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Printable Columbus Day Story for kids - The True Story of Christopher ColumbusColumbus Day Stories

The True Story of Christopher Columbus
- A Chapter Book

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14


Christopher Columbus True Stories for Teachers
Printable Children's Literature


Home > Holidays > Columbus Day > The True Story of Christopher Columbus > Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - How They Fared on the Sea of Darkness

Did you ever set out, in the dark, to walk with your little brother or sister along a road you did not know much about or had never gone over before? It was not an easy thing to do, was it? And how did your little brother or sister feel when it was known that you were not just certain whether you were right or not? Do you remember what the Bible says about the blind leading the blind?

It was much the same with Columbus when he set out from Palos to sail over an unknown sea to find the uncertain land of Cathay. He had his own idea of the way there, but no one in all his company had ever sailed it, and he himself was not sure about it. He was very much in the dark. And the sailors in the three ships were worse than little children. They did not even have the confidence in their leader that your little brother or sister would probably have in you as you traveled that new road on a dark night. It was almost another case of the blind leading the blind, was it not?

Columbus first steered his ships to the south so as to reach the Canary Islands and commence his real westward voyage from there. The Canary Islands, as you will see by looking in your geography, are made up of seven islands and lie off the northern corner of Africa, some sixty miles or so west of Morocco. They were named Canaria by the Romans from the Latin canis, a dog, "because of the multitude of dogs of great size" that were found there. The canary birds that sing so sweetly in your home come from these islands. They had been known to the Spaniards and other European sailors of Columbus's day about a hundred years.

At the Canaries the troubles of Columbus commenced. And he did have a lot of trouble before his voyage was over. While near the island called the Grand Canary the rudder of the Pinta, in which Captain Alonso Pinzon sailed, somehow got loose, then broke and finally came off. It was said that two of the Pinta's crew, who were really the owners of the vessel, broke the rudder on purpose, because they had become frightened at the thoughts of the perilous voyage, and hoped by damaging their vessel to be left behind.

But Columbus had no thought of doing any such thing. He sailed to the island of Gomera, where he knew some people, and had the Pinta mended. And while lying here with his fleet the great mountain on the island of Teneriffe, twelve thousand feet high, suddenly began to spit out flame and smoke. It was, as of course you know, a volcano; but the poor frightened sailors did not know what set this mountain on fire, and they were scared almost out of their wits' and begged the Admiral to go back home. But Columbus would not. And as they sailed away from Gomera some sailors told them that the king of Portugal was angry with Columbus because he had got his ships from the king and queen of Spain, and that he had sent out some of his war-ships to worry or capture Columbus.

But these, too, Columbus escaped, although not before his crews had grown terribly nervous for fear of capture. At last they got away from the Canaries, and on Sunday, the ninth of September, 1492, with a fresh breeze filling their sails, the three caravels sailed away into the West. And as the shores of Ferro, the very last of the Canary Islands, faded out of sight, the sailors burst into sighs and murmurings and tears, saying that now indeed they were sailing off --off--off--upon the awful Sea of Darkness and would never see land any more.

When Columbus thought that he was sailing too slowly --he had now been away from Palos a month and was only about a hundred miles out at sea--and when he saw what babies his sailors were, he did something that was not just right (for it is never right to do anything that is not true) but which he felt he really must do. He made two records (or reckonings as they are called) of his sailing. One of these records was a true one; this he kept for himself. The other was a false one; this he kept to show his sailors. So while they thought they were sailing slowly and that the ocean was not so very wide, Columbus knew from his own true record that they were getting miles and miles away from home.

Soon another thing happened to worry the sailors. The pilots were steering by the compass. You know what that is --a sort of big magnet-needle perfectly balanced and pointing always to the north. At the time of Columbus the compass was a new thing and was only understood by a few. On the thirteenth of September they had really got into the middle of the ocean, and the line of the north changed. Of course this made the needle in the compass change its position also. Now the sailors had been taught to believe so fully in the compass that they thought it could never change its position. And here it was playing a cruel trick upon them. We are trapped! they cried. The goblins in this dreadful sea are making our compass point wrong so as to drag us to destruction. Go back; take us back! they demanded.

But Columbus, though he knew that his explanation was wrong, said the compass was all right. The North Star, toward which the needle always pointed, had, so he said, changed its position. This quieted the sailors for a while.

When they had been about forty days out from Palos, the ship ran into what is marked upon your maps as the Sargasso Sea. This is a vast meadow of floating seaweed and seagrass in the middle of the Atlantic; it is kept drifting about in the same place by the two great sea currents that flow past it but not through it.

The sailors did not know this, of course, and when the ships began to sail slower and slower because the seaweed was so thick and heavy and because there was no current to carry them along, they were sure that they were somewhere near to the jumping-off place, and that the horrible monsters they had heard of were making ready to stop their ships, and when they had got them all snarled up in this weed to drag them all down to the bottom of the sea.

For nearly a week the ships sailed over these vast sea- meadows, and when they were out of them they struck what we call the trade-winds--a never-failing breeze that blew them ever westward. Then the sailors cried out that they were in an enchanted land where there was but one wind and never a breeze to blow the poor sailors home again. Were they not fearfully "scarey?" But no doubt we should have been so, too, if we had been with them and knew no more than they did.

And when they had been over fifty days from home on the twenty-fifth of September, some one suddenly cried Land! Land! And all hands crowded to the side. Sure enough, they all saw it, straight ahead of them--fair green islands and lofty hills and a city with castles and temples and palaces that glittered beautifully in the sun.

Then they all cried for joy and sang hymns of praise and shouted to each other that their troubles were over. Cathay, it is Cathay! they cried; and they steered straight for the shining city. But, worst of all their troubles, even as they sailed toward the land they thought to be Cathay, behold! it all disappeared--island and castle and palace and temple and city, and nothing but the tossing sea lay all about them.

For this that they had seen was what is called a mirage--a trick of the clouds and the sun and the sea that makes people imagine they see what they would like to, but really do not. But after this Columbus had a harder time than ever with his men, for they were sure he was leading them all astray.

And so with frights and imaginings and mysteries like these, with strange birds flying about the ships and floating things in the water that told of land somewhere about them, with hopes again and again disappointed, and with the sailors growing more and more restless and discontented, and muttering threats against this Italian adventurer who, was leading the ships and sailors of the Spanish king to sure destruction, Columbus still sailed on, as full of patience and of faith, as certain of success as he had ever been.

On the seventh of October, 1492, the true record that Columbus was keeping showed that he had sailed twenty-seven hundred miles from the Canaries; the false record that the sailors saw said they had sailed twenty- two hundred miles. Had Columbus kept straight on, he would have landed very soon upon the coast of Florida or South Carolina, and would really have discovered the mainland of America. But Captain Alonso Pinzon saw what looked like a flock of parrots flying south. This made him think the land lay that way; so he begged the Admiral to change his course to the southward as he was sure there was no land to the west. Against his will, Columbus at last consented, and turning to the southwest headed for Cuba.

But he thought he was steering for Cathay. The islands of Japan, were, he thought, only a few leagues away to the west. They were really, as you know, away across the United States and then across the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles farther west than Columbus could sail. But according to his reckoning he hoped within a day or two to see the cities and palaces of this wonderful land.

When they sailed from the Canaries a reward had been offered to whomsoever should first see land. This reward was to be a silken jacket and nearly five hundred dollars in money; so all the sailors were on the watch.

At about ten o'clock on the evening of the eleventh of October, Columbus, standing on the high raised stern of the Santa Maria, saw a moving light, as if some one on the shore were running with a flaming torch. At two o'clock the next morning--Friday, the twelfth of October, 1492 the sharp eyes of a watchful sailor on the Pinta (his name was Rodrigo de Triana) caught sight of a long low coastline not far away. He raised the joyful shout Land, ho! The ships ran in as near to the shore as they dared, and just ten weeks after the anchors had been hauled up in Palos Harbor they were dropped overboard, and the hips of Columbus were anchored in the waters of a new world.

Where was it? What was it? Was it Cathay? Columbus was sure that it was. He was certain that the morning sun would shine for him upon the marble towers and golden roofs of the wonderful city of the kings of Cathay.


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