The Santa Maria

They found Columbus’s lead ship, the Santa Maria, which is described in my novel, Island Builders. Read that scene below:

— From Island Builders–

Although the Admiral had planned to explore a little further before returning to Guacanagarí to celebrate la Navidad, the Santa María had spent the day beating the winds and making long tacks off shore.

An hour before midnight, the watch was changed. Sebastian went to bed, dreaming of the bare, brown breasts of Taíno girls.

The new moon cast a limpid light upon the Niña, leading the way. In this infant moon, Juan de la Cosa, owner of the ship, breathed a sigh of relief. He knew the way back to the island. So why not catch some shut eye?

“Admiral, I make that to be where we should head,” recommended De la Cosa. “To save us several hours of tacking.”

“I would not venture there,” The Admiral replied. “There are many coral hidden in these parts.”

“We have sailed this pass before, and no coral did we encounter.”

The Admiral yawned. “Maintain a wide birth. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must sleep.”

Having resisted sleep for several days, the Admiral retired to his quarters and went to sleep. Now Juan de la Cosa yawned. The Niña led the way. They would arrive at the island with plenty of time to prepare for La Navidad.

After dozing off several times, the owner of the Santa María told the helmsman to take over, and only to rouse him if there was any change in weather. Then he lay down and resumed a dream he had been having before the middle watch was called, of a woman named Delilah with whom he was in love.

Soon the helmsman began to snore, thinking of the dream he had woken from, bathing in pure gold, with native women painting his sparkling body with their own breast milk, and wondered if he could return to the dream. Finding Sebastian, the helmsman instructed him to take the tiller for a moment or two.

So Sebastian, now one of the only men still awake on the burgeoning ship, assumed the helm and began to steer the craft by the stars. And he thought about the strange dreams he had been having, of a woman dressed in orange rinds, wailing for him to return home.

He steered the tillage around the cape, wondering of the dream’s omen. Waves licked the bow of the ship. The ocean soothed Sebastian’s newly acquired soul.

A drifting feeling roused him from his reveries, and the sleepy Sebastian heard the ground swell breaking close aboard. He tried to steer the craft but elicited a grinding noise as though a rusty knife was gutting a fish the size of the world.

A coral!

Quickly, he called for the Admiral, who appeared on the deck, followed by Juan de la Cosa. The helmsmen followed suit, and soon the calm night was broken by curses, imprecations, orders, and shouts. The Santa María had run adrift on a slab of coral and was drawing water.

“Master de la Cosa,” thundered the Admiral. “Haul in the ship’s boats, now towing astern. Yes. That one. The more men, the–”

Instead, Juan de la Cosa and some men pilled into the boat, dropped it into the water, and began to row to the Niña.

“Cowards,” cursed the Admiral.

“God will punish them,” said Sebastian. “All hands on deck.”

“Cut the mainmast,” ordered the Admiral.

“You heard him,” cried Sebastian. “Cut the mainmast, you mangy dogs.”

But the Santa María’s stern swung around so she lay parallel to the sea, each surge setting her once more onto the jagged coral.

The hull was filling with water.

Meanwhile, Vicente Yanez, the middle Pinzón brother and Captain of the Niña, had not allowed Juan de la Cosa to find board, instead ordering de la Cosa to return to the desperate Santa María. When de la Cosa arrived, he called up to the Admiral from his lifeboat, asking if they needed any assistance.

Seeing that the boat was lost, and no more could be done, the Admiral and his crew boarded the final lifeboat and left the Santa Maria to sink.

“I was merely going to get help,” explained Juan de la Cosa, dripping seawater. “Of course I would not abandon you.”

“God take you,” said the Admiral quietly, watching ship he had fallen in love with tear itself apart. “God take you.”

The cups were turned, welcoming Christmas.

At daybreak, Sebastian, an island interpreter, and the Converso, were sent to ask for Guacanagarí assistance. The young cacique immediately sent out hundreds of canoes and retrieved all the stored goods, which they set upon the beach before returning to help the crew.

“Those filthy savages will steal our food,” predicted the bearded sailor. “I’ll watch them!”

“Your beard steals more food than they,” mocked Sebastian. “By God’s will, these are the friends of the Castilians, and we must always treat them thusly.”

All Christmas day, the natives and Castilians worked together while the Admiral wept at the sight of the sinking ship. Once what was salvageable could be salvaged, Guacanagarí presented the sailors with two large houses to sleep in.

The Admiral clasped the hand of the young king. “You are loyal, without greed, and virtuous above all.”

And yet he cried still, for the loss of his lead ship was great indeed. As if the heavens were answering the grief in the Admiral’s heart, canoes pulled beside the sinking ship, and the natives held up bits of gold, which seemed to ease the Admiral’s suffering slightly.

Seeing that the yellow metal pleased his new friend, Guacanagarí informed the Admiral that if he saved but one hawk’s bell, the young cacique would bring him a slab of gold as big as his hand.

That night, the Taíno and Castilians dined on a feast of yams, lobster, and cassava bread. All rejoiced, for a long-lasting friendship had begun. Men and women danced, sang, and played drums.

After much merriment, Guacanagarí led the Castilians to a beautiful white beach, promising a surprise. Sebastian served as translator for the Admiral and Castilians.

“We welcome your friendship, men of Heaven,” said the young king. “May we always be friends.”

“Tell him, Sebastian, that we will always be friends,” requested the Admiral.

“Beyond those shores are the Caribs,” explained the young cacique. “They take our men, women, and children as slaves. They eat those who will not work. If you would help us defend ourselves, men of Heaven, we would be eternally grateful. We have given you our women and bread and labor. We seek only peace.”

The Admiral patted the young king on the back. “We are your friends, now and forever.”

Guacanagarí smiled, and then snapped his fingers. “Here is my present.”

A young man came forward and presented the Admiral with a great mask of golden ears and eyes.

“Merry Christmas,” cheered the Cacique. “May this mask bring you good luck.”