The Spanish outfitted Columbus with a very modest expedition of three ships and ninety men because they did not expect Columbus to reach Asia. It was the ultimate low risk/high reward venture. Columbus, however, believed that after about a six week voyage west of the Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa, the last known port to take on water and food, he would sight the islands off the east coast of Asia. Six weeks was also the limit to the amount of water that could be stored in the space available on ships of that time.
About five weeks into the trip, Columbus, buoyed by the sight of drift wood and birds flying overhead, promised the men they would see land in three days. At 2 a.m. on the morning of the third day, October 12, 1492, a lookout saw the moon reflecting off white cliffs. Columbus called the island San Salvador, but we are not sure about the exact location of that island today.
Columbus believed he was in the Indies, known today as the East Indies, an island chain off the coast of Asia. We know he was wrong. He was 10,000 miles away from his intended destination, in what we now call the West Indies. Had it not been for the accidental “discovery” of America, Columbus and everyone with him would have died somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. It is the greatest example of serendipity in world history.
There is an island in the West Indies called San Salvador, but they changed their name in 1925 to increase tourism. In 1992, National Geographic launched an extensive investigation and decided that Samana Cay was most likely Columbus’ San Salvador. What is for certain is that Columbus, though he did not understand it fully, had changed the world.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.