The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

this chieftain with golden banners must be identical with the magnificent prince of that island, mentioned by Marco Polo.*


CHAPTER VIII.
SHIPW.RECK.

[ 1492.]

On the morning of the 24th of December Columbus set sail from Port St. Thomas before' sunrise, and steered to the eastward, with an intention of anchoring at the harbor of the cacique Guacanagari. The wind was from the land, but so light as scarcely to fill the sails, and the ships made but little progress. At eleven o'clock at night, being Christmas eve, they were within a league or a league and a half of the residence of the cacique; and Columbus, who had hitherto kept watch, finding the sea calm and smooth, and the ship almost motionless, retired to rest, not having slept the preceding night. He was, in general, extremely wakeful on his coasting voyages, passing whole nights upon deck in all weathers; never trusting to the watchfulness of others, where there was any difficulty or danger to be provided against. In the present instance he felt perfectly secure; not merely on account of the profound calm, but because the boats on the preceding day, in their visit to the cacique, had reconnoitred the coast, and had reported that there were neither rocks nor shoals in their course.

No sooner had he retired than the steersman gave the helm in charge to one of the ship-boys, and went to sleep. This was in direct violation of an invariable order of the admiral, that the helm should never be intrusted to the boys. The rest of the mariners who had the watch took like advantage of the absence of Columbus, and in a little while the whole crew was buried in sleep. In the mean time the treacherous currents which run swiftly along this coast carried the vessel quietly, but with force, upon a sand-bank. The heedless boy had not noticed the breakers, although they made a roaring that might have been heard a league. No sooner, however, did he feel the

____________________
*
Journal of Columb. Navarrete, Colec., tom. i. Hist. del Almirante, cap. 32. Herrera, decad. i. lib. i. cap. 15, 16.

-146-

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