The sailors watched with trepidation as lightning ripped a white streak through an angry sky. The wind beat the sea into a seething, blue hellscape. The Santa Maria rocked uneasily in the waves. The Niña and the Pinta, only a short distance ahead of the flagship, fared no better in the face of this approaching tempest.
Christopher Columbus had considered himself blessed to this point. He genuinely believed that his Lord had ordained him for this mission. The great navigator had crossed the ocean in just five weeks, and the sailing had been largely uneventful. Late the previous evening, Columbus had observed a distant light that appeared to indicate land. He had even asked a steward to confirm the sighting. After the discovery was verified, Columbus attempted to sleep for a few hours. However, he didn’t rouse to sailors calling out about the splendors of Japan or China.
A gale more ominous than any man from Genoa ever experienced had pulled Columbus from his restful slumber.
The dawn seemed to be totally lost in a whirlwind of dark clouds and foaming sea. The storm frequently hushed the uneasy chatter of the sailors with a cannonade of thunder. There were more than a few looks of disdain directed at Columbus, who had sailed his expedition directly into the jaws of this atmospheric beast.
In the gloom of the morning, Columbus believed he could see the faint form of land rising up from the dark sea. While the sailors aboard the Santa Maria scrambled from a massive wave that nearly crested the port gunwale, a very particular sound reached the ears of their Genoese leader.
The Pinta had fired one of her lombards. This signal affirmed that the crew of the smaller ship had also discerned land in the distance.
Christopher Columbus, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, had succeeded. He had reached Asia by sailing west, and now the great wealth of China, India, and Japan was within his grasp. He was certain that 1492 would be remembered as the year he changed the world.
The reverberation of the lombard also seemed to serve as the cue for a torrent of rain. The sailors were immediately drenched, and many cowered as a band of lightning briefly illuminated the sky with radiant veins of pearl.
Another wave battered the Santa Maria, and all aboard except Columbus forgot about the promise of land. The Admiral refused to leave any doubt to his discovery and decided to do whatever necessary to assure he received the credit due to him. He summoned Rodrigo de Escobedo, the secretary of the fleet.
“Our Lord may well wish we perish,” Columbus said, “and I must leave some record of my discovery.”
The two men sought the refuge of the aftcastle, and Columbus hastily wrote out on parchment all the details he could remember of the voyage to that point. This summary included a request that anyone finding the document do whatever necessary to deliver the proclamation of discovery to King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile.
As Columbus frantically wrote this testament, Rodrigo de Escobedo dutifully made a second copy. Despite the turbulence of the sea and the dismay of his crew, Columbus did not concern himself with the fate of the Santa Maria while he anxiously wrote his account. Each piece of parchment was placed inside of waxed cloth and sealed in an oak barrel. One barrel was immediately cast overboard into the roaring ocean, and the other was laboriously tied to the stern of the Santa Maria. Columbus held out hope that he would survive the storm. Retrieving one barrel would be difficult enough. He resolved to only cut the second barrel loose when he was certain all was lost.
On the shore of Guanahani, the local Cacica and a handful of men and women from her village watched a bizarre scene play out on the sea. The Cacica had recently had a dream about the gods coming down from the sky in great canoes to visit Guanahani. The details had largely slipped her mind, but she seemed to recall the visit was not fortuitous for her people. She had shared the dream with her sisters, and then largely forgot about the experience for a time.
The surf rushed up the beach and washed over the Cacica’s feet. She could plainly see the great canoes from her dream. Although these large canoes were somewhat far from land, the Cacica could see white vestiges of the clouds clung to the three dark shapes. The men and women from her village trembled at the ferocity of the approaching storm, and a few ran from the beach. The Cacica refused to leave the sand. If the gods had descended from the sky to seek the good people of Guanahani, the Cacica must be the first to offer greetings.
The strength of the storm seemed to scatter those great canoes – the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Niña – one moment and bring their wooden frames dangerously close together the next. Having at least attempted to secure his legacy, Columbus now redirected his attention to saving the greatest canoe – his flagship. The Santa Maria pitched back and forth in the sea and seemed to be dangerously low in the water whenever the carrack was between waves.
“Bring down the yardarm!” Columbus called out. His sailors hurried to collapse the mainsail before the storm could warrant any more damage to the canvas. This close to land, the ships simply needed to stay afloat throughout the remainder of the storm. Columbus knew those sails would be desperately needed to seek out gold as soon as the tempest abided.
Columbus ordered other sailors to bring any unnecessary cargo from the hold to be thrown overboard. The ship needed to be made lighter to better ride the violent waves. This would also create space for the great amount of spices that the Santa Maria would undoubtedly deliver to Spain.
There was a terrible crash. Columbus rushed to the forecastle for fear his flagship had struck a shoal. The reality was far more disastrous.
The Niña and Pinta, brought together at the provocation of the sea, had collided. The bow of the Niña had careened into the port side of the Pinta. Columbus watched as both ships seemed to briefly become one, and the great navigator fretfully wondered if one or both might survive this calamity.
As the sea whipped the caravels apart, water rushed into the Pinta through a gaping hole in her hull. The sailors of the Santa Maria cried out as the Pinta capsized within seconds and disappeared into the raging sea.
Sailors were thrown from the Niña as the stern of the ship suddenly and awkwardly rose from the water. Columbus could see that the damage to the front of the ship had been too great, and soon the Niña joined her sister at the bottom of the ocean.
A great burst from the sea washed over the Santa Maria, sweeping several sailors into the tormented waters. Columbus collapsed onto the planks of the forecastle, and several sailors did the same. The crew of the Santa Maria cried out prayers to their Lord. Columbus knew the ship was now at a vulnerable point between waves.
“Oh Lord, let us reach this new land,” Columbus shouted, “and I vow to dedicate this place to our holy savior.”
Columbus remembered that one oak barrel was tied to the aftcastle. As he moved from the sorrowful collection of soaked sailors to release this barrel, a massive wave jolted the Santa Maria. With one great movement, the ship rolled to starboard and disappeared from the pages of history.
The Cacica stood on her beach and remained dry. The storm — a juracan typical for this season — had scattered her people and crushed the great canoes from the sky. However, the Cacica could see the storm was moving east, and there would be no landfall. She summoned the men and women from her village and announced that sacrifices must be made to the gods, as the storm had been carried away from Guanahani.
Branches were collected for burning, and a great fire was made on the beach. The Cacica and several others noticed a strange shape wash up on the shore. The mysterious object appeared to be rounded on each end and made of wood but was wildly unfamiliar in appearance to the good people of Guanahani. Several men and women wondered if this was a possession of the gods that should be pushed back into the sea.
The Cacica thought for a long time about the unspoken parts of her dream before answering.
“This strange object has been given to us by the gods for burning,” the Cacica finally said, “and I believe we are much better off having not been visited by the great canoes.”
S.S. Sanderson lurks in the dark corners of the internet, always ready to pounce with a well placed word. S.S. Sanderson writes flash fiction and lives a life that looks better on paper, and you can follow this journey on Twitter @SSSanderson