In 1519, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Spain with five ships — the Trinidad, the San Antonio, the Concepcion, the Victoria and the Santiago. Magellan’s goal was to sail west to find a new and faster route to the spice markets of the Indies.
His specific destination was the Moluccas, also known as the Spice Islands. He wasn’t in for smooth sailing, though.
He didn’t have a GPS unit or accurate maps to help him. He was an explorer in the truest sense of the word!
Three years later, only one ship — the Victoria — returned to Spain. It carried only 18 of the original 270 crew members who started the voyage.
The Victoria became the first ship to sail all the way around the world. Unfortunately, it achieved this feat without its leader.
Magellan was killed on April 27, 1521, in the Philippines during a battle with tribal natives. Although he didn’t finish the voyage, Magellan did see some incredible sights and make some important discoveries along the way.
For example, after a stop off the coast of Brazil, Magellan’s expedition searched for a route that would allow them to sail around the southern tip of South America. On November 1, 1520 (All Saints’ Day), they saw a strait and started their journey through it.
A strait is a narrow channel of water that a ship can use to navigate between two larger bodies of water. Straits are often important shipping channels.
However, they don’t have to be straight. If you look at a map of the Strait of Magellan, you’ll notice that it’s quite crooked!
Since he entered the strait on All Saints’ Day, Magellan named it Estrecho de Todos los Santos (“Strait of All Saints”). The name was later changed to Estrecho de Magallanes (“Strait of Magellan”) in his honor.
Magellan discovered that the strait he found connected the Atlantic Ocean to another ocean, which he named the Pacific Ocean because he thought it was calm and peaceful. The Pacific Ocean probably did seem peaceful, at least compared to the strait he had just passed through.
The 350-mile Strait of Magellan separates Chile from Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. Because of unpredictable winds and currents, as well as the narrowness of the channel, the Strait of Magellan can be very difficult to navigate safely.
It took Magellan’s expedition 38 days to pass through the strait. When they emerged into the Pacific Ocean, Magellan thought the Spice Islands were only two to three days away.
Like many explorers at that time, Magellan thought the Earth was much smaller than it really is. It actually took the expedition about four months to sail across the Pacific Ocean to the Spice Islands.