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The longest voyage

Old Seville

Quarter of a century after the successful voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World, Seville was on its way to becoming the busiest port in the world as ships started arriving fully laden with goods from the newly conquered lands across the Atlantic.

Seville in the time of Elcano

By 1519 a fleet of five ships was being prepared for an even more audacious voyage whose real destination was kept hidden even from the captains and crews of the five ships. The only one in the know was Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator who had managed to persuade Spain’s young king Charles I that he knew a way to reach the Spice Islands by sailing west across the newly discovered Pacific Ocean. The aim was not only to bring those rich lands into the Spanish realm, but also to prove that it was possible to sail all the way around the world.  The voyage did succeed, albeit at a terrible cost in lives with barely 30 of the 240 men who left surviving the long ordeal.

Arquivo de las Indias

To celebrate the completion of that first circumnavigation in 1522, a rich programme of activities are taking place in Seville. Foremost among their aims is to highlight the fact that in spite of Magellan being credited with that achievement, the man who actually brought back the ship Victoria and its decimated crew was Juan Sebastian Elcano.

El viaje mas largo” (The longest voyage) was the theme of an exhibition at the National Archives where many unique documents of that expedition were on display. It was quite moving to read comments such as those written by Elcano about the arduous 11,000-mile passage from Timor, in current Indonesia, to the Cape Verde Islands, “for three months and twenty days we didn’t find any land, but two uninhabited islands.” Half the men who left Timor had died en route, with only 18 landing in Seville three years after their departure.

Elcano’s achievement in safely bringing the ship Victoria and its crew home has been recognised by this monument…

… dedicated to his memory by the City of Seville.

Torre del Oro (Golden Tower) on the banks of the Guadalquivir River has been protecting the city since medieval times. It now houses a naval museum and is also the base of the Naval Commander of Seville. My visit to Seville was to present my own Elcano project to the local authorities. Having been designated an official event of the quincentenary celebrations, I had set up a number of meetings with local authorities to prepare for the planned start of my own voyage along that historic route, due to depart Seville in October.

With Javier Albert Perez, Naval Commander of Seville, Amable Esparza of the Port of Seville, Rafael Ponce and Susana Hernandez of the Elcano Association

Comandante Albert Peres reassured me that as an official event of the quincentenary celebrations, the Elcano Challenge enjoys the full support of the Spanish Navy.

At the Seville Port Authority I had the opportunity to describe my plans to President Rafael Carmona Ruiz, who also assured me of his support.

Amable Esparza, Commercial Director of the Port Authority, with the opening bridge over the Guadalquivir River leading into the inner pool and docking area in the background.

My last visit was to City Hall where I was received by Councillor Faustino Valdes Morillo (on left), Santiago Garcia-Dils, International Promotion Coordinator, and Captain Juan Garcia Sanchez, Spanish Navy.  This was my first visit to Seville since 1992 and the start of America 500, the transatlantic rally to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage.

America 500 route

After the start in Palos de la Frontera, close to Seville, the 146 participating yachts sailed the historic route by calling, just as Columbus and his three ships had done 500 years previously, at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, San Sebastian de la Gomera, and San Salvador in the Bahamas.

Sevilla today

With its broad avenues, wealth of historic buildings and medieval quarters, Seville is in my view the most beautiful city in the world.  And this being Andalusia, let me finish with something that you can only savour here: flamenco!

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