jueves, 30 de mayo de 2013

Juan Fernandez, Robinson Crusoe and the Manila Galleon

Juan Fernandez (c.1528/1530 - 1599) was a sailor born in Cartagena famous for having found a sea route that allowed the trip between El Callao (Peru) and Valparaiso (Chile) in a fraction of the time previously taken.

For years, the ships skirted the coast by sailing south against what is nowadays called the Humboldt stream. Completing the trip required three or more months. Juan Fernandez had much experience in this so slow and difficult navigation and decided to make a detour away from the coast. Thus he avoided the sea current and the trip time was reduced to only 30 days.

Between 1563 and 1574, Juan Fernandez also discovered the islands of St. Felix and St. Ambrosio and the archipelago that now carries his name.

The Juan Fernandez Islands are located over 600 km from the coast of Chile and consist of two main islands, Mas Afuera (Farther Away) and Mas a Tierra (Closer to Land), and several islets (see Note 1).


In 1703, during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1713), the English privateer and explorer William Dampier organized with the approval of the Admiralty an expedition to the Pacific to attack Spanish traffic there.

The second mate of one of the ships of this expedition, the Cinque Ports, was a privateer Scotsman named Alexander Selkirk (1676 -1721). The expedition was not a success and the captain of the Cinque Ports separated from Dampier.

In 1704, the Cinque Ports stopped at the uninhabited island of Mas Afuera to replenish water supplies. Due to differences with his captain on the condition of the ship (which actually sank soon after), Alexander Selkirk was abandoned on the island, where he spent four years and four months.

Daniel Defoe's novel The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719 is based on the experiences and the character of Alexander Selkirk.


Selkirk's rescue came in 1709 when another English privateer fleet made landfall on the island of Mas Afuera for getting supplies and recovering from scurvy. It consisted of two ships, the Duke, led by the leader of the expedition Woodes Rogers, being William Dampier the pilot, and the Duchesse.

Rogers named to Selkirk as Duke’s second and later on as captain of a captured Spanish ship, but that was soon returned after paying a ransom.

The expedition continued sailing north. At the height of the Baja California coast they captured one of the most coveted preys all over the seas, a Manila galleon, the Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación y Desengaño (see Note 2). In this fight Rogers was shot in the upper jaw what disfigured him.

A few days later, they located and got ready to capture also the Nuestra Señora de Begoña, the second galleon that was doing the Manila-Acapulco route that year. But the Begoña fought bravely and the Duke and the Duchess were damaged. They had to retire and the galleon continued her journey to Acapulco.

After having the three ships repaired, and being Selkirk the pilot of the captured galleon, they navigated towards Guam, where the Spanish governor welcomed them (he lacked of means of defence). They continued to Batavia, in Indonesia, then under Dutch rule. Rogers had surgery for his wound there.

The Duke and the Duchess returned to England by the route of the Cape of Good Hope. Selkirk was the pilot of the Duke. They reached the destination in October 1711 thus completing their circumnavigation.

Galleon Andalucía (2010)
Notes
(1) On January 1, 1966, in order to attract tourism, Chilean President Eduardo Frei renamed Robinson Crusoe to the Mas a Tierra Island, and Alexander Selkirk to the Mas Afuera Island.

(2) The Manila Galleon (or ship from China, or Acapulco galleon, or Silk ship) linked Manila to Acapulco between 1565 and 1815. It was an amazing feat of navigation having great economic and cultural impact. In its 250 years of existence, despite continuous attempts by its enemies, only 4 galleons were captured, all of them by the British (Cavendish captured the Santa Ana in 1587, Rogers to the Encarnación in 1709, Anson to the Covadonga in 1743 and Cornish to the Santísima Trinidad in 1762).

Bibliography and links
El galeón de Manila. William Lytle Schurz. Ediciones de Cultura Hispánica. Madrid 1992. English original edition: New York 1939
Juan Fernández. Wikipedia (English)
Juan Fernández. Wikipedia (Spanish)
Juan Fernández Islands. Wikipedia (English)
Archipiélago Juan Fernández. Wikipedia (Spanish)
Alexander Selkirk. Wikipedia (English)
Alejandro Selkirk. Wikipedia (Spanish)
Woodes Rogers. Wikipedia (English)
Woodes Rogers. Wikipedia (Spanish)