Armada de Molucca

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The Armada de Molucca was the name of the Spanish fleet led by Ferdinand Magellan in the first expedition to sail to the Spice Islands from Europe and the first world circumnavigation. The fleet sailed from Spain in 1519 across the Atlantic and then Pacific Oceans. After Magellan's death in the Philippines in 1521, Juan Sebastian Elcano took command of the fleet which arrived in the Spice Islands a few months later, and led the expedition back to Spain across the Indian Ocean where they arrived in 1522.

The fleet, provided by King Charles V, included five ships: the Trinidad (110 tons, crew 55) under Magellan's command, the San Antonio (120 tons; crew 60) commanded by Juan de Cartageña, the Concepcion (90 tons, crew 45) commanded by Gaspar de Quesada, the Santiago (75 tons, crew 32) commanded by Juan Rodriguez Serrano and the Victoria (85 tons, crew 43) commanded by Luiz Mendoza, which carried supplies and provisions. The Santiago was a caravel, while the others were rated as carracks (Spanish "carraca" or "nao"; Portuguese "nau").[1]

The five ships departed from Seville on 10 August 1519 and left Spain on 20 September 1519. They traversed the Atlantic, then rounded the southern tip of South America through the Strait of Magellan, and then sailed the Pacific Ocean, stopping over in Guam before arriving in the Philippines in April 1521 and finally the Spice Islands on 6 November 1521. It took them over two years to reach the Moluccas since they departed from Spain, and with only two of the original ships remaining (Trinidad and Victoria). On 6 September 1522, the Victoria returned to Spain, led by Juan Sebastian Elcano, one of the two ships to survive the voyage, and the only one to circumnavigate the world.[2] San Antonio deserted the fleet somewhere during the crossing of the strait of Magellan, and returned to Spain on November 20, 1520.[2]

The voyage[edit]

Construction and provisions[edit]

The expedition, funded largely by the Spanish Crown, provided both 5 ships and supplies for two years of travel. The fleet was to be called Armada de Molucca, after the Indonesian name for the Spice Islands. The ships were mostly black, due to the tar covering most of their surface. Though King Charles V was supposed to pay for the fleet he was deeply in debt, and he turned to the House of Fugger. The official accounting of the expedition put the cost at 8,751,125 maravedis, including the ships, provisions, and salaries. Food was a hugely important part of the provisioning. It cost 1,252,909 maravedis, almost as much as the cost of the ships. Four-fifths of the food on the ship consisted of just two items – wine and hardtack.

The fleet also carried flour and salted meat. Some of the ships' meat came in the form of livestock; the ship carried seven cows and three pigs. Cheese, almonds, mustard, and figs were also present.[3] Carne de Membrillo, made from quince, was a delicacy enjoyed by captains that unknowingly aided in the prevention of scurvy.

Crossing the Atlantic[edit]

On 10 August 1519, the five ships under Magellan's command – Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Santiago and Victoria – left Seville and descended the Guadalquivir River to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the river. There they remained more than five weeks. Finally they set sail on 20 September 1519 and left Spain. The fleet made its way down the coast of Africa for a few weeks, but when storms began to batter the ships the Armada set out for Rio.[clarification needed] On 29 November 1519 they arrived at Cape Saint Augustine. They continued their search for Rio before finally arriving December 13. The next leg of their journey, though a short distance compared to the journey they would eventually complete, was fraught with storms and bad luck, and took almost a year to complete. They also lost their first ship, Santiago, to a storm, though the entire crew survived.

Strait of Magellan[edit]

The Strait of Magellan cuts through the southern tip of South America connecting the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

At 52°S latitude on 21 October 1520, the fleet reached Cape Virgenes and concluded they had found the passage, because the waters were brine and deep inland. Four ships began an arduous trip through the 373-mile (600 km) long passage that Magellan called the Estrecho (Canal) de Todos los Santos ("All Saints' Channel"), because the fleet travelled through it on 1 November or All Saints' Day. The strait is now named the Strait of Magellan. During the dangerous navigation of the strait they lost their second ship, San Antonio, but this time to mutiny. They continued on through the strait, and emerged into the Pacific Ocean on November 28.

Pacific and Spice Islands[edit]

Heading northwest, the crew reached the equator on 13 February 1521. On 6 March they reached the Marianas and Guam. Magellan called Guam the Isla de las Velas ("Island of Sails") because they saw a lot of sailboats. They renamed it to Isla de los Ladrones (Island of Thieves) because many of Trinidad's small boats were stolen there. On 17 March Magellan reached the island of Homonhon in the Philippines, with 150 crew left. Members of his expedition became the first Spaniards to reach the Philippine archipelago, but they were not the first Europeans.[4]

It took over half a year of wandering the Philippines before the Armada de Molucca finally found the spice Islands. During this time they lost their third ship, Concepción, which they burned due to the lack of men left to sail it. On 6 November 1521 they arrived.

Return to Spain[edit]

The two remaining ships, laden with valuable spices, attempted to return to Spain by sailing westwards. However, as they left the Spice Islands, the Trinidad began to take on water. The crew tried to discover and repair the leak, but failed. They concluded that Trinidad would need to spend considerable time being overhauled, but the small Victoria was not large enough to accommodate all the surviving crew. As a result, Victoria with some of the crew sailed west for Spain. Several weeks later, Trinidad departed and attempted to return to Spain via the Pacific route. This attempt failed. Trinidad was captured by the Portuguese, and was eventually wrecked in a storm while at anchor under Portuguese control.

Victoria set sail via the Indian Ocean route home on 21 December, commanded by Juan Sebastián Elcano. By 6 May the Victoria rounded the Cape of Good Hope, with only rice for rations. Twenty crewmen died of starvation before Elcano put into Cape Verde, a Portuguese holding, where he abandoned 13 more crew on 9 July in fear of losing his cargo of 26 tons of spices (cloves and cinnamon).

On 6 September 1522, Elcano and the remaining crew of Magellan's voyage arrived in Spain aboard the last ship in the fleet, Victoria, almost exactly three years after they departed. Magellan had not intended to circumnavigate the world, only to find a secure way through which the Spanish ships could navigate to the Spice Islands; it was Elcano who, after Magellan's death, decided to push westward, thereby completing the first voyage around the entire Earth.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bergreen, Laurence (2003). Over the Edge of the World. 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022: HaperCollins Publishers Inc.
  2. ^ a b Murphy, Patrick J.; Coye, Ray W. (2013). Mutiny and Its Bounty: Leadership Lessons from the Age of Discovery. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300170283. Archived from the original on 2015-06-27.
  3. ^ Vial, Ignacio Fernandez (2001). La Primera Vuelta al Mundo: La Nao Victoria. Servilla: Munoz Moya Editores.
  4. ^ Suárez 1999, p. 138