Today, the Columbus Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin remembers when land was sighted and named Trinidad, 519 years ago.
From Christopher Columbus and How He Received and Imparted the Spirit of Discovery by Justin Winsor, published in 1891:
Parting with these vessels off Ferro, Columbus, with the three others, — one of which, the flagship, being decked, of a hundred tons burthen, and requiring three fathoms of water, — steered for the Cape de Verde Islands.
His stay here was not inspiring. A depressing climate of vapor and an arid landscape told upon his health and upon that of his crew.
Encountering difficulties in getting fresh provisions and cattle, he sailed again on July 5, standing to the southwest.
Calms and the currents among the islands baffled him, however, and it was the 7th before the high peak of Del Fuego sank astern. By the 15th of July he had reached the latitude of 5° north.
He was now within the verge of the equatorial calms. The air soon burned everything distressingly; the rigging oozed with the running tar; the seams of the vessels opened; provisions grew putrid and the wine casks shrank and leaked.
The fiery ordeal called for all the constancy of the crew, and the Admiral himself needed all the fortitude he could command to bear a brave face amid the twinges of gout which were prostrating him.
He changed his course to see if he could not run out of the intolerable heat, and after a tedious interval, with no cessation of the humid and enervating air, the ships gradually drew into a fresher atmosphere.
A breeze rippled the water, and the sun shone the more refreshing for its clearness.
He now steered due west, hoping to find land before his water and provisions failed.
He did not discover land as soon as he expected, and so bore away to the north, thinking to see some of the Carib Islands.
On July 31 relief came, none too soon, for their water was nearly exhausted.
A mariner, about midday, peering about from the masthead, saw three peaks just rising above the horizon.
The cry of land was like a benison. The Salve Regina was intoned in every part of the ship.
Columbus now headed the fleet for the land.
As the ships went on and the three peaks grew into a triple mountain, he gave the island the name of Trinidad, a reminder in its peak of the Trinity, which he had determined at the start to commemorate by bestowing that appellation on the first land he saw.
He coasted the shore of this island for some distance before he could find a harbor to careen his ships and replenish his water casks.
On August 1 he anchored to get water, and was surprised at the fresh luxuriance of the country.
He could see habitations in the interior, but nowhere along the shore were any signs of occupation.
His men, while filling the casks, discovered footprints and other traces of human life, but those who made them kept out of sight.
He was now on the southern side of the island, and in that channel which separates Trinidad from the low country about the mouths of the Orinoco.
Before long he could see the opposite coast stretching away for twenty leagues, but he did not suspect it to be other than an island, which he named La Isla Santa.
It was indeed strange but not surprising that Columbus found an island of a new continent, and supposed it the mainland of the Old World, as happened during his earlier voyages ; and equally striking it was that now when he had actually seen the mainland of a new world he did not know it.
By the 2d of August the Admiral had approached that narrow channel where the southwest corner of Trinidad comes nearest to the mainland, and here he anchored.
A large canoe, containing five and twenty Indians, put off towards his ships, but finally its occupants lay upon their paddles a bowshot away.
Columbus describes them as comely in shape, naked but for breech-cloths, and wearing variegated scarves about their heads.
They were lighter in skin than any Indians he had seen before.
This fact was not very promising in view of the belief that precious products would be found in a country in habited by blacks.
The men had bucklers, too, a defense he had never seen before among these new tribes.
He tried to lure them on board by showing trinkets, and by improvising some music and dances among his crew.
The last expedient was evidently looked upon as a challenge, and was met by a flight of arrows.
Two crossbows were discharged in return, and the canoe fled.
The natives seemed to have less fear of the smaller caravels, and approached near enough for the captain of one of them to throw some presents to them, a cap, and a mantle, and the like; but when the Indians saw that a boat was sent to the Admiral’s ship, they again fled.
While here at anchor, the crew were permitted to go ashore and refresh themselves.
They found much delight in the cool air of the morning and evening, coming after their experiences of the torrid suffocation of the calm latitudes.
Nature had appeared to them never so fresh.
Columbus grew uneasy in his insecure anchorage, for he had discovered as yet no roadstead.
He saw the current flowing by with a strength that alarmed him.
The waters seemed to tumble in commotion as they were jammed together in the narrow pass before him.
It was his first experience of that African current which, setting across the ocean, plunges hereabouts into the Caribbean Sea, and, sweeping around the great gulf, passes north in what we know as the Gulf Stream.
Columbus was as yet ignorant, too, of the great masses of water which the many mouths of the Orinoco discharge along this shore; and when at night a great roaring billow of water came across the channel, — very likely an unusual volume of the river water poured out of a sudden, — and he found his own ship lifting at her anchor and one of his caravels snapping her cable, he felt himself in the face of new dangers, and of forces of nature to which he was not accustomed.
To a seaman’s senses not used to such phenomena, the situation of the ships was alarming.
Before him was the surging flow of the current through the narrow pass, which he had already named the Mouth of the Serpent (Boca del Sierpe).
To attempt its passage was almost foolhardy. To return along the coast stemming such a current seemed nearly impossible.
He then sent his boats to examine the pass, and they found more water than was supposed, and on the assurances of the pilot, and the wind favoring, he headed his ships for the boiling eddies, passed safely through, and soon reached the placid water beyond.
The shore of Trinidad stretched northerly, and he turned to follow it, but somebody getting a taste of the water found it to be fresh.
Here was a new surprise. He had not yet comprehended that he was within a landlocked gulf, where the rush of the Orinoco sweetens the tide throughout.
As he approached the northwestern limit of Trinidad, he found that a lofty cape jutted out opposite a similar headland to the west, and that between them lay a second surging channel, beset with rocks and seeming to be more dangerous than the last.
So he gave it a more ferocious name, the Mouth of the Dragon (Boca del Drago).
To follow the opposite coast presented an alternative that did not require so much risk, and, still ignorant of the way in which his fleet was embayed in this marvelous water, he ran across on Sunday, August 5, to the opposite shore.
He now coasted it to find a better opening to the north, for he had supposed this slender peninsula to be another island.
The water grew fresher as he went on.
The shore attracted him, with its harbors and salubrious, restful air, but he was anxious to get into the open sea.
He saw no inhabitants.
The liveliest creatures which he observed were the chattering monkeys.
At length, the country becoming more level, he ran into the mouth of a river and cast anchor.
It was perhaps here that the Spaniards first set foot on the continent.
The Columbus Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows with an image of the monument honoring the adventurer on the southern coast of Trinidad.