The Voyage Of The Vizcaina

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Overview

Of all the great seafaring vessels of the Age of Discovery, not one has been recovered or even—given the lack of detailed contemporary descriptions—accurately represented. Then, in the mid-1990s, a sunken ship was found in a small, shallow gulf off the coast of Panama. Chronicling both dramatic history and present-day archaeological adventures, Klaus Brinkbäumer and Clemens Höges reveal this artifact to be not only the oldest shipwreck ever recovered in the Western Hemisphere but also very likely the remains of the Vizcaína, one of the ships Christopher Columbus took on his last trip to the New World. The Voyage of the Vizcaína gives us an exciting tale of exploration and discovery, and the startling truths behind Columbus’s final attempt to reach the East by going west.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR THE VOYAGE OF THE VIZCAÍNA

"Brings to the surface a fascinating portrait of one of the lesser-known adventures in the Age of Discovery."—THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Publishers Weekly
After his discovery of the New World, Columbus embarked on at least two more journeys to the Americas, the last of which remains shrouded in mystery. In the mid-1990s, divers discovered the wreck of a large ship just off the coast of Panama, fueling rumors that this might be the remains of one of the ships from Columbus's final voyage. Brinkbaumer and Hoges, journalists at Der Spiegel and amateur divers, traveled to Nombre de Dios, about 15 miles from Portobelo, where the ship went down, to report on this groundbreaking discovery and the politics surrounding it. Part archeological account, part biography, part adventure story and part cultural history, this lively and judicious account of the political intrigues and the excitement surrounding the discovery of the ship's remains offers fascinating reading. Brinkbaumer and Hoges vividly recreate Columbus's unsuccessful final voyages. Taking four ships, Columbus returned to the New World in search of more riches. Although he reached the Americas, his ships-victims of shipworms eating through the wood of the hulls-began to sink one by one. Columbus reported abandoning the Vizcaina near Portobelo. This is a cracking good tale of exploration, discovery and the politics that surround any archeological discovery. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
On his ill-fated fourth voyage to the Americas, Christopher Columbus's small fleet was devastated by voracious shipworms that bored holes in the hulls of his wooden crafts. In 1503, he was forced to abandon the infested and slowly sinking caravel Vizcaina off the coast of Panama. Journalists Brinkbaumer and Hoges (Der Spiegel) investigate the possible discovery of the Vizcaina wreck near Nombre de Dios, Panama, in the 1990s as well as related political and historical controversies. Discussing the shadowy world of nautical treasure hunters, the contentious history of Columbus scholarship, Columbus's troubled life and voyages, and the archaeological mystery of the Vizcaina, this potentially fascinating tale suffers from somewhat disjointed organization, an excess of seemingly irrelevant details, and awkward phrasing (possibly owing to a poor translation from the German). While historical adventure fans or Columbus buffs may be willing to overlook the uneven writing style and lack of storytelling focus, readers newly interested in Columbus would find Samuel Eliot Morison's classic Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus or Kirkpatrick Sale's The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy more appropriate reading. Suitable for larger public libraries.-Ingrid Levin, Florida Atlantic Univ. Libs., Jupiter Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Two German journalists pick apart the explorer's biography, paying particular attention to the ship he scuttled on his fourth and final voyage. As Brinkbaumer and Hoges point out, their volume is part of a series of projects, among them a television show and a documentary film, related to the still-submerged wreck off the Caribbean coast of Panama. If that ship is indeed the Vizca'na, it would be a stunning discovery, not just because it is one of Columbus's ships-the authors remind us that the great sailor lost nine vessels-but because it would be the first caravel ever found. Little is known about the design and construction of these swift ships, which played such a significant role in the Age of Exploration. Brinkbaumer and Hoges (who must have had an expense account to die for) visited just about every relevant site in the New and Old Worlds and interviewed just about everyone who has done research on Columbus. They present an engaging synthesis. Beginning with some details about the Vizca'na's discovery, including the controversy about who saw it first, they then launch into what becomes the text's substance: the story of Columbus and his four voyages, including careful examinations of the explorer's behavior as well as that of his men. It is not until very near the end that the authors return to the Vizca'na to explain what happened to it 400 years ago and to explore the myriad political factors that keep it under water. The prose is sometimes breathless and urgent, especially at the openings of chapters. The volume will perhaps prove of most value as a primer in Columbian studies; readers who know only that in 1492 he sailed the ocean blue will here find the rest of the story. Aswift, informed and balanced account of Columbus, his times, his voyages.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156031585
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/1/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 338
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

KLAUS BRINKBÄUMER writes for Der Spiegel magazine. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, he is an experienced sailor and diver. He lives in Germany.

CLEMENS HÖGES is a senior editor at Der Spiegel, where he has written extensively about underwater archaeology, seafaring, and piracy. He lives in Germany.


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Read an Excerpt

The Wreck in the Bay of Playa Damas
 
 
The village of Nombre de Dios has few inhabitants, slightly over three thousand; nobody seems to have made an accurate count. It has a whitewashed church, symbol and relic of the former colonial powers, and eight bars, most of them devoid of clientele. Signs reading “Se Vende” hang outside shacks and half-finished buildings; the signs look as if they have been hanging there for some time. Plastic chairs are scattered here and there under trees. The owners of the bars can be frequently found propped up along the counters of their establishments, drinking the beer themselves. There are no jobs to be had in Nombre de Dios, nor are there any tourists. The women wash clothes in the muddy waters of the local river. In sum, Nombre de Dios, which is situated on Panama’s Caribbean coast, about fifteen miles east of the larger town of Portobelo, seems to be on the wrong side of what some might call “civilization.”
 
           Nombre de Dios’s remoteness was doubtless one reason almost no one reacted when in late 2001 an American treasure hunter named Warren White posted an announcement on the Internet that he had found the Vizcaína, one of the ships that had gone on Christopher Columbus’s fourth, and final, expedition to the New World in 1502. White’s discovery made a few headlines—CNN offered a brief spot on it—but then, fairly quickly, things went quiet. One reason might have been that every year, it seems, someone somewhere announces a sensational discovery involving Columbus—a document, a ship’s bell, an original logbook, and even, occasionally, a shipwreck. Over time archaeologists and Columbus scholars have grown thick-skinned about these claims; most of the time they simply ignore them. For good reason: most turn out to be hoaxes. Treasure hunters routinely inflate the importance of their finds. After all, a cannon from one of Columbus’s ships would fetch significantly more on the open market than one from practically any other wreck. Moreover, Warren White did not help his cause. He had earned a reputation among archaeologists for being one of those treasure hunters who favored using explosives on wrecks, believing that this method more effectively and efficiently freed up the coins and gold hidden beneath the heavy timbers and sediment.
 
           White was not the first or only one to claim to have found the wreck, which, many say, local fishermen had known about for years—it was lying a couple of dozen feet below the surface. Another American expatriate living in Panama named James Norris, who was in the process of buying a dive center near Nombre de Dios called Diver’s Haven, felt he had earned that privilege. In the summer of 1996, Norris went scuba diving in various locations in the bay of Playa Damas, places where locals had assured him he would find the most fish—a draw for potential diving clients. He swam directly over the wreck, which, he said, he knew immediately was old. He told his son, who in turn—according to Norris—told Nilda Vázquez, a local real-estate agent and the original owner of Diver’s Haven. Nilda Vázquez, for her part, denied Norris’s claim of discovery. She maintained that she had heard about it from Warren White, while also insisting that she had been the one to tell White that it might be the Vizcaína. (At the time, Norris and Vazquez were involved in a bitter legal dispute over the purchase of Diver’s Haven.) Of the three claimants, Vázquez remains most intimately involved in the issue of discovery and ownership, as we shall see. In anycase, it is little wonder that historians and Columbus experts discounted the rumors surrounding the discovery of the wreck. Who would have had any reason to believe James Norris, embattled owner of Diver’s Haven, or Warren White, the treasure seeker from Miami, or a local real-estate agent named Nilda Vázquez, particularly when so many professionals have tried and failed to find vessels such as the Vizcaína?
 
           Almost everyone involved in underwater archaeological research has, at some point, gone in search of one of Columbus’s ships. They represent the Holy Grail of the Western Hemisphere. Columbus lost nine ships in the four voyages he made to the New World. There are clues as to where they might lie. For example, archaeologists know that the Santa María, Columbus’s flagship for the first voyage to America, sank on a calm night, while the crew and the Admiral of the Ocean Sea—the title Columbus had been given by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella—were asleep. One of the ship’s boys was at the helm as the Santa María drifted along the coast of Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, and then ran aground on a sandbank. Columbus used wood from the ship to build the first fortress in the New World, La Navidad, traces of which have been unearthed. However, no part of the Santa María’s hull has ever been found. Columbus lost the Gallega—another ship that went on his final voyage—in a battle against natives near the Río Belén, on the north side of what is now Panama, and approximately 125 miles due west of Nombre de Dios. For months researchers from Texas A&M University searched for the Gallega. They dredged the river and the estuary and at one point very nearly half the bay of Belén but came up empty-handed.
 
           Lacking physical evidence, experts know fairly little about what these ships looked like. Most depictions date from decades later and tended to be shaped by the artists’ imaginations. Most resemble the kind of ships that contemporary sailors would like to imagine went to sea in the fifteenth century. No constructional drawings survive—no detailed descriptions and no sketches.
 
           Nonetheless, some facts about these ships do exist. We know, for example, that the Santa María was a cumbersome but stable old tub known as a nao. Hard to maneuver, it was ill-suited for a voyage into unknown waters under variable winds. Columbus scholars have concluded that he generally liked to sail on caravels, ships measuring between sixty and seventy-two feet in length and featuring a mainsail, two or three smaller masts, and a small castle at the stern. He preferred them because they were comparatively fast and reliably stable. Unlike the Santa María, which could only sail straight before the wind—meaning with a tailwind—caravels could sail in crosswinds. On the other hand, caravels had disadvantages in terms of space; a crew as large as fifty had to live on a sixty-five-foot ship for an entire year; there was no head and no galley. Not even the Admiral of the Ocean Sea had his own cabin and was forced to sleep under the quarterdeck with the crew. But those facts represent nearly the totality of knowledge. Seafaring in the Age of Discovery, as it is called, remains a deep mystery. “We know more about Greek or Roman ships than about the ships of the discoverers,” said Filipe Castro, a nautical archaeologist at Texas A&M University.
 
           Wrecks from the period are so precious because, like all wrecks, they are time capsules; an entire era freezes the moment disaster befalls a ship. Therefore it would be wrong to say that no one took notice when Warren White announced he had discovered the Vizcaína. Some were waiting for exactly a discovery such as this. They may have doubted whether this actually was the Vizcaína, but it seemed excitingly plausible that it might be a caravel from the same period. And were that the case, it would be the first caravel ever found, offering answers to many of their questions: about how the ships were built, or the masts designed, or what kind of cannonry they carried, or how fast they could go, or how were they laden, or how the crew ate and slept. Were it authentic, the wreck off Nombre de Dios might reveal even more about the era, such as how the shipbuilders treated their wood and where the timber came from (indicating, for example, the state of trade relations between Spain and other European nations). Remains of the provisions on board would reveal how the sailors lived. From the ballast rocks on board, experts would be able to draw conclusions about the ship’s route (seafarers always bunkered ballast as and when required and usually collected heavy stones from beaches near to where they were anchored). Franck Goddio, a French marine explorer who is a celebrity among wreck divers, explained, “A sunken ship is like a well-corked message in a bottle from a long bygone era. During excavations on land, you will generally find more recent deposits above your actual objective. That often leads to utter confusion. But underwater, we have bundled information about a particular point in time.” To Goddio, wrecks are more than time capsules. They are “time machines.”
 
           The Nombre de Dios caravel would offer a view into the greatest era of exploration in human history, the age during which fears and superstitions were being replaced by knowledge; when experience and technology gained greater weight than literal interpretation of the Bible. Here was when the world began to mature into what we know it as today. If this wreck turned out to be the Vizcaína, some believe it would rival in significance the discovery of the Titanic, the Bismarck, the Bounty, the Whydah (the only documented pirate wreck ever discovered, off the coast of Cape Cod), the SS Central America (which contained California gold rush bounty), or any of the galleasses and galleons of the Spanish Armada.
 
           Wrecks tell tales—of dreams and tragedies, humility and megalomania. There could be no greater story than that of the rise and fall of Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, discoverer of the New World. His was a swashbuckling white-knuckle adventure, a tale of grand visions and equally grand illusions, the greatest imaginable triumph and the most poignant failure. That story, such as we have it today, has been reconstructed almost exclusively from evidence found in correspondence, court documents, and his log (not the original, which has been lost, but a later transcript). Were it truly the Vizcaína, the Nombre de Dios wreck could solve so many puzzles.
 
© 2004 Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Munchen und Spiegel-Buchverlag, Hamburg
English translation copyright © 2006 by Harcourt, Inc.
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
 
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Table of Contents

Contents
 
The Wreck in the Bay of Playa Damas  1
Man Without a Home, Man Without a Name  32
The Secret Behind the Great Enterprise  48
Monks and Slave Traders  80
Tierra, Tierra!  111
The Fallen Hero  150
The Last Voyage  198
Shipwrecks and Mutiny  233
A Ship Without a Name  260
Conclusion  285
Epilogue Remains of the Age  294
Translator’s Note  303
Selected Bibliography  305
Acknowledgments  309

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