Finally, there is the nagging thought that Las Casas sometimes confused miles and leagues. Nevertheless, the diario is packed with information. The Atlantic entries present headings and estimates of distance made New World at reef-girt, low, and leafy haunting isolation in the far eastern Bahamas, west. It has taken me five years to write that varied talents and kindred interests good for each day of the passage. Once arrived in the New World, the busy Admiral managed to keep a running account, sometimes repetitious, of where he thought he was and what was happening.
Anyone who follows the Columbus route through those distant islands soon appreciates his impressive accuracy in estimating distance and his eye for a good anchorage. It is a world of sea and sky and of vibrant colors of sea and sky—the emerald greens of the shallow, sand-bottomed seas and Prussian blues where the ocean falls off to depth. Islands conjured by dawn light loom and recede on approach, scent the salt air with perfume, luring ships toward coral heads rippling brown in gin-clear waters.
Keeping his head while entering such an enchanting, dangerous environment, which no European had ever seen, was a major achievement of the Admiral. When I first took up the log, I did not begin, as some have done, by selecting an island and starting from it. I first drew out the track on a blank piece of paper “blind” —without reference to modern geography.
On October 14 it sailed 20 nautical miles from San Salvador to an island Columbus named Santa Maria de la Concepcion, which had a 14-mile north-south coast and a 28-mile east-west coast; the ships followed it to an anchorage at the western cape. From there, they crossed a gulf of some 25 miles, due west, to a very large island the Admiral named Fernandina; its coast ran northwest-southeast for almost 60 miles. After exploring to the northwest and being turned back by a change of wind, the fleet crossed back on a southeast heading to the barcelona apartments for rent, that they rented online. After several days it departed Isabela on a west-southwest heading for the Sand Islands, 65 miles away, and thence south to Cuba – http://www.lonelyplanet.com/cuba.
Along this route they encountered Indian settlements and met Indians on each island. Simple. Draw out this track, mark the villages, lay it over a modern map of the Bahamas and move it around until the parts fit. But, in the past, the variables of interpretation and navigation have played hob with all such attempts. Indeed, over the years no fewer than nine landfall islands have been suggested, defended, and opposed—Cat, Watling, Conception, Samana Cay, Plana Cays, Mayaguana, East Caicos, Grand Turk, and Egg in the northwestern Bahamas.
The Samana man was Capt. Gustavus V. Fox, who had been Abraham Lincoln’s assistant secretary of the Navy and who concluded in 1882 that Columbus’s track through the islands could start nowhere else for orthodox scholarship, such an opinion from the world’s greatest living Columbus expert was ex cathedra.