National Geographic : 1986 Nov
this man they now hailed would die embit tered and deprived of the glory he sought. But those are other stories. While leading this rowing exploration, Columbus made note of two geographic fea tures that any candidate for San Salvador must display: "I was alarmed at seeing a large reef... which surrounded that entire island. And in between, it remained deep and a port for as many ships as there are in all Christendom, and the entrance of it very narrow." Looking for "where one could build a fort... I saw one piece of land that is made like an island even though it is not... which one could cut into an island in two days." On Samana, Jan and I quickly found this convincing clue to Guanahani. The island that is not one lies immediately to the east of the western bay; in fact, it closes the bay on that side (pages 586-7). To anyone ap proaching from the west, as we did and as we think Columbus did, it appears without question to be an island, separated from Sa mana proper by a narrow lagoon. Only when the small promontory at the southern end is rounded does one see with surprise that it is not an island at all, but a button hook peninsula. A narrow neck about 200 yards wide just north of the promontory is the logical place to make a real island of it. Rounding that promontory opens a four mile vista to the east, where two large cays stand out to the misty sea from the eastern end of Samana. The reef can be seen running the full length of view, and the expanse of water it shelters seems broad enough indeed to harbor all the ships of Columbus's Chris tendom-ten feet deep when we later slipped Zemi in through the narrow, 40-foot entrance near the southern cay. "I examined that whole port and after ward returned to the ship and set sail." How long did this rowing exploration take? Because of later fleet movements, speeds, and time estimates, no longer than six or seven hours is the fairest estimate, starting at dawn. On Samana this is easily accomplished by the heavy ships' boats, with time to swing them aboard using the large boom, and set sail. But on Watling, the candidates for both the large port and the Rum Cay's various hills seem to be separateislandswhen viewed from a ship at sea; Morison sees six and calls Rum Cay a "six-in-one island." The Columbus Research Tool (CRT), developed by ControlData Corporation,compares the number of islands, apparentor real, that rise when sailingfrom Watling andfrom Samana.Artist William H. Bond has translatedthe computer's circles of visibility into landscapesthat a sailor would see. All "islands"on the approachto Rum Cay (left) are on one heading-nodilemmafor Columbus. South of Samana (right)a true panoply appears; the CDC team located 117 islands in the group. The fleet made for the largest-the NortheastPoint of Acklins.