THE DISCOVERY OF THE STRAIT OF MAGELLAN
38 days to cross the strait from east to west, to travel its 565 km. They penetrated on October, 21th 1520. It was the great discovery, the one that would allow them to go from the ocean they already knew, the Atlantic, to that new ocean that Magellan would baptize The Pacific. The Portuguese sensed the existence of this passage of sea and did not give up on his efforts until he found it. Ever since they arrived in Brazil in December, 1519, he had been sailing to the south, leaning out and exploring the different sea entrances he was finding. In the end, almost a year later, he found the labyrinthine strait that joined the two oceans and that finally was going to allow him to reach the Moluccas.
The discovering of the strait was a great new for the crew, but its navigation was very difficult. They found a sad landscape, icy, with a poor vegetation dotted with arid and bare rocks. Shortly after penetrating, they found that the strait was divided into two channels. Magallanes sent the nao Victoria and the San Antonio by one of them to explore it, and he continued by the other channel with the Trinidad and Concepción. They agreed to meet again a few days later in the same place. The Victoría returned, but the San Antonio, wich had gone further, returned later and did not find the other three naos at the meeting point. He took the opportunity to defect and return to Spain. Therefore, only three ships were left on the expedition. This betrayal deprived Magellan of his larger ship and an abundant supply of provisions.
Pigafetta tells in his travel diary that when sailing the strait, they saw big bonfires on the banks and that is why they named the place “Land of Fires”. The fires had been lit by the natives who inhabited those banks. They used to light them to make their magical rituals, and for that they used the immense amount of natural gas that emanated in that area.
On November, 28th 1520, the three naos lead at last into the Pacific. A new ocean opened for the first time in front of them. They did not know its extension, it did not appear on the maps of the time. That day began one of the toughest navigation stages of the expedition, because the newly discovered sea would turn out to be much larger than expected.
Drawing of the strait made by Pigafetta during the expedition