The route of Christopher Columbus

The route that Christopher Columbus had undertaken during his first voyage to the New Indies had represented an incredible achievement, enabling this seasoned European naval commander to reliably chart the newfound lands (of what he believed was east Asia) and provide the foundation for the incoming waves of exploration, colonization, and eventual conquest of the Americas. During his famous journey, he carefully explored several islands of the Caribbean, discovered the presence of native tribes, confirming the presence of local gold reserves and fertile lands that he claimed for the Spanish crown.

Columbus's route was precisely recorded, giving Spain the upper hand in the following journeys across the Atlantic. The records of the route of his original journey also greatly helped Columbus itself during his following three voyages, especially the second journey that consisted of the large fleet that carried personnel and resources for the foundation of the first European settlement in the Americas.

The route

Even though he believed in his navigational calculations (that grossly underestimated the size of earth, leading him to believe a journey to eastern Asia will be a short one), since he was sailing into the unknown, Columbus has spent considerable effort in maintaining detailed records about his position on the Atlantic Ocean and the coastal charts of the newly discovered islands. The separate records and maps were also created by other captains in his fleet (on ships Pinta and Nina) and by the cartographer and owner of the fleet's flagship Santa Maria, Juan de la Cosa.

The first fleet of Christopher Columbus that sailed across the Atlantic was crewed with 93 sailors, craftsmen, artisans, and officers – 41 on Santa Maria, 26 on La Pinta, and 26 on La Niña.

Between the start and end of the journey, the three ships of the Columbus fleet experienced many events. Here are the most important points about the route Columbus made on his first crossing of the Atlantic:

  • 3 August 1492 – Columbus departs the Castilian coastal town Palos de la Frontera with three ships, large flagship Santa Maria and two smaller reinforced ships Pinta and Nina.

  • 6 August 1492 – Just days after setting sail, the rudder of Pinta broke under unknown circumstances. Columbus redirected his fleet to the Canary Islands by suspecting sabotage by the ship's captain, who was unhappy with the Crown's orders to donate his ship on his dangerous voyage.

  • 9 August 1492 – The fleet arrived at the Canary Islands, where they remained for repairs, upgrades and filled cargo with provisions.

  • 6 September 1492 – The journey westward resumed, casting the fleet into the unknown open Atlantic Ocean that nobody has sailed across before this point.

  • 13 September 1492 – During a long Atlantic crossing, Columbus discovered the effect of magnetic declination, in which the compass stopped pointing directly to the North Star. He described this effect to his worried crew as a natural phenomenon, claiming that the compass has always pointed not toward a star but to some unknown point on the Earth.

  • 7 October 1492 – After four weeks in the open ocean, the fleet spotted large flocks of birds that traveled westward. The crew saw this event as a good sign, and Columbus adjusts the direction of his ships.

  • 12 October 1492 – On the night of October 12, 1492, La Pinta sailor Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodriguez Bermejo) spotted land. Columbus named this island San Salvador (modern Bahamas or Turks and Caicos) and later claimed he was the first one who saw it.

    • Charting of islands Plana Cays, Fortune Island, and Long Island (named by Columbus as San Salvador, Santa Maria, Isabela, and Fernandina)
  • 28 October 1492 – Landing in Cuba

    • Charting of the coast near modern settlements of Bahina Bariay, Malagueta, Manati, Nuevitas, Cayo CryzmCruz, Tanamo, Mata and Pt. Guayacanes)
  • 5 December 1492 – Landing at Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti)

    • Charted the coast between its most northeastern part to the Golfo de las Flechas.
  • 25 December 1492 – The flagship of the fleet, Santa Maria, ran into the sandbank during the night both Columbus and the main pilot retired to sleep, leaving the control over the ship in untrained hands. The ship was quickly evacuated and stripped from cargo.

    • The wood from the Santa Maria was repurposed in the founding of the first European garrison settlement at La Navidad.
  • 15 January 1493 – After the small settlement of La Navidad was built, Columbus transferred to Nina and ordered a return home.

  • 13 February 1493 – Strong storm causes Pinta and Nina to lose track of each other.

  • 15 February 1493 – Columbus finally spots the Azores.

  • 17 February 1493 – Anchoring near the Santa Maria Island

    • A large part of Columbus's crew visited the island to pray at the local church, but that led to their capture and eventual release by the Santa Maria captain, João de Castanheira.
  • 23 February 1493 – After getting his crew back, Columbus left the Azores and pointed Nina toward Spain, but a few days later, another storm quickly sets him off course.

  • 4 March 1493 – Columbus finally reaches the port of Lisbon, Portugal, where he finds out that the previous storm has destroyed more than 100 ships.

    • He stayed in Lisbon and Vale do Paraíso, where Portugal's King tried to accuse him of breaking the 1479 Treaty of Alcáçovas.
  • 15 March 1493 – Little more than seven months after the start of his journey, Columbus finally returned to Barcelona, Spain, to the hero's welcome.