Physical description of Island I

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Columbus anchored at Island I on the morning of October 12, 1492, and reported that it was "green" and "flat". Since this is true of all Bahamian islands, this is not particularly helpful. He also said that the island was bien grande, an ambiguous phrase that could be translated as "fairly large," or alternately "good sized" -- again, not very helpful.

He said that there was a laguna muy grande in the middle of the island. Watlings advocates translate this phrase as "very large lake" (which fits Watlings nicely), while Samana advocates prefer "very large lagoon," (which sort of fits Samana). The official Diccionario de la Lengua Espaņol provides a definition that would most closely fit "very large pond."

Columbus explored the island by boat on October 14, saying:

"I went north-northeast the length of the island, in order to see the other part, which is the eastern part, which there is."

On the boat trip, he reported seeing the following things in this order:

  1. Two or three Indian villages.
  2. People who came to the beach, offering gifts and asking the Spaniards to come ashore.
  3. A big stone reef that encircled that island all around.
  4. A harbor between the reef and the island, with enough depth for ships, some shallow spots, and enough room "for all the ships in Christendom." The harbor entrance was "very narrow."
  5. A good place for a fort, formed like an island, although it was not an island. But it could be cut through to make an island in two or three days.

The boat trip started at dawn, and Columbus does not say how long it took; however, he set sail from Island I after returning that same day, so nine or ten hours would be a reasonable maximum. The speed made by the boats can be inferred from another boat trip taken on the north coast of Hispaniola, when a boat sailed from Navidad to the island of Amiga (modern Rat Island) and back in fifteen hours, at a speed of just under two knots. The Hispaniola trip had legs both with and against the prevailing wind, just as (we can assume) the boat trip at Island I. It would therefore be reasonable to assume a maximum length for the boat trip of about 20 nautical miles or so.

Further, some of Columbus's remarks make it seem as though he had seen all or substantially all of Island I, either on the boat trip, or that combined with the approach to Island I on the morning of October 12. First, Columbus mentions the reef that circles the island "all around;" second, Columbus says that the entire population of the island could be subdued by fifty Spaniards.

The last important description of Island I comes much later, while exploring the north coast of Hispaniola. Columbus comes across an island with multi-colored stones of a kind "like those seen on" Island I. The stones, he says, could be used for paving or for building a church.

These descriptions are the basis for eight clues in the scorecard: large pond, eastern part of the island, went NNE, went the length of the island, surrounding reef, large harbor, narrow entrance, and island-like peninsula. Other descriptions are not useful or unassessable.


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