Monday, October 01, 2007
50. The Voyage of the Vizcaina: The Mystery of Columbus's Last Ship - Brinkbaumer and Hoges

Another book to scratch off my fall reading list. Today I finished The Voyage of the Vizcaina: The Mystery of Columbus's Last Ship. Written by Klaus Brinkbaumer and Clemens Hoges, two reporters for Germany's Der Speigel, this has to be the best translation I've come across. Originally written in their native German, if I hadn't known better, I would never have guessed that this wasn't written in English.

Here's the description from Amazon.com: After his discovery of the New World, Columbus embarked on at least two more journeys to the Americas, the last of which remains shrouded in mystery. In the mid-1990s, divers discovered the wreck of a large ship just off the coast of Panama, fueling rumors that this might be the remains of one of the ships from Columbus's final voyage. Brinkbäumer and Höges, journalists at Der Spiegel and amateur divers, traveled to Nombre de Dios, about 15 miles from Portobelo, where the ship went down, to report on this groundbreaking discovery and the politics surrounding it. Part archeological account, part biography, part adventure story and part cultural history, this lively and judicious account of the political intrigues and the excitement surrounding the discovery of the ship's remains offers fascinating reading. Brinkbäumer and Höges vividly recreate Columbus's unsuccessful final voyages. Taking four ships, Columbus returned to the New World in search of more riches. Although he reached the Americas, his ships—victims of shipworms eating through the wood of the hulls—began to sink one by one.

When I was about 2/3 finished, I was a bit disappointed as the authors had spent most of the book discussing (sometimes in great detail) Columbus's four voyages to the New World. However, as I read the remainder of the book I realized it was necessary to set the scene for the research, reconnaisance and recovery work being done today on the wreck in question (as well as others). My only real complaint about VoV is that the authors spent far too much time on Columbus's original voyage and and equal amount of time on the other three combined including the fourth voyage which is the focus of this book.

The Voyage of the Vizcaina is one of the better books on Columbus and his voyages of "discovery" that I've read. It is extremely well researched. Many books simply go to the previous works done on Columbus and quote their research and perhaps make a few generalizations. Hoges and Brinkbaumer however have interviewed underwater archaeologists involved with the wreck, treasure hunters, local residents, government officials, and Columbus experts from all over the world. They not only explore the technical side of underwater recovery but look at preservation and the personal side of the people involved: the various organizations and individuals fighting over who owns the rights to the ship as well as it's long-dead crew and, of course, it's Captain.

I give it 3 1/2 out of a possible five cannonballs - it would have ranked a four but I would have preferred a bit more information on the current work being done. If you're a freak like me when it comes to the "Age of Discovery", sailing, or interested in learning a bit more about Columbus (and the research being done by some of the world's leading experts in the field), give it a read.

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