Europeans saw Pacific Ocean for the first time 500 years ago
Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and the crews of his small fleet emerged from the strait at the southern tip of the Americas 500 years ago to become the first Europeans to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic. He named the vast, calm body of water Mar Pacifico, reflecting the stark contrast with their passage through the wild waters of the strait, which was later named after Magellan.
The navigator began the storied voyage in quest of a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands with five ships, departing from Spain on Aug 10, 1519. The voyage achieved its aim – and the first circumnavigation of the world in 1522 – but cost Magellan his life.
Magellan was convinced that he would lead his ships from the Atlantic to the southern sea by discovering a strait through the South American mainland. In 1520, days before finding the strait that separates Tierra del Fuego and the continental mainland, the Spanish captains mutinied against their Portuguese captain. Magellan crushed the revolt, executing one of the captains and leaving another ashore when his ship left to continue south.
According to History.com, only three ships entered the passage; one had been wrecked and another deserted. It took 38 days to navigate the treacherous strait, and 99 days to make the westward crossing across the Pacific. By the end, the men were out of food and chewed the leather parts of their gear to keep themselves alive. In late Mar 1521 they dropped anchor at the Philippine island of Cebú – only some 400 miles from the Spice Islands, now Indonesia. In fighting on Apr 27, Magellan was hit by a poisoned arrow and left to die by his retreating comrades.
The survivors, in two ships loaded to the hulls with spice, continued the journey. One was lost. The other, the Victoria, continued west under the command of Basque navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano. The vessel sailed across the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at the Spanish port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522, completing the round trip.
The feat endures with the naming of the fateful and storied strait after Magellan, and with the replica of Victoria. Built in 2012, Nao Victoria functions as a museum, arriving at ports made famous by Magellan’s expedition and at Tall Ship events.