The first voyage of Columbus in 1492 is the best documented of the four he made to the Americas. The journal he kept is faithfully recorded though abbreviated by ordained priest and historian Bartolomé de Las Casas (c.1484-1566) and it is often in the explorer's own words giving detailed descriptions, directions and distances. It's authenticity is unquestioned - but therein lies a problem.
To anyone who makes the effort to actually follow the journal on a computer using satellite imagery, something very strange comes to light. The journal, not to tiptoe around the fact, is a mass of hopeless confusion. From the moment he arrives in America, nothing matches what he describes.
Again, anyone with a computer can verify this. The journal does not match what it purports to describe. This is the reason the first island he came to is still a mystery, in spite of the effort expended to identify it.
Surely judging distances; giving accurate descriptions - at the very least being able to determine which way the prevailing winds blow - are skills you would expect even the the most inept sea captain to possess; yet in his journal, Columbus fails at all of these things.
But there's more - Samuel Eliot Morison, an admiral in the US Navy, a professor of history at Harvard, a Pulitzer Prize winning author - not for any book but for the book he wrote about that very voyage along with the other 3 - titled Admiral of the Ocean Sea - this respected historian and seaman assures us that the journal most certainly does make sense. In fact, he's quite belligerent about it.
He then proceeds to justify the journal with some ridiculous arguments - for example, inventing 'land leagues' as opposed to 'sea leagues' to explain why the distances don't match. There has never been such a thing as 'land leagues' or "sea leagues" - only leagues. They are purely an invention of the author.
Not surprisingly Morison eventually simply ignores the journal altogether and turns, instead, to the book called '"The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his son Ferdinand'. The map he drew of the explorations, filled with zig zags between the islands, is based on it. Unfortunately, that the book is today considered by most scholars to be spurious - at least in part.
To anyone seeking some kind of rationality to all this, it is frustrating beyond expression. How can it be that the man considered a hero for having the know how, the daring, the vision to cross the Atlantic when everyone around him said it couldn't be done, can be a complete idiot when it comes to describing what he discovered.
How can it be that a US Navy admiral etc. etc. swears to a lie that, though it would have been almost impossible to expose at the time, a child can easily do so now.
Writing in 1941, Morison's mission was to clear up the 'myths' about Columbus. Failure was not an option. Everyone was fed up with the wild speculating and theorizing after the 1892 quarter centenary. Columbus and his discovery had been the focus of attention during those celebrations and that's when the trouble started.
This, in large part, was why Morison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Academics and ordinary people alike were relieved that the doubts and confusion could at last be put to rest.
Inadequate answers have brought those questions back to haunt us.
The truth of this interesting story will be found - It is significant that the epitaph on Columbus's tomb in Seville reads, in Latin "Non confundar in aeternam" translated, as it is traditionally used in psalms "Let me never be confounded" - or perhaps more accurately, especially in this context "I will not be confused forever".
Many discoveries are coming out of the research done by investigators who will not be dismissed and they are forcing a more rigorous look at a wider range of evidence, including a fresh look at the journal, which I am presenting here. The story that is emerging is fascinating and this one does make sense.