A small armada of five ships hastily set sail from the Guadalquivir River in southern Spain. After a month of waiting, their sudden departure from Sanlúcar de Barrameda was signaled only by a mate’s shout of “All hands!”
Captain Mendoza of the Victoria aimed his sights toward the western horizon. “Keep a sharp eye toward the Ocean Sea for sails, boatswain!” he ordered. Despite rumors that the Portuguese Navy had been dispatched to intercept them, none were seen and they navigated southwest towards the Canaries. “Helmsman, keep our nose pointed at the Trinidad, she carries our flag. We know we’re bound for the Spice Islands, but the rest remains a secret even to me,” he confided in a tone of irritation.
An adventure story like none ever told was now unfolding. When the fleet turned westward at Cape Verde, the mariners began to suspect that something new was afoot; something that had never been attempted, the success of which would send shockwaves through the halls of every court in Europe.
It almost ended abruptly as the crews reached despair in their second month of constant squalls and opposing currents. Only the providential appearance of Saint Elmo’s fire aboard the Trinidad stayed a mutiny.
On September 6, 1522, almost three years later, the Victoria returned to Sanlúcar de Barrameda; quietly, without Captain Mendoza, and without her sister-ships. She returned with just eighteen men, about two-hundred and sixteen short of the original complement.
But Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet was missing more than ships and men. It was missing a day.
This westward circumnavigation of the earth brought to light a new detail that needed to be clarified before man could properly call himself master of the oceans.
The debate pertaining to a definable International Dateline would continue on, even into the 20th century.