History : Aug-Sep 2015
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 19 GETTYIMAGES MANILA ACAPULCO Australia New Guinea Maluku Islands Mariana Islands Philippines Japan PACIFIC OCEAN PACIFIC OCEAN 1 2 3 4 June 21 they spotted a low rocky outcrop, keeping a safe distance to avoid running aground. This sail-shaped atoll was Okino- tori at latitude 20o N. It would be the last land they saw until reaching the Americas. Urdaneta’s plan was to reach a latitude of 39o N, where, according to his calcu- lations and knowledge, he believed they would find a favorable sea current to carry them quickly toward the Americas. He was right: The current is now known as the Kuroshio. Even so, Urdaneta twice ordered the ship to change course to 32o and then back to 39o. This prolonged the voyage but was essential to verify their longitude. By now the officers who had once doubted and even laughed at Urdaneta were so astonished by his skills that they gave their full backing to his every order. Inevitably, on what were long and mo- notonous voyages, some men fell sick and died, at the time costing the lives of up to half a ship’s crew. But Urdaneta’s careful preparations paid off. The ship was well stocked with legumes and coconuts, which provided some of the vitamin C needed to prevent scurvy, one of the main causes of death among mariners. Just 10 percent of the San Pedro’s crew died during the cros- sing and none of them from scurvy. In fact, when on September 18 they finally sighted Santa Rosa Island off the Californian coast, Urdaneta did not even need to stop and stock up on provisions or water. On Octo- ber 8, 1565, the San Pedro arrived safely in Mexico, at the port of Acapulco. The four long months of the crossing were behind them. They had done the impossible and finally discovered the return route from Asia to America. The Manila Galleons Andrés de Urdaneta’s remarkable voy- age established an important trade route between the Philippines and Acapulco. It supplied Spain with spices, porcelain, silk, and all manner of exotic goods drawn from India, China, and especially Southeast Asia. In exchange, Spain exported textiles, munitions, and, in particular, precious metals. Once a year passengers and goods set sail from Manila on board Spanish ships known as Manila Galleons. By fol- lowing the route discovered by Urdaneta, these ships reached Acapulco four or five months later. Urdaneta’s route continued to be used until the late 19th century, when the Suez Canal opened up a direct passage between Spain and Manila that took less than two months. Steamships ended the reliance on the Kuroshio but Urdaneta’s discovery remains a milestone in maritime navigation. —Juan José Sánchez Arreseigor BOOKS The Manila Galleon Jason Schoonover, Rolling Thunder Publishing, 2007. Learn more IN THE 16TH CENTURY several Spaniards crossed the Pacific westward. Among them were Magellan and Juan Sebastián del Cano, during their circumnavigation, and Álvaro de Saavedra and Ruy López de Villalobos, who sailed to the Moluccas. The problem was finding a return route unhampered by contrary currents and winds. 1 Magellan (1520-1521) Pushed by southeasterly winds Magellan crossed the Pacific from South America to the Mariana Islands in just three months. 3 De la Torre (1543) Bernardo de la Torre, pilot of López de Villalobos’s expedition, covered 2,600 miles in his failed attempt to find an east to west crossing. 2 Saavedra (1529) Sailing from Mexico to help Spaniards in the Moluccas, his attempt to return across the Pacific was prevented by headwinds. 4 Urdaneta (1565) By taking a more northerly route, Urdaneta found sea currents that allowed him to sail from Manila to Mexico in under four months.