Columbus and the Eclipse

  In May 1502, the explorer Columbus led 4 old ships and 140 young people to start his fourth voyage to the New World. Already famous for his previous successful (and unsuccessful) voyages, this time he hopes to discover direct routes to the Indian Ocean. However, Columbus’s voyage was not a lucky star, and in the end he was lucky enough to return safely.
  By June 1503, two of Columbus’ ships had sunk in the Caribbean, and crews were forced to squeeze onto the remaining two ships. It was a tiny boat by today’s standards—about two buses long. The boat is made of wood, and often swarms of moths make their home and eat the wood, causing the boat to start leaking.
  As Columbus and his crew began to sail back to Spain, the leaking ships got out of hand. Columbus was forced to dock in a bay on the north coast of Jamaica. Unable to repair the ship due to lack of tools and supplies, Columbus sent Captain Diego Mandas (in a canoe) to the nearby island of Haiti (then known as Spanish Island), hoping to bring a boat to rescue the convicted crew.
  During this time Columbus and his crew had to figure out how to survive on the island. Fortunately, the native Jamaicans were very interested in Columbus, providing him and his crew with food and shelter. However, the peaceful coexistence did not last long. Many of Columbus’ crew were criminals (one was a murderer) and soon began stealing from the locals. The locals were so angry that they stopped serving food to the Europeans.
  Faced with starvation and unsure if aid would arrive, the crew prepared to attack the locals. But Columbus came up with a better idea: He invited the native chiefs to meet him on the evening of February 29, 1504.
  He told the chief that God was angry with them. Columbus explained that God was angry by removing the moon from the sky. Within minutes, black shadows began to slowly loom over a full moon. Soon the moon was almost invisible. The shocked locals shivered with fear and promised to continue to provide them with food. After hearing this reply, Columbus said that God had forgiven them, and the moon slowly returned to the night sky.
  Of course, all they saw was an ordinary lunar eclipse. Columbus had the European astronomical record and knew there would be a lunar eclipse that night and how long it would last. Although locals may have seen lunar eclipses before, they do not know that the timing of lunar eclipses can be predicted. From their point of view, Columbus seems to be able to communicate directly with God. Such people cannot be offended.
  So, Columbus and the crew continued to be guests of Jamaicans and lived in peace. In June 1504, Captain Mandas returned from the Spanish island in a rented boat. Columbus set sail with 100 surviving crew members and arrived in Spain that same year. Columbus didn’t find a direct route to the Indian Ocean, but thanks to creative storytelling and a bit of luck, Columbus survived on his fourth and final voyage.

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