If there were no Americas, was Columbus adequately prepared to go west to India?

For the purpose of discussion the only alteration of what we now know to be true about the Earth will be the removal of North Amerca and South America and the Carribean Islands- including those pesky Bahamas that got in his way the first time. Everything else stays the same- most importantly the size of the Earth.

If he had very nice weather, was Columbus adequately prepared to make it all the way to India going West across an Ocean that spanned the globe? Did he have sufficent supplies?

Suppose we allowed him to stop before reaching India. Could he have reached the Philipines or magical Cipangu? Suppose he was lucky enough to happen across Hawai’i, could he have even made it that far?

No, without the Americas Columbus’s expedition would have all died.

The old story that Columbus realized the world was round, while the court philosophers of Ferdinand and Isabella said it was flat is completely wrong. Both thought the world was round. However, Columbus maintained that the earth’s circumference was something like 15,000 miles, while the philosophers maitained it was 28,000 miles.

The philosophers were right, Columbus was wrong. If Columbus had been right, Japan would be right about where the Bahamas are. But he underestimated the trip length by thousands and thousands and thousands of miles.

Columbus was the luckiest crackpot in history. The experts of the time knew very well that it was theoretically possible to get to Asia by sailing west. However, it was in practical terms impossible because with the technology of the time it was not feasible to carry enough water or supplies to get there without restocking on the way. Columbus’ bacon was only saved from his spectacular miscalculation because of a factor neither he nor the savants could have predicted - unknown continents where the savants expected there to be empty ocean, and where Columbus had mistakenly calculated Japan to be.

He wasn’t trying to get to India; he was trying to get to “the Indies”, a term then used for anyplace in the Orient. His more specific goal was the nation now called China. Not that it makes much difference, since he had no prayer of reaching either.

Besides the supply situation, his crew was on the verge of mutiny when he found land. He would have had to turn around within days if “success” had been any longer in coming.

The way I heard it, he set out not knowing where he was going; when he got there he didn’t know where he was; and when he returned, he didn’t know where he’d been.

Luck is right. He barely made it as it was.

He had more than luck on his side.

  1. He bragged about having been to Iceland. He almost certainly knew about the existence of lands further west (Greenland and Vinland). He probably thought that Vinland was Japan or a land north of it.

So he really did expect to find land in the area he found it. Lucky, but not totally freakish luck.

  1. Look at the plots of his journey to and from America. He started from Spain, sailed south, picked up the westerlies and zipped across the Atlantic. Coming back, he sailed north, picked up the easterlies and zipped back.

Here is the really strange thing: How did he know about the trade winds???

There appears to be no known record of people knowing about the trade winds prior to Columbus. Sailors used coastal winds. But his path is precisely the path one would take crossing the Atlantic if you knew about them.

This is downright strange.

  1. One can reasonably conclude (but never be certain) that Columbus knew about lands in the vicinity where he found them and how to get there and back.

So, getting back to the OP: He was actually well provisioned so that he could have continued sailing for maybe 2 more weeks before returning home. If he hadn’t found land he would have returned (probably) safely. He didn’t have enough provisions to make it to Asia.

RE: Columbus’ voyage to Iceland: I too read of this…most experts place his voyage at sometime ca. 1470. While in Rejkavik, he almost certainly learned of lands to the west (Vinland). Later, he corresponded with the famous German geographer (Martin Behaim) who assured him that a landmass lay about 800 (spanish) miles west of the Azores.
No, Columbus was no fool-he had carefully planned his voyage, and knew where the land would be. He was just mistaken-the landmass was not Asia.
I also read that there is good evidence that the basque fishereman had sighted Newfoundland,erhaps as early as 1476. Because the Basques enjoyed a cod fishing monopoly, they were very reluctant to publish anything.perhaps some historian will one day find a record of some intrepid Basque, who laned in N. America, decades ahead of Columbus! :confused:

If you’re aluding the so-called [Viking] Vinland Map from the mid 1400s that he might have seen, that’s almost certainly a fake.

I’ve read similar to ralph124c. I’ve often wondered if Columbus knew what he was doing and was a marketing genius, rather than a dumb but lucky explorer.

While the Vinland map may well be a fake, there seems to be no doubt that the Vikings made it to Newfoundland at least and almost certainly North America proper. So there may well have been stories, accounts or even maps in Iceland about North America.

I’m skeptical that this is generally accepted by scholars of the subject. Can we have some cites?

[quoet]I also read that there is good evidence that the basque fishereman had sighted Newfoundland,erhaps as early as 1476. Because the Basques enjoyed a cod fishing monopoly, they were very reluctant to publish anything.perhaps some historian will one day find a record of some intrepid Basque, who laned in N. America, decades ahead of Columbus! :confused:

What you just described is not what I’d call “good” evidence-- I’d call it pure speculation based on no evidence at all.

Yes, we know for certain that Vikings reached Newfoundland, but there is scant evidence that Columbus knew of these voyages. And if Columbus knew about the northern route, why tempt fate with his southern route?

Such a voyage is mentioned in Columbus’ “autobiography,” actually written by his son Ferdinand from his father’s notes. The voyage is believed to have taken place in 1477 or so.

This story is accepted by some Columbus scholars, including Samuel Eliot Morison in Admiral of the Ocean Sea, even though Ferdinand (or his father) got details wrong such as the latitude of Iceland.

However, although Morison considers that it was likely Columbus had heard of Greenland, which was known in Europe, it was unlikely that he ever heard of Vinland unless he could speak Icelandic and spent some time ashore swapping tales in bars with the local sailors. In Ferdinand’s account there is a whole chapter on rumored and mythical islands that Columbus had acquired knowledge of, and Vinland is not mentioned, suggesting that he never had heard of it.

Knowledge of Greenland was of very limited use to Columbus, except for perhaps reinforcing his geographic misconceptions. At the time, it was assumed to be a peninsula of Asia. He didn’t go that way because it would have been the long way round compared to the direct route across the Atlantic.

The idea that Columbus knew America was out there rests on some very shakey conjectures. Any stories about past Viking voyages to America would be five hundred year old legends by the time Columbus had a chance to hear them (keep in mind that Leif Ericson was almost as far back in history to Columbus as Columbus was to us). And there’s very little chance Columbus did have an opportunity to hear them. And even if he had heard these legends and given them credence, there’s no reason why the existence of islands in the North Atlantic would mean there was also land in the Central Atlantic where Columbus sailed.

Didn’t the Portuguese know about the trade winds? They discovered the Azores, rediscovered Madeira and discovered the Cape Verde islands all less than a century before Columbus made his voyage. Columbus was married to a Portuguese woman from Porto Santo. Did the Portuguese discover these islands by using the trade winds, and Columbus learn about the trade winds from them?

I’m not certain that story is right either. I learned a different version in history lessons. Columbus wasn’t trying to settle a scientic dispute at all.

The point was that valuable commodities (spices, silk, etc) came from the far east by land. The delivery took took years and was highly expensive. Columbus was looking for a faster route by sea. And that’s all. He wasn’t trying to prove the World is round, he wasn’t trying to prove the size of the World, he was only trying to find a faster trade route than the established ones.

That’s the version I learned. Am I wrong?

Nobody with any education believed the world was flat in 1492. Everybody accepted the idea that the world was round and if you sailed out west into the ocean far enough you would eventually end up in Asia. The controversy was how long the trip would take. The general consensus was that world was approximately 18000 miles in circumference at the latitude of Spain and Japan and that the land distance to Japan was about 8000 miles (which were pretty close to the actual figures) so the ocean distance would be about 10000 miles - an impossible voyage with the technology of the time. Columbus, on the other hand, believed that the circumference of the Earth was only about 14000 miles and that the land distance to Japan was about 10000 miles - so he figured the ocean trip was a managable 4000 miles. The Spanish government figured he was wrong but decided they weren’t risking their own necks, so why not give him a few old ships and let him go try it. Columbus sailed west and about 4000 miles later hit land. Sometimes being lucky is better than being smart.

That’s correct, but I think you miss the point of Lemur’s post a little. The circumference of the world was directly relevant to whether the western route to Asia was feasible or not. Columbus believed the circumference of the world to be 25% smaller than that calculated by Eratosthenes in 200 BC, which was actually almost correct; and 10% smaller than that calculated by Ptolemy. At the same time, he believed that Asia stretched much further west than the classical geographers had. The result of these two miscalcualtions was that Columbus thought the west coast of Asia was within striking distance of Europe, which it was not. So settling the scientific dispute in Columbus’ favor was essential to the feasibility of the western route.

This is incorrect. For one thing, you have the easterlies and westerlies reversed - the trade winds are easterlies (coming from the east); Columbus took westerlies, coming from the west, back to Spain.

Columbus’s course west is certainly not “precisely the path one would take crossing the Atlantic” if you knew about the trade winds. My reference here is Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea, pp. 198-199. Columbus initially ran his course due west at about 28 N from the Canaries. The normal northern limit of the trades in September-October is at about 26 N once you are west of 35 W longitude. However, in some years the trades range farther north. Columbus just happened to luck out (once again) in that 1492 happened to be one of these years. If he had not caught the trades, his would have crossed more slowly and his crew would have mutinied before he reached the Bahamas. To take maximum advantage of the trades, his best course would have been to drop down to 15 N. His actual course put him at best at the edge of the horse latitudes.

Regarding the trip back, Columbus made a massive miscalculation in his course for Spain that would have ended him up in the Arctic if he had stuck to it (Morison pp. 316-317). As it turned out, he just sailed northeastward until he hit the prevailing westerlies - which he did not know about - and then just followed them back to the Azores. No big mystery there.

One thing I find curious is that the existence of another land mass should have been a complete surprise to everybody. Surely, using the roughly correct figures and estimating the ocean distance to Japan at 10000 miles, somebody must have entertained the possibility that in all that unexplored ocean there might be at least a sizeable island that nobody knew about, or maybe even a whacking great continent or two.