Epic lives

Although the section on The Crew se relacionan datos de todos los integrantes de la expedición, las biografías de algunos de ellos resultan tan increíbles que merecen ser destacadas y que nos detengamos a conocerlas. already provides some data on the members of the expedition, some of their biographies are so incredible that merit our attention.


The boy everyone took care of

Vasquito was a child- and he survived. His father was the pilot of the Basque-Galician House of Trade, and he wanted his son to travel with him as a page, so he could become a sailor. They both embarked in the Victoria, Vasquito as a page. Among the crew there were many other pages, all young men that helped in the most varied tasks.

His father died during the journey through the Pacific due to an illness, only six days before arriving to the Island of Thieves, what could have saved his life. After this moment, everyone took care of Vasquito, who survived despite the dearth he suffered.

When returning to Spain through the Atlantic with Elcano’s Victoria, the crew decided to risk asking for help to the Portuguese in Cape Verde. On the third day, those who had taken land with a boat did not return. Among them was Vasquito, who was held captive by the Portuguese, whilst the rest of the Victoria crew had to leave to avoid being apprehended.

Juan Sebastián Elcano told Emperor Charles V, in an emotional letter that told him of his arrival and success, that 13 of his men were being held captive in Cape Verde. Luckily, Charles V solved the problem some weeks later, and they were all left free and sent to Spain.

Gonzalo de Vigo

Native but Spanish

He first embarked as a cabin boy in the Concepción. He was one of those that stayed in the Moluccas repairing the Trinidad ship. During the attempt trip to return through the Pacific, the situation in the Trinidad worsened, and became desperate, with people dying every day. So, when they arrived to the Island of Maug, north of the Marianas Archipelago, Gonzalo de Vigo fled with other two men, Martín Genovés and Alonso Gonzalo.

Four years later, in 1526, the Loaysa expedition arrived to the Island of Thieves (Guam), and one of the Indians that approached them spoke to the crew in Spanish. It was Gonzalo de Vigo, who was living with the rest of the natives in the island. It must have been very surprising for the Spanish men in the ship.

He asked for royal forgiveness, which would absolve him of his crime of desertion, and the Spanish did not doubt on conceding it to him. As he told them, his two friends died from an illness not too long after they had left.

Gonzalo de Vigo joined the expedition, and ended up having a great role when the Santa María de la Victoria arrived to the Moluccas, both as an interpreter with the natives, and as a warrior against the Portuguese.

He never returned to Spain, but we do not know what happened to him. Maybe he stayed there because he wanted to.

Esteban Gómez

First in NY

He was a Portuguese man that already had a good reputation before the journey started, which could mean that he had already participated in other Portuguese expeditions to India, although there is no record of it. He was 36 or 37 when he joined Magellan as a pilot of His Majesty.

Gómez was part of the group that rebelled against Magellan, although, once everything ended, no measures were taken against him.

After discovering the Strait of Magellan, and before they reached its end, Esteban Gómez became the pilot of the San Antonio ship, he subdued the captain and kept his crew. He claimed the discovery of the Malvinas, although it is nowadays not attributed to him, although the islands would start appearing in the maps after his return.

Once in Spain, he was imprisoned, but was released after Elcano completed the circumnavigation. He convinced Charles V to send another expedition to search for another way to cross America, this time through the North.

Thus, in 1524 he commanded an expedition that would sail along the Atlantic coastline of North America for the first time, from Florida to Labrador, becoming the first European to discover the coasts of the future cities of New York and Boston. He named Hudson Bay the San Antonio Bay. The maps, for years, labelled these lands as the lands of Esteban Gómez.

He was killed by the natives of the Paraguay River in 1538, during the expedition of Pedro de Mendoza to the Rio de la Plata.


Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa

The bitter side of fate

The story of Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, a captain born in the city of Burgos, is very moving. He was an upright and honest man, above all loyal to his king, who was in charge of the other ship that sailed from the Moluccas with Elcano. But destiny had a different, cruel and bitter, plan for him.

As soon as the Trinidad, the ship that would lead Elcano to complete the first circumnavigation, set sail to start the return trip from the Moluccas to Spain, the crew found out that the other ship was damaged. Both ships returned, and it was then discovered that the heavy load of clove had shaken the ship’s log. It was a serious setback that needed a long and expensive repair.

At this point, the decision was for Elcano to continue the trip, the first circumnavigation, while Espinosa, once the Trinidad was repaired, considering there were no guarantees on the state of the ship, would attempt to reach the closest Spanish shore, which was that of Panama. There they could be assisted, and they would be able to continue the journey. It was the shortest option, and therefore the safest. Please read the section “The Trinidad’s attempt to return” for a more thorough description of this event.

The goodbye between the crews of the Victoria and the Trinidad was very emotional: “We all cried”, says Pigafetta.

The thrill of being one of the first men to circumnavigate the world had faded. He was left in charge of 60 men, who had to survive, with the added danger of the Portuguese, who were directing an armada to the area to prevent them from succeeding, discovering them there.

After four long months of repairs, in suspense for the arrival of the Portuguese, the Trinidad finally left for Panama. However, the winds were never on their favour, and Espinosa was forced to go north to find favourable winds to the east. This journey lasted five months, in which they did not find favourable winds, until a storm caused grave damage to the ship, and he decided to return to the Moluccas.

The months it took to return were terrifying. There was no food, and every two days someone died. They discovered the 14 islands of the North Marianas Archipelago. The deceases decreased, and they managed to arrive to the Moluccas after seven months. But as they had already imagined, the Portuguese were there.

It was very unlucky, because the same route would be followed and completed years later by Andrés de Urdaneta, after multiple expeditions attempted to connect Asia and America. This was one of the tricks that fate had reserved to Espinosa: choosing the right route, but not being able to complete it. No one would ever remember that the great naval intuition of Urdaneta is preceded by that of Espinosa and the sailors of the Trinidad.

With the arrival to the Moluccas began the agony for the 17 survivors, who were taken captive and ill-treated. Espinosa was imprisoned for no less than five years, being transferred to Banda, Malaca and Cochin. And yet he was lucky, because the others died. Only four of them would go back to Spain.

Being imprisoned in Cochin, he managed to send King Charles V a letter that, incredibly, reached its destination, and that we can still read today. In it he narrates his dramatic situation and asks for help from the king, and warns him that the Portuguese are setting up a fleet towards the Moluccas. It is a deeply moving document.

Espinosa ended up being imprisoned in Lisbon, but seven months later the efforts of Charles V for his release were finally successful. Espinosa was able to set foot in Spain again in 1527, no less than five years after the arrival of the Nao Victoria. He was received by Carlos V in Valladolid and honoured with a coat of arms and a lifetime salary, which ended up costing him a lawsuit to collect, accepting his reduction to an unjust payment, and was named captain of the ships of the Indies.

Most of the existing literature on him says that he died shortly after, around 1529 or 1530. However, although the date of his death is unknown, we do know that in 1543 he was still active in his work for the House of Trade of Seville, receiving two salaries, one as captain, and another as pilot of the ships that left for the Indies.

Juan Rodríguez de Mafra

Experienced in Columbus' travels

Juan Rodríguez de Mafra's story merits our attention for being one of the most prolific Spanish explorers between the late 15th Century and the beginning of the 16th Century. Born in Palos (Huelva, Spain), he joined Magellan's expedition whilst being already a famous and experienced sailor, and he was named Captain of His Highness by the House of Trade.

He participated in Columbus' second and third trip, and in several of the so-called Andalusian Trips to America: he discovered part of the Brazilian coast, he travelled with Rodrigo de Bastidas to the Darien, made two new trips to Cuba, one more to the Española Island (now Dominican Republic and Haiti), and yet another to San Salvador.

Unfortunately, he died in Magellan's expedition at the age of 51, after completing the journey through the Pacific, the same day they arrived to Mazava Island (Philippines).

Columbus was present at Magellan's expedition, as was reported by his former fellow Juan Rodríguez de Mafra.

León Pancaldo

The great evasion

He was one of the survivors of the Trinidad, thanks to a bizarre flee from the prison in Cochin where the Portuguese held him captive.

León Pancaldo was a pilot from Genoa that, thanks to his experience, became the pilot of the Trinidad. He shared his fate with Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, but managed to escape from the prison in Cochin thanks to two men from Genoa, who helped him hide in a Portuguese ship that was returning to Portugal. He was discovered during the journey and left captive in Mozambique. However, he managed to escape again, hiding in another ship that was leaving for Lisbon.

He was also discovered in this ship. It would have been logical for him to be killed in any of the ships, but it is clear that both captains knew he was someone important, and that it corresponded to the Portuguese king to decide his fate. He was imprisoned in Lisbon, but the emperor Charles V negotiated his release, which was made effective in 1527, five years after Elcano arrived, and at the same time Espinosa, his captain, returned.

He then returned to his native Genoa as a famous sailor. The French offered to pay him a large sum to captain an expedition to the Moluccas, but he declined. So did the Portuguese, but also then he declined the offer.

He did serve the Spanish king again as the captain of an expedition to Peru that left in 1538. However, he did not manage to cross the Strait of Magellan, and he decided to return and dock in Rio de la Plata, where he died.

In the city of Savona (Genoa), he is remembered with the tower in the picturenamed after him.


He probably is the author of the Roteiro of a Genovese pilot, an anonymous document that narrates the difficulties the Trinidad suffered in its attempt to return through the Pacific.

Ginés de Mafra

He was not dead

The epic is personified in the figure of the Jerez-born Ginés de Mafra. He shared the fate of his captain Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, staying with the nao Trinidad in Tidore, and returning to Spain five years later after the captivity to which the Portuguese submitted him to.

Upon returning home, he found that his wife, who had given him up for dead, had married another man, and had sold his belongings. Thus, Ginés de Mafra went back to the sea to never return. He enlisted with the expeditions of Pedro de Alvarado in the Pacific. There are indications that he might have been in Peru. Finally, when he was 48, in 1542 he enlisted as pilot of the San Juan de Letrán in the expedition de Rui López de Villalobos to the Moluccas. He survived again to this trip, returning to Lisbon.

Miguel de Rodas y Martín Méndez

United in life and death

Both sailors separated for some time their common destiny when the nao Victoria went to Cape Verde in search of supplies, and the Portuguese arrested thirteen of their expeditionaries, among which was the notary Martin Méndez, who would not be released until a few months after the Victoria arrived to Seville, with the boatswain Miguel de Rodas among the 18 who managed to survive.

They both joined again when they enlisted in the third expedition to the Moluccas, that of Sebastian Caboto, although he opposed to taking them with him despite the interest the Emperor himself had in it. Caboto could not prevent them from embarking, even with Miguel de Rodas as a senior pilot.

However, Caboto failed miserably in its expedition, and did not even reach the Strait of Magellan. After a strong dispute with Miguel de Rodas and Martín Méndez, he left them on a small island off the Brazilian coast. They both drowned trying to escape from it in a canoe.

Hernando de Bustamante

Barber and captain

Hernando de Bustamante, native of the Spanish region of Extremadura, was the barber of the nao Victoria, that is, the doctor. He was one of the eighteen survivors who managed to return to Seville after completing the first circumnavigation.

During the trip he must have established a solid friendship with Juan Sebastián Elcano, because he embarked with him again towards the Moluccas in the second expedition that was organized from Spain, known as the Loaysa expedition.

Other members of Magellan’s expedition who enlisted to the Moluccas with Elcano were the Master Hans, of whom we have already spoken, and Roldán de Argote, who like Elcano died on the way.

Hernando de Bustamante survived the journey, arriving at the Moluccas, where a long war against the Portuguese was being fought, which with the very few means that both sides carried and with mutual alliances with the natives lasted for eleven years. During this time, with an increasingly small number of surviving Spaniards - among whom was also Andrés de Urdaneta - Hernando de Bustamante was appointed captain in charge.

Finally, given the impossibility of receiving help and the long-lasting character of the situation, Hernando de Bustamante decided to give up in return for the Portuguese to take them back to Spain. However, on the way to India someone poisoned him deadly, thus ending his days.