the discovery of Cayman and Pinos Islands.
Columbus then steered to the south-west, sailing upon seas hitherto unvisited by any European ship, and throwing himself once more into the course of discovery with all the passionate ardour of a navigator. Chance conducted him towards the southern coast of America; he discovered the island of Guanaja, on the 30th of July, and on the 14th of August he touched at Cape Honduras, that narrow strip of land, which, prolonged by the Isthmus of Panama, unites the two continents of America. Thus, for the second time Columbus, without being aware of it, approached the real soil of America. For more than nine months he followed the windings of these shores, in the face of all kinds of perils and difficulties, and succeeded in laying down the chart of the coast from the part since named Truxillo, as far as the Gulf of Darien. Each night he cast anchor, that he might not be driven far from the shore, and at length reached that eastern extremity of the coast where it ends abruptly in the Cape Gracias a Dios.
This cape was doubled on the 14th of September, but the ships encountered contrary winds so violent, that even the admiral, himself the oldest sailor of the crews, had never before experienced the like. He relates this terrible episode in his letter to the king of Spain in the following terms: "During eighty-four days the waves continued their assaults, nor did my eyes perceive sun, nor stars, nor any planet; the seams of my vessels gaped, my sails were torn; tackle, boats, rigging, all were lost; my sailors, ill and frightened, devoted themselves to the pious duties of religion; no one failed to promise pilgrimages, and all confessed to each other, thinking that each moment might prove their last. I have seen many tempests, but never have I experienced any of such duration and violence. Many of my men who passed for intrepid sailors, lost courage; but that which broke my heart, was the pain of my son, whose tender age added to my despair, and whom I saw the prey of greater suffering, greater torments, than fell to the lot of any one amongst us; but it was doubtless no other than God, who bestowed upon him such energy, that it was He alone who animated the courage, and reawakened the patience of the sailors under their severe toil; in a word, looking upon him, one might have fancied him a sailor who had grown old in contending with storms, an astonishing fact, almost incredible, but one which awakened some gleam of joy amidst the sorrows which overwhelmed me. I was ill, and several times I thought my last hour was near.... To complete my misery comes the thought that twenty years of service, of fatigues and perils, have brought me no profit, and I find myself to-day unpossessed of even a roof to shelter me in Spain, and forced to betake myself to an inn when I would obtain repose or food; and when there I often find myself unable to pay my reckoning." Do not these lines indicate clearly the intensity of sorrow which overwhelmed the soul of Columbus? In the midst of such dangers and anxieties, how could he preserve the energy needful to command an expedition?
Throughout the duration of the storm, the ships had been following the line of coast which successively bears the names of Honduras, Mosquito, Nicaragua, Costa-Rica, Veragua, and Panama, the twelve Limonare Islands being also discovered at this time, and at last, on the 25th of September, Columbus cast anchor between the small island of Huerta and the continent. On the 5th of October he again set sail, and after having taken the bearings of the Bay of Almirante, he anchored opposite to the village of Cariaz. There he remained until the 15th of October, the repairs of the vessels meanwhile going actively forward.