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What if Christopher Columbus owed his success—maybe even his very life—to two brothers who have been almost completely forgotten in the annals of history?
This is the true story, told in fictional form, of the two Spanish brothers—Martin Alonso and Vicente Yanez Pinzon, who captained the Nina and the Pinta on Columbus’ first voyage to America.
Martin Pinzon was the head of the Pinzon nautical family business in Palos in southwestern Spain. He was an institution and had tremendous fame and respect among the mariners of that era. He, too, felt that the best way to reach the Spice Islands was due west and had been assured of the Vatican’s support should he seek same. But Columbus was the far better politician and visionary and beat him to it. More importantly, he had made it his life’s work to attain royal sponsorship for such a voyage. However, the populace of Palos distrusted Columbus, as he was a foreigner, and it was well known that he had never captained a vessel at sea. So, the superstitious denizens of Palos burned Columbus’ ships as Columbus had claimed the voyage to be his “divine right”.
Hat-in-hand Columbus approached Martin Pinzon for support of the expedition, and he obtained it only after showing Pinzon a secret map detailing islands of the West Indies that had been drawn by a deceased mariner years prior. Pinzon was hooked, and Columbus offered him co-leadership of the voyage. Once Pinzon signed on, the mariners of the region lined up to be part of the expedition, as his stellar reputation was testament enough to convince them of its merits. Pinzon also provided the two smaller ships and his younger brother Vicente as the third captain. A friend of his offered the Santa Maria as flagship.
As a testament to her builders, the tiny vessel withstood this pounding, the only question being whether anyone aboard would survive.
Even before departure, Columbus began differing with Martin about the best course to steer and when they disputed nautical matters publicly, the crews began to despise Columbus as Pinzon had led most of the crews on many voyages over the years. When Columbus wanted to leave Pinzon’s ship behind due to a rudder problem, the crews seriously began to question Columbus’ leadership and judgment. Later, Martin had to threaten to hang the flagship’s crew when mutiny was threatened, although no such problems arose on the ships captained by the two brothers.
When landfall was made in the New World such problems receded; however, others took their place when Columbus started badgering the native chieftains regarding the source of the golden implements worn by the people. Martin was also concerned that Columbus’ sloppy navigation would end in disaster and his refusal to strike off to find the Asian continent, and when things didn’t change he sailed off alone to find the gold’s source, ordering his brother to accompany Columbus but to stay seaward of him. This was prophetic as the Santa Maria struck a reef and sank on Christmas Eve and only Vicente’s loyalty, courage, and seamanship saved every hand. Columbus blamed everything on Martin for providing too big a ship and for abandoning him so that he couldn’t properly explore every cove and harbor.
They reconciled, and Martin explained the reasons for his actions in a dramatic scene. The two remaining ships sailed together on the return but were soon separated in a series of terrible storms. Martin beat Columbus back to Spain and sent word to Ferdinand and Isabella of their discoveries, but they forbade him to visit, preferring to hear directly from their paid mercenary, Columbus. This blow so affected Martin that, along with the ravages of the terrible voyage on his mid-50s body, he took to his bed where he died the next day. Since Columbus was the sole person to keep a journal, only his version of the voyage survives to this day. Only he was able to write history; thus, history remembers him and his efforts and not the Pinzons.