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Christopher Columbus's Log—Ship's Log

Like most captains, Christopher Columbus kept a written record, or ship's log, on each of his voyages. Below is an excerpt from the log recording the first sightings of land in the Americas.


Primary Source

Thursday, October 11, 1492

Steered W.S.W. There was a heavier sea than had been met with before in the whole voyage. Saw sandpipers and a green rush near the vessel. The crew of the Pinta saw a cane and a log. They also picked up a stick which appeared to have been carved with an iron, a piece of cane, a plant which grows on land, and a board. The crew of the Nina saw other signs of land and a stalk loaded with roseberries. Everyone breathed afresh and rejoiced at these signs. Sailed this day till sunset, twenty-seven leagues.

After sunset steered their original course W. and sailed twelve miles an hour till two hours after midnight, going twenty-two leagues and a half. As the Pinta was the swiftest sailer and kept ahead of the Admiral, she discovered land and made the signals ordered by the Admiral. The land was first seen by a sailor called Rodrigo de Triana, although the Admiral at ten o'clock that evening, being on the castle of the poop, saw a light, but so small a body that he could not affirm it to be land.

Excerpted from First Voyage to America: From the Log of the “Santa Maria,” by Christopher Columbus. New York: Dover Publications, 1991, p. 69.


Background

Ships' logs can tell us a lot about what happened on ships that sailed many years ago. Logs often include interesting information about daily life on the ship, where the ship traveled, weather conditions, and plants and animals the crew saw.

This passage from Christopher Columbus's log for October 11, 1492, tells about the first sightings of land in the Americas by Columbus's crew. Columbus kept careful notes of his journey in his ship's logbook. Later a Spanish priest named Bartolomé de las Casas copied and shortened the original log describing the first of Columbus's three voyages to the Americas. The original log and Las Casas's version were both in Spanish.