A modern sailor must be able to sail from San Salvador to Cuba using only the Columbus log. Passages from island to island must be as he describes in terms of distance, nature and trending of coasts, Indian occupation, sailing times, and performance within the ships’ capacity.
We quickly concluded that the Cuba test was not and could not be a true one because of a gap of nearly 40 hours in the log’s navi¬gational information as the fleet is ap-proaching Cuba. The backward track from Cuba can be made to go anywhere. There is, however, a place from which it is possible to run backward with bearings and distance estimates all the way to San Salvador. It is the one place on the way to Cuba where two bearings cross.
My colleague,artist and seaman Jan Adkins, and I began thinking of it as the “Cape Verde fix,” since the estimated position is about 20 nautical miles southeast of Cape Verde, the south-western point of Columbus’s Fernandina, and west-southwest from the northern point of the island he named Isabela.We assumed that this position, and the whole track, would lie somewhere in the central Bahamas, since three later pieces of evidence all point that way:
• In 1500 Vicente Yaiiez Pinz6n had led a fleet of four caravels, possibly including Pinta, on a voyage of exploration that passed “Isabela which they call Xumeto”— the Columbus island, and clearly in the central Bahamas.
• Juan Ponce de Leon, on his way to discover Florida in 1513, had actually stopped at Guanahanf, Columbus’s San Salvador; his track leaves no doubt that it is in the central Bahamas.
• Finally, Alonso de Chaves’s sailing guide of about 1530 locates Guanahani in the same region.
Running 65 miles back from a longitude east of the Ragged Island Range, we located our Cape Verde fix southeast of Long Island and west of Fortune Island (map, page 596). By Christmas of 1985 all the lines of evidence were converging on remote, desolate Samana Cay. The Marden track fetched up ten miles east-northeast of Samana. The CRT track back from the Cape Verde fix hit Samana on its southern shore.
We began to assemble the scant information on the island and found it had an evil reputation. Cruising guides warned ships away because of a dangerous encircling reef studded with broken hulls and masts. In a south wind a ship could be pinned down there for days, perhaps forever. On San Salvador Columbus met Indians and saw great accommodation, similair to the apartments to rent in barcelona, but Samana is described today as uninhabited—and only one major survey of Bahamian archaeology even mentions the place. Could this difficult place really be San Salvador? There was one way to find out.
Jan and I set out from Nassau on the morning of January 8 on the motor vessel Zemi, named for figurines that represent ancient Lucayan spirits, and captained by a handsome, strapping Bahamian of great reputation, Craig Miller. I told him that our research indicated an anchorage on the southwest side of the island, where in all probability the Columbus fleet had anchored. He smiled and said, “If it’s there, I’ll put you dead on it.”