James Skinner goes
to sea with the Spanish Armada - 'Victory will be ours'.
Rogelio was the youngest
son of a fishermans family. Their home was on the outskirts of Corunna,
Spain. Rogelio spent his days fishing with his father and helping his
mother at the downtown marketplace. One particular Tuesday was like no
other however, for Rogelio looked out towards the bay and saw a sight
he would remember for the rest of his life; The Spanish Armada had arrived
from Lisbon to undergo a refit.
It was a grandiose sight. Over a hundred and fifty warships were at anchor
in the harbour. The town was swarming with thousands of soldiers as they
feasted before embarking on their forthcoming voyage. The fleet commanders
were recruiting more seamen for the ships companies (whether they wanted
to go or not). Rogelio felt a sense of adventure flow through his veins.
Without hesitation, he signed up as one of the cabin boys. His father
was overjoyed; his mother cried.
Your main chores are to clean the officers cabins, empty bedpans
and prepare the bunks at night, said his Captain. Si ,
answered Rogelio. You will also find time to assist the deck hands
in repairing sails. Is that understood? Si Senor . There
was no mention of battle duties.
12th, 1588, the Armada set sail, northward bound to confront
their eternal enemy the English. The fully rigged Ciudad
de Salamanca was one of ten transport vessels. A four
masted schooner with a compliment of 300 men, she was laden
with fleet supplies. As she sailed across the Bay of Biscay
towards Cornwall. Rogelio took a last glimpse at the disappearing
silhouette of his hometown. He was both sad and happy, yet he
was proud to be part of the magnificent Spanish navy as it sailed
to conquer England. (He was assured that this would be an easy
victory as the English were not prepared and besides, were terrible
Two weeks into the journey, Rogelio sighted land. Look, Manuel ,
as he pointed towards the Lizard, off Cornwall. Is that where we
Yes answered his new and erudite friend. Just be patient.
He then added: keep an eye out for a big ugly Englishman. His name
is Drake the Pirate. Try to avoid him as they say he likes to gouge out
Spanish cabin boys eyes.
A shiver ran down Rogelios spine.
The Spanish Commander of the fleet continued towards the Channel whilst
the English navy slipped silently out of Plymouth in pursuit of its prey.
Suddenly the English were there!
They had appeared from nowhere. Rogelio rushed towards the side shacking
with excitement. He stood stunned at the magnificent display of vessels.
They all seemed to follow a particular pattern as they positioned themselves
for battle. Within minutes it began. Gunners manned their positions. Officers
shouted orders. Cannons roared and broadsides began to find their mark.
'Don't blink,' Manuel
told him, winking, 'it will all be over by noon and we shall be celebrating.'
Rogelios was not so certain. This was a far cry from casting nets
with his father. The incredible noise seemed to shatter the inside of
his head. Cannonballs really did 'roar' through the air. The Captain
of the Ciudad, being a supply ship, was trying to keep back,
out of trouble. Rogelio, still transfixed at the railings, was suddenly
thrown to the deck. A rigger had fallen on him from the main mast. His
face had been blown away. Rogelio, ran for cover out of sheer panic.
He huddled under a staircase, clutching his chest, his eyes shut tight
and his teeth clenched.
Many ships had been badly damaged now and began to burn. Several were
completely destroyed and rapidly sinking. After suffering heavy casualties,
the Armada headed for safety. Hours later, they finally made it to Calais
The remaining Spanish ships were now at anchor, and the crew were tending
to their wounds. The Captains pouring over charts were busily working
out the next course of action for the invasion of England. Although
still stunned by his first experience of battle, Rogelio was helping
with the clean- up of his battered ship. By nightfall, completely exhausted
he retired to his bunk. he was puzzled. Where was this victory he had
Suddenly all hell broke loose. Rogelio was fast asleep when he heard
shouting and screaming going on above deck. The English had set off
ten fire vessels filled with inflammable material in the direction of
the stationary fleet. Floating fireballs could be seen slowly making
their way towards their mark. Bells began to sound, anchors were cut
loose, sails were hoisted and mayhem set in. The Armada was once again
on the move. This time it was running for its life.
Rogelio felt a hefty blow on the back of his head. Get up top
and help put out the fire! shouted the First Officer at his humble
servant as he hit and pushed the poor lad up the ladder. He found himself
on deck shuffling through dozens of frantic sailors trying to control
the blaze. Luckily it was a minor one caused by fragments of burning
sail from another ship. The fire was soon under control and the remainder
of the fleet was back at sea. Many ships had been lost in the ensuing
battle of Gravelines, yet the Ciudad de Salamanca and young
Rogelio managed to survive.
Daybreak was followed by a change in the wind. What was left of the
Spanish Armada was being blown towards the coast of Scotland off the
North Sea. The Commander of the fleet, Medina Sidonia, took a wise decision.
It was time to head for home.
As the ships moved away from battle, Rogelio began to think about home.
He had been gone for just over a month yet it seemed like an eternity.
He pictured his father going about his work and casting his daily net
for the odd fish. He reminisced about his mother when she wiped her
tears without saying a word as he walked up the gangplank to his unknown
fate. He thought about his brothers and sisters. Would they be proud
or would they scorn him for leaving home?
Storms in the North Sea were not uncommon. Ferocious southwesterly winds
began to stir the ocean as the Armada retreated. Once again, Rogelios
survival instincts were put to the test. As the ship rolled from side
to side, he dropped the cutlery he was putting away and ran up top.
The ship ahead had come to an abrupt halt. There was an enormous explosion
and it suddenly keeled over and sank. It had hit a rock just off the
coast of Ireland. The Ciudad de Salamanca couldnt
have been more than half a mile away and heading in the same direction
as the captain shouted: Hard starboard! Rogelio could see
the remains of the ship slipping beneath the sea. He could hear the
screams of the drowning sailors fighting for what was left of their
lives. What next he thought? Will I ever get back home? For the first
time, Rogelio began to cry.
Many more Spanish ships and men were lost as gale force winds battered
them in every conceivable direction. It was as if rocks and rough seas
were in collusion to destroy the remnants of the Armada. Nevertheless,
the Ciudad de Salamanca miraculously pulled through. A calm
Atlantic ocean welcomed the remaining sixty odd ships as they rounded
the south of Ireland.
They eventually entered Santander harbour three months after setting
sail from Corunna. On the quarterdeck of the Ciudad de Salamanca,
the Captain bellowed orders to his crew as if nothing had ever happened.
The cold look on his face disguised the horror that had gone before
them. Rogelio was packing his few belongings as his friend Manuel entered
the cabin. Were back home, Rogelio. Are you glad?
I just want to see Papa again, replied Rogelio. (And never
go to sea again he muttered under his breath)
© James Skinner. 2001.
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