History | Culture | Science
A “Fiery” Eclipse Saved Columbus From Starvation
Columbus and his crew were running out of options — so they turned their eyes to the sky.
June 25, 1503
Two large ships hobbled around the bend of St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. One had a broken sail.
The other lurched to its side. Both were infested with termites and summer storms in the Caribbean had ravaged their hulls. The men aboard were bruised and battered, and eager to escape the wooden coffins. Most cursed themselves for having taken this mission.
The ships limped to shore and beached in the sand, doomed to never set sail again.
Their fleet captain, Christopher Columbus, stepped onto the chalky white sand and surveyed the damage — and their predicament.
He knew they’d be stranded for some time and his men knew too. Their faces said as much.
He ordered them to make camp. They dismantled parts of the ships and used them to build shelters.
Within two weeks, they were approached by the local Arawak tribe who were drawn in by their fires. The sailors had limited supplies and quickly made friends with the tribe. They dined together and exchanged goods — and were friends, for a time.
Two months later, it was clear that no ships were coming to rescue them. They bought a canoe from the Arawaks. Columbus’s co-captain, Diego, departed to find help. Their maps showed an island 108 miles away.
He took a crew of ten natives with him to help row day and night to get there — but it still felt like a suicide mission.
These sailors were in an extremely dangerous situation. Getting marooned was one of the most common occupational death sentences in their profession.
As weeks stretched into months, the outlook grew bleak. Diego was nowhere to be seen. Supplies were running thin. Near daily storms hit their camps and there was no sign of escape. Even worse, they were running out of goods to trade with the Arawak tribe.
Morale declined and mutiny loomed as several sailors acted out and began fighting. They’d grown to…