Nao Victoria in Rochefort

Nao Victoria
Nao Victoria

The story begins on the 10th of August 1519 when a fleet of 5 merchant ships – the so called carracks – commanded by Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese subject that fled Portugal and took refuge in Spain, leaves the Spanish port of Seville.
This little armada’s mission is to establish a better, westbound, trade route linking the Iberian Peninsula to the “Spice Islands” of Indonesia – hence the fleet’s name: the “Spice Armada”.
The expedition includes the vessels (“nao” in Portuguese): “Trinidad”, the flagship commanded by Magellan, “San Antonio”, “Conception”, “Santiago” and “Victoria”, and a crew of 243 men coming from all over Europe and has the backing of King Charles of Spain who hopes for a return of his investment in the shape of loads of cloves and nutmeg, valuable spices worth more then their weight in gold!
This was how the greatest nautical adventure of the history – the first trip around the globe – started.
After navigating southward near the African coast until the nowadays Senegal and then crossing the Atlantic, the fleet skirts the coast of South America where the vessel “Santiago” is wrecked by a sudden storm.
In November 1520 the expedition reaches what is called now the Magellan Strait. It was there that the “San Antonio” ship deserts the expedition and returns to Spain.
After crossing the strait the three remaining ships start the most difficult part of the journey: the cross of the Pacific. It is Magellan who gives the ocean its name having found it strangely tranquil.
On March 6th 1521 the armada reaches the Mariana Islands and ten days later the Philippines where the commander Ferdinand Magellan is killed on the 27th of April 1521 during a skirmish with the locals. The Philippines prove to be an ill-fated place as many sailors die here and the expedition is left not only without its “light, consolation and the true guide” as Antonio Pigafetta who kept the mission’s journal writes describing Magellan, but also with not enough men to operate the three remaining ships. This situation prompts the abandon and burning down of “Conception”, and with only two ships, Trinidad and Victoria, the journey resumed eastward towards Indonesia – the Spice Islands, the only place in the world where cloves and nutmeg are growing – Indonesia that is reached on the 6th of November 1521.
Loaded with spices the two ships continue homeward, but “Trinidad” starts to take water and it is decided that it needs big repairs and the two ships part way. After the leak fix “Trinidad” tries to return to Spain via the Pacific Ocean but is captured by Portuguese navigators, and is eventually wrecked by a storm.
The only vessel left “Victoria”, a 85 tones, 25.9 meter long and 6.70 meter large ship, the 4th largest between the initial 5 ships – continues, under the authority of Captain Juan Sebastian Elcano, to push westward towards Spain, crossing the Indian Ocean, then skirting the Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and after terrible misadventures that caused the death by starvation of more than two thirds of its crew arrives in Spain on the 8th of September 1522 with only 17 people on board – the first known men to circumnavigate the Globe!
This is in just few words the fascinating odyssey of Ferdinand Magellan – he did not live to complete the voyage – and of his little ship “Victoria” or “Nao Victoria”
To celebrate the contribution of the Spanish navigators to the world’s geographical discoveries an almost identical copy of “Nao Victoria” was built in 1992 in Spain with the occasion of the “Universal Exhibition of Seville”. Between 12 October 2004 and 4 Mai 2006 the ship went around the world, this time via Panama Canal and with a stop in Japan.
As recently as April 2015 “Nao Victoria” arrived in the port of Rochefort, a beautiful town in the Charente-Maritime department of France, from where , the same month, the equally famous “L’Hermione” left for its voyage to the America.
The ship is on display until July 4th 20415.
On visiting Nao Victoria one cannot help but admire the courage of these Age of Discovery navigators: the ship is smaller than one would expect has crossed the oceans – a real nutshell made of oak and pine wood-, the space between the upper and lower decks is little and the living “quarters” tiny – most sailors were sleeping directly on the decks. Even the captain’s space cannot accommodate anybody but small children standing up, but he at least was sleeping in a hammock! The food provisions were only beans, nuts and dried fruits and the drinking water and wine limited.

Nao Victoria Sailors Watching Post
Nao Victoria Sailors Watching Post

Nao Victoria Bow
Nao Victoria Bow

Captain's "great" cabin
Captain’s “great” cabin

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