“made the passage thither in seventy-one days and back in forty-eight” — Columbus Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin

Today, the Columbus Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin remembers when he arrived back to Spain on March 15, 1493.

Though his return trip was not without difficulties as described in Christopher Columbus and How He Received and Imparted the Spirit of Discovery by Justin Winsor, published in 1892:


There was one thought which more than another troubled Columbus at this moment,, and this was that in case his ship foundered, the world might never know of his success, for he was apprehensive that the “Pinta” had already foundered. Not to alarm the crew, he kept from them the fact that a cask which they had seen him throw overboard contained an account of his voyage, written on parchment, rolled in a waxed cloth. He trusted to the chance of someone finding it. He placed a similar cask on the poop, to be washed off in case the ship went down. He does not mention this in the journal.

After sunset on the 15th there were signs of clearing in the west, and the waves began to fall. The next morning at sunrise there was land ahead. Now came the test of their reckoning. Some thought it the rock of Cintra near Lisbon; others said Madeira; Columbus decided they were near the Azores. The land was soon made out to be an island; but a head wind thwarted them. Other land was next seen astern. While they were saying their Salve in the evening, some of the crew discerned a light to leeward, which might have been on the island first seen. Then later they saw another island, but night and the clouds obscured it too much to be recognized. The journal is blank for the 17th of February, except that under the next day, the 18th, Columbus records that after sunset of the 17th they sailed round an island to find an anchorage; but being unsuccessful in the search they beat out to sea again. In the morning of the 18th they stood in, discovered an anchorage, sent a boat ashore, and found it was St. Mary’s of the Azores. Columbus was right!

After sunset he received some provisions, which Juan de Casteñeda, the Portuguese governor of the island, had sent to him. Meanwhile three Spaniards whom Columbus sent ashore had failed to return, not a little to his disturbance, for he was aware that there might be among the Portuguese some jealousy of his success. To fulfill one of the vows made during the gale, he now sent one half his crew ashore in penitential garments to a hermitage near the shore, intending on their return to go himself with the other half. The record then reads: ” The men being at their devotion, they were attacked by Casteñeda with horse and foot, and made prisoners.” Not being able to see the hermitage from his anchorage, and not suspecting this event, but still anxious, he made sail and proceeded till he got a view of the spot. Now he saw the horsemen, and how presently they dismounted, and with arms in their hands, entering a boat, approached the ship. Then followed a parley, in which Columbus thought he discovered a purpose of the Portuguese to capture him, and they on their part discovered it to be not quite safe to board the Admiral. To enforce his dignity and authority as a representative of the sovereigns of Castile, he held up to the boats his commission with its royal insignia; and reminded them that his instructions had been to treat all Portuguese ships with respect, since a spirit of amity existed between the two Crowns. It behooved the Portuguese, as he told them, to be wary lest by any hostile act they brought upon themselves the indignation of those higher in authority. The lofty bearing of Casteñeda continuing, Columbus began to fear that hostilities might possibly have broken out between Spain and Portugal. So the interview ended with little satisfaction to either, and the Admiral returned to his old anchorage. The next day, to work off the lee shore, they sailed for St. Michael’s, and the weather continuing stormy he found himself crippled in having but three experienced seamen among the crew which remained to him. So not seeing St. Michael’s they again bore away, on Thursday the 21st, for St. Mary’s, and again reached their former anchorage.

The storms of these latter days here induced Columbus in his journal to recall how placid the sea had been among those other new-found islands, and how likely it was the terrestrial paradise was in that region, as theologians and learned philosophers had supposed. From these thoughts he was aroused by a boat from shore with a notary on board, and Columbus, after completing his entertainment of the visitors, was asked to show his royal commission. He records his belief that this was done to give the Portuguese an opportunity of retreating from their belligerent attitude. At all events it had that effect, and the Spaniards who had been restrained were at once released. It is surmised that the conduct of Casteñeda was in conformity with instructions from Lisbon, to detain Columbus should he find his way to any dependency of the Portuguese crown.

On Sunday, the 24th, the ship again put out to sea; on Wednesday, they encountered another gale; and on the following Sunday, they were again in such peril that they made new vows. At daylight the next day, some land which they had seen in the night, not without gloomy apprehension of being driven upon it, proved to be the rock of Cintra. The mouth of the Tagus was before them, and the people of the adjacent town, observing the peril of the strange ship, offered prayers for its safety. The entrance of the river was safely made and the multitude welcomed them. Up the Tagus they went to Rastelo, and anchored at about three o’clock in the afternoon. Here Columbus learned that the wintry roughness which he had recently experienced was but a part of the general severity of the season. From this place he dispatched a messenger to Spain to convey the news of his arrival to his sovereigns, and at the same time he sent a letter to the king of Portugal, then sojourning nine leagues away. He explained in it how he had asked the hospitality of a Portuguese port, because the Spanish sovereigns had directed him to do so, if he needed supplies. He further informed the king that he had come from the “Indies,” which he had reached by sailing west. He hoped he would be allowed to bring his caravel to Lisbon, to be more secure; for rumors of a lading of gold might incite reckless persons, in so lonely a place as he then lay, to deeds of violence.

The Historie says that Columbus had determined beforehand to call whatever land he should discover, India, because he thought India was a name to suggest riches, and to invite encouragement for his project.

While this letter to the Portuguese king was in transit, the attempt was made by certain officers of the Portuguese navy in the port of Rastelo to induce Columbus to leave his ship and give an account of himself; but he would make no compromise of the dignity of a Castilian admiral. When his resentment was known and his commission was shown, the Portuguese officers changed their policy to one of courtesy.

The next day, and on the one following, the news of his arrival being spread about, a vast multitude came in boats from all parts to see him and his Indians.

On the third day, a royal messenger brought an invitation from the king to come and visit the court, which Columbus, not without apprehension, accepted. The king’s steward had been sent to accompany him and provide for his entertainment on the way. On the night of the following day, he reached Val do Paraiso, where the king was. This spot was nine leagues from Lisbon, and it was supposed that his reception was not held in that city because a pest was raging there. A royal greeting was given to him. The king affected to believe that the voyage of Columbus was made to regions which the Portuguese had been allowed to occupy by a convention agreed upon with Spain in 1479. The Admiral undeceived him, and showed the king that his ships had not been near Guinea.

We have another account of this interview at Val do Paraiso, in the pages of the Portuguese historian, Barros, tinged, doubtless, with something of pique and prejudice, because the profit of the voyage had not been for the benefit of Portugal. That historian charges Columbus with extravagance, and even insolence, in his language to the king. He says that Columbus chided the monarch for the faithlessness that had lost him such an empire. He is represented as launching these rebukes so vehemently that the attending nobles were provoked to a degree which prompted whispers of assassination. That Columbus found his first harbor in the Tagus has given other of the older Portuguese writers, like Faria y Sousa, in his Europa Portuguesa, and Vasconcelles and Resende, in their lives of João II., occasion to represent that his entering it was not so much induced by stress of weather as to seek a triumph over the Portuguese king in the first flush of the news. It is also said that the resolution was formed by the king to avail himself of the knowledge of two Portuguese who were found among Columbus’s men. With their aid he proposed to send an armed expedition to take possession of the new-found regions before Columbus could fit out a fleet for a second voyage. Francisco de Almeida was even selected, according to the report, to command this force. We hear, however, nothing more of it, and the Bull of Demarcation put an end to all such rivalries.

If, on the contrary, we may believe Columbus himself, in a letter which he subsequently wrote, he did not escape being suspected in Spain of having thus put himself in the power of the Portuguese in order to surrender the Indies to them.

Spending Sunday at court, Columbus departed on Monday, March 11, having first dispatched messages to the King and Queen of Spain. An escort of knights was provided for him, and taking the monastery of Villafranca on his way, he kissed the hand of the Portuguese queen, who was there lodging, and journeying on, arrived at his caravel on Tuesday night. The next day he put to sea, and on Thursday morning was off Cape St. Vincent. The next morning they were off the island of Saltes, and crossing bar with the flood, he anchored on March 15, 1493, not far from noon, where he had unmoored the “Santa Maria ” over seven months before.

“I made the passage thither in seventy-one days,” he says in his published letter; “and back in forty-eight, during thirteen of which number I was driven about by storms.”


The Columbus Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s portrayal, circa 1850, of his return and being greeted by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.