Perhaps Mark Whittington is right. We should have followed the path blazed by the early Iberian explorers:
Toledo, New Castille. March 1492.
Today Don Miguel de Grifo, the head of the Royal Transatlantic Exploring Administration, made the eagerly awaited announcement as to how the Administration would pursue Their Majesties’ Vision for Transatlantic Exploration. To the disappointment of some, he turned down the suggestion of the Italian explorer Columbus that the program utilize already-existing, commercially-available caravels staged from the Canary Islands. “The Administration has no means of Atlantic-rating these craft safely. Spanish lives are too precious to be wasted in this endeavor. Furthermore,” he added, “the idea of staging the voyages in the Canary Islands is too complicated, and I fear that constructing the necessary docks and shipyards in the Canaries might become too expensive, even though they would then enable further voyages more cheaply.”
Advocates protested, saying “If you’re in the Canaries, you’re halfway to anywhere in the Atlantic,” citing the favorable winds prevailing from that spot. de Grifo responded “That is true, and someday we will build docks in the Canaries. But for now, we must sail directly from Spain to China, and the ships must be large enough to carry all supplies needed for the entire voyage.”
Rather than going with the commercially-available caravels, de Grifo announced that the Royal Galley Arsenal of Barcelona would build an existing design of a large war galley. “Galleys are a tried-and-true technology that has worked for centuries.” He denied that the Count of Barcelona had demanded that the Arsenal be used to provide the ships for the expedition as a price of political support for the plan in the Cortes. “We are doing this because it is technologically the right thing to do. Simple. Safe. Soon.” Questions about what had caused his change of position versus his previous support of caravels several years prior went unanswered.
Barcelona, Aragon. July 1494.
Administrator Don Miguel de Grifo announced today that the Erís transatlantic vehicle program was in fine shape, but that some revisions would have to be made. It is now apparent that the galley design selected, although effective in its original role in Mediterranean warfare, would be too small to carry the needed supplies for crew and galley slaves for a full transatlantic voyage to China. Therefore, the shipyard workers would be instructed to cut the hull in half and insert a new, lengthy section equal to a fourth of the galley’s original weight. According to de Grifo, it was an easy modification and would not affect the ship’s seaworthiness. It would, however, delay the start of the program by several years, and increase the cost by several hundred million maravedis.
Barcelona, Aragon. August 1498.
The troubled transatlantic program of Ferdinand and Isabella has run into further problems as Administrator Don Miguel de Grifo announced that the agency would require more time and money to fix several minor technical issues that had arisen in the development of its China galley. Simulations have suggested that the galley, originally designed for Mediterranean seas, would be shaken to pieces by the heavier waves of the Atlantic. Also, the insertion of the extra hull section has altered the seaworthiness of the whole design, leading to fears that the craft would snap in half in heavy seas. “Nothing a little more time and money would not cure,” said de Grifo.
Toledo, March 1500.
The Spanish court was today shaken by news arriving from Lisbon that a Portuguese navigator had accidentally discovered a vast new land in the Western ocean, when his ship had made an unexpectedly wide turn in rounding the horn of Africa. The land, which he dubbed “Brazil” after the island of mythology, appeared to be a new continent. Additionally, word arriving from Rome suggested that the Pope was about to issue a bull declaring this new continent exclusive property of Portugal, and off limits to other nations without a license from the Portuguese king.
Toledo. April 1500.
Today Their Majesties formally terminated their transatlantic program, which was now pointless in the wake of the Pope’s monopoly on Atlantic voyaging. The galley under construction in Barcelona is to be broken up for firewood, as it was in any case unlikely to be seaworthy for any purpose.
[Attribution to Jim Bennett]