The Cat Island theory


Map of the Cat Island route (Mackenzie 1828)

One of the oldest landfall theories, Cat Island was originally proposed in the 18th century, before the log of Columbus was discovered, on the basis of maps which named Cat Island as the landfall. How those early cartographers got that idea remains an unresolved mystery.

When Fernandez de Navarrete discovered and published the Diario in 1825, he also came out in favor of Grand Turk as the landfall. Washington Irving, who was writing a biography of Columbus, called on U.S. Navy Cmdr. A. S. Mackenzie for advice on the landfall issue. Mackenzie evaluated the only two theories of the day, Cat and Grand Turk, and came away favoring Cat. Irving published Mackenzie's analysis, and as a result the Cat Island theory enjoyed a flurry of support in the next decade from the likes of Alexander von Humboldt.

Today the Cat Island theory is all but forgotten, thanks to its many shortcomings. In particular, the description of Island I (which for some reason many people place a lot of emphasis on, to the detrement of other important clues) is rather poor.

The Cat theory proposes: Island I, Cat Island; Island II, Conception Island and Northern Long Island; Island III, Exuma Island; Island IV, Long Island. For the Islas de Arena, Mackenzie proposed not the usual Ragged Islands, but rather the Mucaras, a group that was charted on the Great Bahama Bank in the 18th century. Unfortunately for the Cat theory, the Mucaras do not really exist!

Unresolved problems with the Cat theory:
  1. Island I was "completely surrounded" by a reef. No such reef at Cat.
  2. The surrounding reef enclosed a large harbor. No such harbor at Cat.
  3. From his anchorage, Columbus went NNE along the coast of Island I. No such coastline from Cat anchorage.
  4. No proposed transatlantic track is compatible with known (or suspected) magnetic variation in the Atlantic in 1492. Correcting this problem would pull the end of the transatlantic track southward.
  5. The map of Juan de la Cosa shows Guanahani as a group of islets, lying roughly east-west.
  6. There was a peninsula with a narrow neck at Island I. There is no such peninsula at Cat.
  7. Unchallenged historical research indicates that the population of Guanahani as seen by CC was in the 500-1100 range. But archaeological and anthropological evidence suggests the likely pre-contact population of Cat was several times greater than this.
  8. Columbus reported seeing many islands at various distances after leaving Island I, some closer than five leagues. No such close islands from Cat.
  9. Columbus reported Island II had a coast running North-South. No such coast at Conception.
  10. Even if there were such a coast, it would not face Island I, as reported by Columbus.
  11. Island II must be at least 5 leagues north to south. Conception is much smaller.
  12. Island II must be at least 10 leagues east to west. Conception is much smaller.
  13. Columbus reported distance from Island II to Island III as 8 or 9 leagues. Distance from Conception to Exuma is 15 leagues, or from Long Island is 5 leagues.
  14. Columbus reported the coastline of Island III runs NNW-SSE. The coast of Exuma runs NW-SE.
  15. Columbus reported a harbor two leagues from the end of Island III. Although there are many anchorages at Exuma, they are farther than this from either end of the island.
  16. The two harbor entrances at Island III were both "very narrow" and separated by a small island. This does not fit Exuma, where the harbor has many entrances both narrow and wide, separated by many islands large and small.
  17. After leaving harbor to the NW, Columbus reported a coast running E-W. No such coastline at Exuma.
  18. Columbus did not sight Island IV until 3 hours after leaving island III. Long Island is already in view from the departure point at Exuma.
  19. The coast of Island IV runs west from the northern point. Long Island runs SSE from the northern point.
  20. Columbus reported many ponds near Cabo del Isleo (his arrival point at the northern end of Island IV). There are no such ponds at the northern end of Long Island.
  21. From within the bight, there was a way southwest that was "very roundabout." There is no such southwestern route in this theory.
  22. Columbus's initial course from the northern end of Island IV was WSW. This course from Long Island puts Columbus aground on Exuma. Further, the departure time of midnight seems most unlikely given the extremely shallow water west of Long.
  23. The entire proposed leg after leaving Long Island crosses the very shallow, foul, and dangerous Great Bahama Bank: an unlikely course for these ships.
  24. The Islas de Arena seen by Columbus are proposed to be the Mucara islands -- which do not actually exist!


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