Ferdinand Magellan

This magazine is called Pacific Voyages and features both Pacific Islands as well as Pacific Voyages. There is no more legendary voyage than that of Ferdinand Magellan.

He is credited as the first man to circumnavigate the world. Yet he died on a beach in today’s Philippines, his body a pincushion of bamboo spears and arrows after having completed half the voyage.

Juan Sebastián Elcano, who traveled from Spain with Magellan, eventually made the full four-year round trip after Magellan died. So it must have been Elcano who was the first to circle the globe, yes? No. It’s a fellow you have never heard of. It was Enrique. Just Enrique, no last name.

So who’s this Magellan character who gets credit for the full—round-the-world record while only going halfway round? (sort of like me telling you about how I ran a four-minute mile in eight minutes) In fact, Magellan did travel nearly all the way around the world. He was short by about 200 miles. Hold on a hot minute, how the heck does this work?

In 1505 at the age of 25 Magellan enlisted in a fleet of 22 Portuguese ships and set off for India, which the Portuguese laid claim to. Magellan was in India for nearly eight years, returning in 1512. He then made another quick trip (one year) back to the Indian Ocean and the Spice Islands, or Molucca in today’s Malaysia.

How is it that Portugal claimed India? This is because in 1494, just two years after Cristoforo Colombo’s famous trip, Portugal and Spain asked the Pope to settle a dispute as to which country owned the world outside of Europe. Certainly it wasn’t the savages who lived in it. No, they thought that the world belonged to those who planted flags and insisted the natives bend the knee. So with the Treaty of Tordesillas https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Tordesillas the Spanish got the New World and the Portuguese got Africa, India and China. The Spanish thought that they had pulled a fast one on the Portuguese but when an expedition discovered Brazil, and that it was on the Portuguese side of the line, their smug smile faded some. In any case, saying you own half the world is easy. “Hey, look at me I own half the world!” Actually owning it? Well that’s a different story.

Half and half

In any case, Magellan returned home and attempted to convince the king that since the world was a sphere he could sail west and get to the Spice Islands—which the Portuguese were then exploiting. Magellan told the king that the Spice Islands were two or three days west of South America…maybe, probably, four days at most. The king wasn’t so sure so he said: “não.”

Map of the world early 1500s Note Zapangri (Japan) above the ship

Since exporters gotta explore, Magellan then petitioned the King of Spain, Charles I (whose grandmother Queen Isabella of Spain had had a big win with Columbus). He said si or more probably joat (Flemish) or ja (German) because he didn’t speak Spanish. Now Charles I of Spain was known as Charles V in the rest of Europe, which he essentially owned. He was one of the Hapsburgs with the famous pouty lip.

Charles l and V

Charles was born in Flanders (next to Holland). He was actually Austrian and held sway over most of Europe as he was the Holy Roman Emperor, even if Rome itself was long gone. His kingdom ran from Holland, the German states, Austria, France through Italy to Sicily and all the way to present day Venezuela. Venezuela? In the early 1500s? The governor in Venezuela was German, though technically Germany really didn’t exist for several hundred more years. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/11/03/venezuela-was-a-german-colony-for-almost-twenty-years-and-was-called-klein-venedig-little-venice/

Confusing sure, but like a gigantic Mormon family they could keep it all straight, though the Europeans spent a lot of time arguing with one war after another.

Mormons will eventually outnumber everyone else. There goes the coffee business,

So where was I? Oh yes, in 1519 Magellan set sail with five ships and 250-some men headed southwest hoping to find the bottom of South America. In one of the most stunning coincidences ever, he made it through the Straits of Magellan (what are the odds that he should arrive at the very place named for him?) and into the Pacific Ocean. He called this ocean, Mar Pacifico, or the Pacific Ocean, because it was a particularly calm day.

It was a rough passage through the Straits and three ships mutinied (one mutineer captain having his head chopped off and another marooned in Patagonia, which was so very far from a Costco). One ship turned back to Spain; the two mutineer’s ships sunk. After nearly four months at sea Magellan’s fleet of two, The Victoria, along with a smaller vessel stumbled onto Guam having missed hundreds of islands along the way. The crew was down to several dozen at this point, 30 having died of scurvy on the trip from South America (Covid cruise ships of the day). Rejuvenated on Guam they pressed on until arriving in the present day Philippines.

On Magellan’s second voyage he had brought Enrique from Molucca to Portugal as his personal valet (read slave) and this same person went with him on the third, westward voyage. Landing at an island in the Philippines, Enrique recognized the local language and realized that he was not far from home. Magellan was just 200 miles short of a full circumcision. So Magellan did sail almost all the way around the world but in two trips going opposite ways. Way to go Ferdinand! But then he met his puncturous demise on the beach. He was 41 years old. (Sure, I said circumcision just to give you an endorphic rush of intellectual competence. Felt good, yes?) And Enrique made it all the way home, so he was the very person first to sail around the world.

Ouch, heck, darn!!

The Victoria, loaded to the gunnels with spices: cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper, some of it more valuable than gold, sailed back to Spain with just 18 of the original crew. They were rich beyond measure but they had such a gruesome four-year voyage what with the head lopping and incessant funerals that they reported Magellan to be a terrible companion. One of the crew members had a more favorable viewpoint and considered the commander to be a great hero. This shipmate toured Europe with his chronical of the trip which cemented Magellan’s reputation as a gallant and gutsy legendary explorer.

It wasn’t until Sir Francis Drake made his voyage in the Golden Hind in 1580 that anyone circled the earth in one voyage. Drake, as you probably know, discovered Drakes Bay in Marin County…another spectacular coincidence, no?

If you have gotten this far you now get an Easter Egg. It’s a movie review. More will appear irregularly. These are movies you have never seen and are weird or ghastly beyond measure.

Film Review (this one weird and wonderful):

The Holy Mountain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmR0vi0ifzE

The Holy Mountain is a 1973 English language/Mexican surreal-fantasy film directed, written, produced, co-scored, co-edited by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky. He was also the set designer and costume designer. It grossed $95,858 on its release so if you didn’t see it that’s because almost no one did. I saw it but frankly was so high I only remember the collection of 700 testicles in jars.

The trailer says it’s: “Outside of filmmaking, theater and criticism.” Jodorowsky was a huge figure with a tiny subset of Berkeley and New York intellectual hippies when in 1970 he released El Topo, a film worthy of your attention as well. El Topo more or less made sense but The Holy Mountain doesn’t even attempt to tell a coherent story; at least I couldn’t tell what it was supposed to mean. It is however one of the most visually arresting uses of film stock and skinned rabbits I’ve ever seen. It looks like it cost millions and the truth of its production is a cherry on the top of this many-faceted ice cream sundae of cinematic delight.

It might take you days to get through it, but if you do let me know because I have never met anyone who has ever seen it besides me. Once you see it—look up who paid for it. It’s possible that nothing will ever amaze and thrill you as much finding out who that was. At least that was true for me.


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  • Bill Goss says:

    “Magellan was just 200 miles short of a full circumcision.”

    Great literature doesn’t get any better than the above.

    Loved the movie, a bit twisted, but solid stuff!

  • George Moore says:

    Great story! Not sure I’ll be watching, The Holy Mountain anytime soon after watching that trailer. Yikes! I did peek at who those famous investors in the the film were.

  • Tyler MacNiven says:

    “Four-minute mile in eight minutes”…”200 miles short of a full circumcision”…and an easter egg! This one is the gift that keeps on giving!

  • Mary Morrissey Parden says:

    When are you going to submit some of your Captain’s Log to NetFlix, Amazon or any medium where we can all binge-watch? Very worthy content Jamis, especially with your editorial comments!

  • ollie says:

    I will watch the movie later
    Right now i am stuffed with info
    Ill Be Back

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