There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #6

The sailors have harvested as much wood as they can from the corpse of la Santa Maria, and building has begun. It’s an awkward-looking square taking shape on the beach, just above the high-water line. I’m trying to picture the men from three ships fitting into the bones of one, and I wonder. What’s the point of this, other than to mark Colón’s claim on this land, on this people?
~”So The Taino Call It”

Whaddaya know? Back in the fall of 2012, I ran a series of blog posts talking about the real history in my alternate history novella “So The Taino Call It.” Recently there’s been stuff in the news that calls for an update.

Archaeologist Barry Clifford claims to have found the wreckage of the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus’s flagship, off the northern coast of Haiti and has asked the Haitian government for permission to salvage the ship. According to Clifford, “all the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus’ famous flagship…” He also claims that this is an urgent matter, stating that since he first found the ship in 2003, the wreckage has been looted.

I find this fascinating, partly because I’m a sucker for history in general, including the maritime kind, and I love it when old stuff is found, but also because I got to know a little bit about this ship when writing “So The Taino Call It.”

The Santa Maria is one of the most famous ships in ocean-going history, taking Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic and jump starting European colonialism/exploration, an event that the world is still recovering from/taking advantage of. The ship was built in northeastern Spain and is thought to have been a medium-sized carrack (what my Portuguese narrator calls a nau). There are no records concerning the ship’s statistics, but it’s estimated that it was about fifty-eight feet long on deck and weighed approximately one hundred tons. The boat had three masts and a single deck.

As I mentioned in my first post on the real history in my alt history,  carracks/naus were the largest European ships of the day and well-suited to ocean voyages. It wasn’t until the Santa Maria began noodling around the islands in the western Atlantic that it ran into trouble.

A drawing of the Nina, Pinta & the Santa Maria (in the middle) taken from the Journal of Christopher Columbus

A drawing of the Niña, Pinta & the Santa Maria (center) taken from the Journal of Christopher Columbus, purportedly drawn by the man himself. As you can see, the Santa Maria was much larger than the other two ships. – click to embiggen

According to Columbus’s journal, on December 25, 1492,

“It pleased our Lord that, at twelve o’clock at night, when the Admiral had retired to rest, and when all had fallen asleep, seeing that it was a dead calm and the sea like glass, the tiller being in the hands of a boy, the current carried the ship on one of the sand-banks.”

Columbus and his crew tried to save the ship, even cutting away the masts to reduce the weight, but they failed and were reduced to salvaging the timbers for the fort they ultimately built.

I handled this event somewhat differently in “So The Taino Call It,” the most dramatic change being that I condensed a lot of time. Where, in real life, the ship sunk two and a half months after Columbus and his men arrived in the Caribbean; in the land of make-believe only nine days had passed. I also didn’t give a lot of detail of the accident. Rodrigo, my protagonist and narrator who was ordered by the King of Portugal to sabotage Columbus’s mission, is mainly miffed that he wasn’t responsible for the ship going down. In fact, he’d conducted no sabotage up to that point in the story. He’s falling down on the job, but he has reasons. Mayhem ensues, though. I promise.

“So The Taino Call It” appears in the alternate history anthology Substitution Cipher published by Candlemark & Gleam. And whaddaya know, Amazon has the paperback on sale! The ebook is also a sweet deal.

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