CHAPTER 56: My Voyage Home

AFTER TWO MONTHS' rest in Mexico City, I wanted to get back to these kingdoms but, when about to embark [at Veracruz] in October, a storm blew up which capsized the ship, and she was lost. So I decided to stay on for the winter, a boisterous season in those parts for navigation.

Dorantes and I left Mexico City during Lent [1537] to catch an early spring sailing from Veracruz and had to wait till Palm Sunday for a wind. We went aboard Palm Sunday and then had to wait another fifteen days for the wind to resume. The ship leaked so badly that I transferred to one of two other vessels ready to depart, but Dorantes remained on the leaky one.

At last, on April 10, the three ships cleared port and sailed 150 leagues. Two of them were leaking alarmingly; one night, they ceased to keep company with the ship I rode. We afterwards learned that their pilots and skippers dared not go farther and put back into Veracruz without warning us. When my ship pulled into the Harbor at Havana on May 4, we waited for the other ships until June 2, when we went on in dread of falling in with French pirates who had taken three Spanish vessels a few days before. What took us, instead, was a violent storm at the island of Bermuda. Those who pass there from time to time say such storms are fairly regular. We thought ourselves lost one whole night when, to our relief, the storm subsided with morning, and we continued our course.

[The stopover at Santo Domingo is not mentioned. Obviously, the Joint Report, which Cabeza de Vaca delivered to the Audiencia there had been composed in Mexico City - possibly a duplicate of the report to the Viceroy that has been lost.]

In twenty-nine days out of Havana we had sailed 1,100 leagues, supposedly the distance to the Azores and, sure enough, next morning we passed the island of Corvo, but, as we did, fell in with a French ship. She took up the chase at noon, bringing along a Portuguese caravel captured earlier. That evening we made out nine more sail, but they were so far away we could not tell whether they were Portuguese or French.

After nightfall the Frenchmen got within lombard shot of us, and we stole from our course in the dark, hoping to evade him. Three or four times we did this. He got near enough to us once to see us, and fired. He could have taken us, either then or at his leisure next morning. I will never forget my gratitude to the Almighty when, with the sunrise, we recognized the nine sail closing in to be of the fleet of Portugal. I gave thanks to our Lord for His shielding hand against the perils of land and sea alike.

As soon as the Frenchman identified the nine sail, he let go the caravel which carried a cargo of Negroes, to make us think the caravel was Portuguese so we might wait for her. On casting her off, the Frenchman told her pilot and skipper that we were French and under his convoy. Suddenly sixty oars sprouted from the Frenchman and he moved out with incredible speed. The caravel went to the galleon and informed the commander that both we and the racing ship were French. The fleet therefore thought we might be bearing down upon them as we drew nigh, and bore up for us in battle formation. When we had converged close enough, we hailed them; and the discovery that we were friends was also the discovery that they had been duped into letting the pirate get away. Four caravels were sent in pursuit.

When the galleon came alongside, the commander, Diego de Silveira, called out to our captain: "Whence come ye, and what may be your merchandise?"

"From New Spain, laden with silver and gold."

"How much?"

"Three thousand castellanos."

"Ye do truly come passing rich, and such a sorry ship - sorrier artillery. Chee! That French son of a bitch missed a luscious morsel! Now mind that ye stick to my rear, that I may, with God's help, get you to Spain."

The caravels did not keep up their pursuit for long and came back. The Frenchman was too fast for them but, also, they hated to leave the fleet, which was guarding three spice-laden ships. So we made the island of Terceira and languished there fifteen days imbibing refreshment while awaiting the arrival of another Portuguese merchantman coming with a cargo from India to join the three spice ships and their convoy.

Time ran out and it did not show, so we left with the fleet and anchored in the port of Lisbon on August 9, on the eve of the day of our master Sant Laurencio, 1537.