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The First Voyage of Christopher Columbus

Updated on August 1, 2013
Christopher Columbus changed the course of history with his first voyage to the New World.
Christopher Columbus changed the course of history with his first voyage to the New World. | Source

Christopher Columbus Changed History

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer. He completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean and attempted to establish permanent settlements in the New World. He shattered the belief that the earth was flat, led the awareness of the Americas to the Europeans, and initiated the process of Spanish colonization.

Even though he wasn't the first to reach the Americas, his voyage and discoveries led to lasting European contact with America.

It all started with his first journey west from Spain. Ever since Constantinople had fallen in 1453, the trade routes to the east had largely been shut down. Their alternative was to go around Africa. He proposed a shortcut. Instead of heading east to get to India and China, where they could get gold, spices and other goods, that he could go west, and avoid having to go around the huge continent of Africa. He tried to obtain assistance from many different countries for his voyage, and finally received it from Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain.

Current Map Showing Positions of Europe, Africa, China, and India

Columbus Sets Sail for the East Indies

Christopher Columbus left Spain on May 11, 1492 as Admiral of the Fleet, using three relatively small sailing vessels, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. He was sailing westward, assuming that they would first find the island of Cipangu (Japan) or the land of Cathay (China).

The three ships sailed southwest to the Canary Islands where they loaded up on supplies and got the ships fitted for their long sea journey. They considered leaving the Pinta behind, as it was taking in water, but decided to repair it instead, even though it required a long layover.

The Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria Cross the Atlantic Ocean

They departed September 6, 1492 and continued westward for days, eating dried biscuits, garlic, onions and beans, and fish. They slept on the cramped deck. Because this was undiscovered territory, they did not have any maps to guide them, and some of them likely feared coming to the edge of the world and dying. Columbus kept two logs. The one he showed to the crew made it look like they had not traveled as far as he thought they had, to keep them from feeling like they were so far away from home.

On September 14, they saw some terms. Since these birds stay fairly close to land, they thought they were close to land. They pressed on, but the sea was calm, so they were not able to make much progress until the winds picked up again. On September 25, they thought they saw land, but it was just some clouds. They continued to find things that made them think they should hit land soon, but each time, they were disappointed, and tensions continued to climb amongst the sailors. They wanted to return home, but the Admiral persisted.


Christopher Columbus and the Crew Sight the New World

After traveling for over thirty days, they finally sighted land on October 12, 1492. They reached land and explored it to find out where they landed. They did not know where they were, but it was an island in the Bahamas.

He met some natives, who had gold in their noses. He assumed that he was in the East Indies, and called the natives "Indians." The countries of the East Indies are Bangladesh, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, and Indonesia.

The sailors continued to explore the new world for several days, hoping to find Cipango (Japan). On October 14, they sailed beyond the island he called San Salvador. He traded with the natives and claimed each island for the King and Queen of Spain. On the 28th, he reached Cuba. The locals were afraid of them at first, but eventually they warmed up to him and the crew. He stayed in Cuba for the remainder of October and much of November. The Spaniards were impressed with the tobacco and cotton that was grown there.

On November 21, the captain of the Pinta sailed away on his own, showing some animosity between the different ships. The Niña and the Santa Maria went to the island they called Hispañola. The land reminded Columbus of Spain. He found the people beautiful, peaceful and industrious. Columbus found some gold in Tortuga but not in large quantities. They spent most of December in Hispañola trading with the natives.

Columbus traveled on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.  This is a replica of the Santa Maria in Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus traveled on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. This is a replica of the Santa Maria in Columbus, Ohio. | Source

The Santa Maria gets ShipWrecked

Late Christmas Eve, while the Admiral and most of the crew slept, the Santa Maria ran aground on a coral reef. They tried everything they could do to save the ship, but it was wrecked. The crew of the Niña and the natives with canoes rescued the crew and supplies of the Santa Maria. Without the Santa Maria, there was not enough room in the other two ships to carry all of the sailors. Columbus took the wreck as a sign from God that He wanted a settlement built on the spot. The fort, called "La Navidad," was built from the timbers of the Santa Maria. It was a first attempt to build a settlement by the Europeans since the Norse landed on Newfoundland. They left seeds, supplies, and skilled tradesmen, including a carpenter, a cooper, a gunner and a caulker to help ensure a successful settlement.

Christopher Columbus decided it was time to return home to Spain to tell the King and the Queen about their discoveries. They were getting ready for the journey when two days before they set sail, they encountered people with weapons. There was a minor skirmish and two Indians may have been injured.

Christopher Columbus on Amazon

Christopher Columbus' Return Trip to Spain

They eventually spotted the Pinta and were reunited. On January 16, the Pinta and the Niña set sail for the homeward voyage. The first part of the journey as they sailed north went well. As they turned to the east, dark clouds gathered and the weather began to change. About the 12th of February, a terrible storm struck, and the ships had to deal with fierce winds, crashing waves, thunder, and lightning. Fearing death, Christopher Columbus ordered a sailor to throw a sealed cask overboard containing the story of their adventures, hoping it would reach the King and Queen.

As the storm continued for a second day, the sailors on the Niña lost sight of the Pinta. As they sailed on, they finally came to the familiar Portuguese islands of the Azores. Half of the sailors went to church to thank God for helping them through the storm, but were arrested by the governor of the island and his troops. Despite the facts that the locals did not like Spain or Spanish ships, and Christopher Columbus was able to beg, plead, argue, and trade to obtain release of his arrested crew members, and receive the food, repairs, and most of the items he needed for the remainder of his journey.

The routes of the four voyages of Columbus
The routes of the four voyages of Columbus | Source

They set sail again north by east, but ran into another storm and had to shelter again in a Portuguese port near Lisbon. He was sure the ship would break up. They were expecting a hostile welcome, but received an invitation to see the King of Portugal who congratulated the crew.

They set sail again and returned to Spain. He returned to Spain on the 14th or 15th of March, 1493. The Pinta arrived later that same day.

Christopher Columbus visited the King and Queen of Spain to tell them about his journey and collect the reward, and was given a medal instead. He became the Admiral of the Ocean Sea and a respected seaman. He went on three more voyages to the New World. On his second voyage, he commanded a large fleet with colonists. It is likely that he never realized that what he thought was Japan or China was actually the great continent and islands of the Americas.


The First Voyage

Christopher Columbus and his crew had to have a great deal of bravery and persistence to sail westward in uncharted territory. They were not sure whether they would reach land, did not know how far they would have to travel, and faced the possibility of reaching the edge of the earth. They faced hardship such as cramped quarters, violent storms, and dissent amongst the crew members. He insisted on being peaceful with the natives, and attempted to convert them to Christianity.

In this voyage, they managed to persevere, and change the course of history not only for the Americas, but also for Europe and the rest of the entire world.

© 2012 Shasta Matova

Comments: "The First Voyage of Christopher Columbus"

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    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      Thanks AliciaC. I find that as I get older, history becomes more and more interesting. I had forgotten quite a bit from way back, and I enjoy re-learning all this information in my own way.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for this interesting information. I must have learned about Christopher Columbus when I was a child, but I don't remember much of what I was taught! It was very enjoyable to read about him in your hub.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      Thanks Vinaya. Columbus changed history, and there are many great stories about what he did and saw.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      6 years ago from Nepal

      I find stories of Columbus very interesting. When he reached China, he saw Chinese using paper as money and burning stone (coal).

      I enjoyed reading history lesson.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      Thanks Glenn for your help. I have edited the article to include these important facts.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      6 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I found a reference for you. Columbus thought he had reached the East Indies, which does not include Japan or China according to Wikipedia.

      The countries of the East Indies are Bangladesh, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, and Indonesia.

      This is most likely the reason why he called the people Indians.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      6 years ago from Long Island, NY

      When I learned history in my early years in school I always found it so boring. They taught by insisting that we simply remember facts.

      You, on the other hand, make history interesting. This is a much better way to teach and to remember what occurred.

      I enjoyed reading your history of Christopher Columbus, however I got confused on one point. What happened after the shipwreck of the Santa Maria when Columbus was about to return and came across people with weapons? I would've wanted to know what happened. Was there a fight? And did some of the crew get killed?

      I was surprised to learn that Columbus thought he reached Japan. I must have my facts wrong because I thought that Columbus was thinking he reached India. Which is why they called everyone Indians. You didn't mention anything about that part of it, and I really would like to know how that ties in. Maybe you can elaborate on that in your comments.

      Your way of writing definitely makes it fun to learn history.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      Thanks Michelle, the voyage to America is the one that sticks foremost in my mind too, and I'm not sure it is whether the other voyages weren't discussed at all, or whether I simply forgot them because they were mentioned in passing. I would think the first voyage is actually the history making one, since Columbus and the crew had no idea what to expect.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, Millionaire Tips, thanks for this informative lesson on Columbus, and some things I didn't know about him or his experiences. I never knew about the founding of Cuba...always associated him only with the founding of America. Thanks for filling me in!

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      Thanks Ruchira and Dianna. I enjoyed refreshing my memory and learning new things about Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the new world. It completely changed the course of history.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for the history lesson - very well done! I had forgotten some of the details of this event. Great post on the photo showing the routes.

    • Ruchira profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      What a great tribute, Shasta ESP with Columbus day coming...oct 8th.

      Votes with useful and interesting.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      Thank you girishpuri and Paula. I had known the basics of Christoper Columbus's voyage from school, but it was good to learn about the additional details of the trip.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Very interesting story about Christopher and his crew....their struggles and journeys and successes. Although this is an age-old tale, we need to be reminded and presented with a number of facts we simply did not know! Thanks, M.T. for this educational hub....UP++ and shared.

    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 

      6 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      a great historical share and very well connected with the present, awesome share, voted up.


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