Magellan's Crossing of the Pacific Ocean

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On 20 September 1519, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan led a Spanish expedition to find a western sea route to the Moluccas or Spice Islands of Indonesia. He set sail from Spain to West Africa and South America through the Atlantic Ocean and eventually crossed the Pacific Ocean, becoming the first European explorer to do so.

Atlantic Ocean and Mutiny

The fleet,  initially consisted of about 270 men and five ships, sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Southern Spain and crossed the Atlantic Ocean. A little more than a month later, they reached South America. Their ships sailed southward and stopped at Port San Julian where the crew mutinied on Easter Day in 1520. Magellan stopped the uprising, executed one of the captains, and left another mutinous captain behind.

Magellan sent Santiago to explore the route ahead but was shipwrecked after a terrible storm. The crew members of the ship were rescued and assigned among the remaining ships. When seasonal storms subsided five months later, the fleet left Port San Julian.

From Strait of Magellan to Pacific Ocean

On 21 October 1520, Magellan entered the strait that he had been seeking. The voyage through the Strait of Magellan was dangerous and the sailors continued to mistrust their leader. The crew of San Antonio forced its captain to desert and go back to Spain. Only three of the original five ships remained in the fleet.

On 28 November 1520, the Trinidad, Concepción, and Victoria entered the “Sea of the South.” Magellan and the rest of the crew did not have any idea about the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, assuming that the Pacific was just a sea that is just days long. The crew faced thirst and hunger—from feeding on rat-fouled biscuits to eating the leather off the yardarms—but through the determination of Magellan, they managed to cross the Pacific Ocean, spending almost four months in the sea. Magellan was the first European explorer to reach the Pacific from the Atlantic. Magellan named it Mar Pacifico (the Pacific Ocean) for its apparent peacefulness.

It took three months for the fleet to make its way slowly across Mar Pacifico. The fleet reached the Pacific Island of Guam in March 1521 and replenished their food stores. The fleet sailed on to the Philippine archipelago and landed on an uninhabited island of Homonhon. After repleneshing, they came near the island of Limasawa and met some locals whom they befriended. After landing on the island, they held the very first Catholic Mass in the Philippines, converting the locals to Christianity. On the island's highest hill, Magellan raised a cross and declared the entire archipelago under the possession of Spain, naming it the Islands of St. Lazarus.

Magellan pushed further and reached the island of Cebu, where he also befriended the locals and converted others, including some chieftains, to Christianity. Magellan learned that a group in the island of Mactan led by Lapulapu resisted the convertion. Confident of a swift victory with his European weapons, he himself led the attack against the Lapulapu's forces in what is known as the Battle of Mactan. The Mactanese fought fiercely and was able to defeat the outnumbered Europeans on 27 April 1521, eventually killing Magellan with a poison arrow.

The surviving men left the archipelago with the remaining two ships, reaching Moluccas on 5 November 1521. However, only the Victoria under the command of Juan Sebastián Elcano completed the voyage around the world, arriving in Spain on 6 September 1522. As the first ship to circumnavigate the globe, it brought with it a heavy cargo of spices but with only 18 men from the original crew including Antonio Pigafetta. Pigafetta’s journal contained the key record of what the crew encountered on their journey home.


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