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Conquering the Pacific by André Reséndez

Columbus showed how to sail to the New World and back in 1492 - a clockwise circular pattern in the North Atlantic taking advantage of current and wind patterns. A very few years later Spain desired a route west across the Pacific and back to trade Mexican silver in Asia without conflict with Portuguese traders whose route went east around Africa to Asia. This is the story of efforts to cross the Pacific from Mexico and return. Several explorers, starting with Magellan, failed on the return to Mexico. Magellan’s failure to return to Mexico became the first circumnavigation of the earth.

This book tells the political issues in Spain, Portugal and Mexico, navigation knowledge and practice, vessel capabilities, and the patterns of wind and currents in the Pacific which influenced the discovery of the desired Pacific trade route. Several mariners claimed the first round trip. The author’s research awards the honor to a pilot named Lope Martin. The story includes racial discrimination, a secret Mexican port, hostile Pacific Islanders, navigational uncertainty, climate and health hardship and, at last, success. On his return Martin’s success was rewarded with a politically motivated death sentence. While being returned to the Philippines for hanging, mutinies freed him. Evidence suggests he might have enjoyed the rest of his life in the South Pacific Islands. Evidence may be sparse because he did not want to be found and hung.

The Atlantic’s well known conquest by Columbus now has a corresponding Pacific conquest by Martin.

From the publisher:

The story of an uncovered voyage as colorful and momentous as any on record for the Age of Discovery—and of the Black mariner whose stunning accomplishment has been until now lost to history

It began with a secret mission, no expenses spared. Spain, plotting to break Portugal’s monopoly trade with the fabled Orient, set sail from a hidden Mexican port to cross the Pacific—and then, critically, to attempt the never-before-accomplished return, the vuelta. Four ships set out from Navidad, each one carrying a dream team of navigators. The smallest ship, guided by seaman Lope Martín, a mulatto who had risen through the ranks to become one of the most qualified pilots of the era, soon pulled far ahead and became mysteriously lost from the fleet. It was the beginning of a voyage of epic scope, featuring mutiny, murderous encounters with Pacific islanders, astonishing physical hardships—and at last a triumphant return to the New World. But the pilot of the fleet’s flagship, the Augustine friar mariner Andrés de Urdaneta, later caught up with Martín to achieve the vuelta as well. It was he who now basked in glory, while Lope Martín was secretly sentenced to be hanged by the Spanish crown as repayment for his services. Acclaimed historian Andrés Reséndez, through brilliant scholarship and riveting storytelling—including an astonishing outcome for the resilient Lope Martín--sets the record straight.

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