Vasco da Gamma


Vasco da Gamma

Da Gama sailed from Lisbon on July 8, 1497, with a fleet of four vessels--two medium-sized three-masted sailing ships, each of about 120 tons, named the "São Gabriel" and the "São Rafael"; a 50-ton caravel, named the "Berrio"; and a 200-ton storeship. They were accompanied to the Cape Verde Islands by another ship commanded by Bartolomeu Dias, the Portuguese navigator who had discovered the Cape of Good Hope a few years earlier and who was en route to the West African castle of São Jorge da Mina on the Gold Coast (now Ghana). With da Gama's fleet went three interpreters--two Arabic speakers and one who spoke several Bantu dialects. The fleet also carried padrões (stone pillars) to set up as marks of discovery and overlordship.

Passing the Canary Islands on July 15, the fleet reached the São Tiago in the Cape Verde Islands on the 26th, remaining there until August 3. Then, to avoid the currents of the Gulf of Guinea, da Gama took a circular course through the South Atlantic to the Cape of Good Hope, reaching Santa Helena Bay (in modern South Africa) on November 7. The expedition departed on November 16, but unfavourable winds delayed their rounding of the Cape of Good Hope until November 22. Three days later da Gama anchored in Mossel Bay, erected a padrão on an island, and ordered the storeship to be broken up. Sailing again on December 8, the fleet reached the coast of Natal on Christmas Day. On Jan. 11, 1498, it anchored for five days near the mouth of a small river between Natal and Mozambique, which they called the Rio do Cobre (Copper River). On January 25, in what is now Mozambique, they reached the Quelimane River, which they called the Rio dos Bons Sinais (the River of Good Omens), and erected another padrão. By this time many of the crews were sick with scurvy; the expedition rested a month while the ships were repaired.

On March 2, 1498 the fleet reached the island of Mozambique, the inhabitants of which believed the Portuguese to be Muslims like themselves. Da Gama learned that they traded with Arab merchants and that four Arab vessels laden with gold, jewels, silver, and spices were then in port; he was also told that Prester John, the long-sought Christian ruler, lived in the interior but held many coastal cities. The Sultan of Mozambique supplied da Gama with two pilots, one of whom deserted when he discovered that the Portuguese were Christians.

 

 

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