AT LAST, after leaving San Julian Bay late in the southern winter of 1520, Magellan found the beginning of the way through. The triumphant event occurred on October 21, the Feast of the Eleven Thousand Virgins. Pigafetta’s report is laconic:
“After going . . . to the fifty-second degree [of latitude] toward the said Antarctic Pole, on the festival of the eleven thousand virgins, we found by miracle a strait which we called the Cape of the Eleven Thousand Virgins. Which strait is in length one hundred and ten leagues. . . . And it falls into another sea called the Pacific Sea. And it is surrounded by very great … mountains covered with snow.”
As Magellan felt his way through the strait, he sent San Antonio and Concepcion ahead to search out points of danger and useful anchorages. On the second such trip San Antonio did not return. Instead, her officers and crew overpowered their captain, doubled back by night, and sailed home to Spain. According to Pigafetta, the mutineering pilot of the San Antonio, Estevao Gomes, had one motive for his desertion—pure hatred of his Portuguese leader. When he got back to Spain, he made dire charges against Magellan —and, though jailed briefly, in the end went unpunished.
Sadly, after searching for the San Antonio for many days, Magellan and his three remaining ships went on through the strait, anchoring or mooring to rocks by night. They were sometimes confused by apparent openings leading nowhere. It was not all hardship. The weather was generally good. Often the scenery was magnificent, and in the comparatively narrow waters they experienced few of the sudden wind squalls characteristic of the region.
“And we called it the Pathagonico strait,” wrote Pigafetta. “In it we found at every half league a good port, and anchorage, good water, and wood . . . and fish like sardines… .
ON WEDNESDAY the twenty-eighth of November, one thousand five hundred and twenty, we issued forth from the said strait and entered the Pacific Sea, where we remained three months and twenty days without taking on board provisions or any other refreshments, and we ate only old biscuit turned to powder, all full of worms and stinking of the urine which the rats had made on it, having eaten the good. And we drank water impure and yellow. We ate also ox hides which were very hard because of the sun, rain, and wind. And we left them . .. days in the sea, then laid them for a short time on embers, and so we ate them. And of the rats, which were sold for half an ecu apiece, some of us could not get enough.
“Besides the aforesaid troubles, this malady [scurvy] was the worst, namely that the gums of most part of our men swelled above and below so that they could not eat. And in this way they died, inasmuch as twenty-nine of us died. .. . But besides those who died, twenty-five or thirty fell sick of divers maladies, whether of the arms or of the legs and other parts of the body [also effects of scurvy], so that there remained very few healthy men.