Columbus

61912
Rodrigo de Triana is a look out serving on the Pinta, one of three ships on a voyage to the Americas lead by Christopher Columbus.

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1. Setting Sail

Palos de la Frontera is always beautiful in the evening, and today it is especially so. The dying sun paints the dusk with myriad hues of orange, crowning the waves with shimmering gold and streaking out its iridescence across the sky. As if it knows we are leaving, as if it is saying farewell. The harbour is a hive of activity, men running to and fro, their arms piled high with supplies and possessions. Shouting and cursing fills the air as a precarious pile of barrels topples over into the ocean. Wives cling tightly to their husbands, tears running over their cheeks with grubby children in tow. Stray dogs with their ribs visible through their fur weave in and out of the crowd, begging for scraps. I see a grizzled man pause for a second before furtively tossing one a piece of salted meat, glancing around to ensure his kind act went unnoticed. Bundles of ropes and netting are thrown from man to man, the feverish activity of the harbour heightening the nervous anticipation of the journey ahead.

The three great vessels rise serenely over the scene, their colossal hulls blocking out the sky, waves lapping hungrily at their sides. The Pinta, Santa Clara and Santa Maria, beckoning with open arms, calling us away to sea. I can just make out the men, hurrying across their decks, final preparations underway. That's when I see him. Christopher Columbus. Striding purposely towards the sea, robes curling behind him in the evening breeze, his auburn hair set afire by the burning light of the setting sun. The crowd parts for him as he makes his way to The Santa Maria, the biggest of the trio, its three masts nearly touching the clouds. He turns and momentarily looks back, before stepping onto the small boat that would take him to his ship. His arrival seems to have triggered something in the men and I sense it is time to depart. I turn back to my parents, waiting patiently to see me off, and kiss my mother tenderly on her cheek. My father's eyes are full of pride as I shake his hand and after a few, rushed promises I begin making my way over to the Pinta. 

As I draw nearer I see Cristobal Quintero, the owner of the ship, in heated discussion with the captain, Martin Pinzon. I pass the two, clutching tightly to my bundle of meagre possessions.

"Rodrigo de Triana?" a voice asks, and I spin round to see a hunched man clutching a sheet of paper in his hands.

"Yes, that's me." I say and he shakes his head in disapproval. 

"Last one," the man mutters, "You'd better get on board or they'll be leaving without you." Nerves twisting my insides I jump onto the nearest boat, causing it to rock giddily in the water. The boy manning the oars grumbles to himself before digging them into the water, propelling us out of the harbour and towards the sea. I wave to my parents one last time before turning my back and facing out towards the horizon.

When we arrive I climb hurriedly on board the Pinta and toss the boy a coin. All faces turn to me as I haul myself over the side.

"And here's our latecomer," booms a tall man with a tangled beard, "We nearly left without you." He claps a mammoth hand around my shoulder and I wince in pain at his strength. He steers me to the barracks talking in his deep, growling tones. He is the pilot, Cristobal Xalmiento, which, as he jokingly proclaims, means he is one of the most important members of the crew. I listen, dazed, as he spews sailor slang I can only begin to guess the meaning of.

When we arrive at my bunk he grips my arm so tightly I give out an involuntary gasp.

"I can see you're nervous, everyone is their first time at sea." he growls in a gravelly voice, "You'll do just fine son, you'll do just fine." And then he is striding away, leaving me alone and confused. I sit down heavily on my bunk and stash my belongings in the small chest at the foot of it. All of a sudden, I feel from the shift of the floor and the lurch of my stomach that we are away. I am leaving the only home I have ever known to travel thousands of miles into unchartered waters. I am embarking on a voyage I may never return from. In the empty confines of the barracks I curl up in the darkness and begin to cry.

 

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