Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) was the first European explorer to ever reach Asia by sailing only westwards. The Portuguese captain also initiated (he didn’t survive the full journey himself) the first full circle around the globe, with that proving without a doubt that the world was completely round. On this amazing expedition the crew on his five ships suffered a lot from starvation and a lack of clean water. However, Magellan made sure that alcohol was never a problem since he spent more money on wine and sherry than his flagship and all the weapons on board.
Ferdinand Magellan was Portuguese by birth and in the early 16th century his countrymen basically ruled the international waters, as they knew all the routes to exotic places. But Magellan was adventurous and he proposed to King Manuel I in 1517 to find a new route to Asia by sailing westwards, past America. If the Earth was really round, this should be possible he claimed, by the same logic as when Christopher Columbus set sail and discovered America. The Portuguese king however didn’t want to finance this expedition, and the frustrated Magellan offered his services to the Spaniards.
The young Spanish King Charles I was enthousiastic about hiring Magellan and gave him enough money for 5 ships, crew and supplies. The recruited men came from Spain, Portugal, Italy, England, France, Germany and Greece and most of them were ex-prisoners. Basically a rough bunch of guys with very little to lose. This may also explain why alcoholic beverages were by far the biggest expense for the trip. In those days it was a common strategy to hand out booze whenever the crew started to grumble.
The 5 ships of the Magellan Expedition at the time of departure all together had 417 wineskins on board. Since we couldn’t find a clear source on how many liters of wine a single wineskin contained, it’s impossible to tell how many liters in total we’re talking about here. However all sources are very clear on the fact that the total amount of wine costed more than Magellan’s flagship the San Antonio.
Besides his wine stock, Magellan also brought 253 kegs of sherry on board of his ships. Once again we don’t want to make rough estimations on the total amount in liters, but for sure the sherry stock costed more than all the weapons (normally the largest expense on these risky adventures) on all 5 ships together. All together it’s safe to say that the Magellan Expedition was carrying a small fortune in booze.
Once the Spanish mini armada finally found a way to get from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean the real struggles started. On the endless water they ran out of supplies. Well, food and fresh water that is. One of the men who kept a journal describes how everyone suffered from hunger and the only water left was yellow and stinking. Who was lucky enough to catch a rat, could sell it for a high price and the buyer would eat it. Without the enormous stock of booze one may have spoken of a completely hopeless situation.
Magellan and his crew however pulled through and discovered Guam and the Philippines. In this last country the explorer died on the island Mactan, while fighting the Lapu-Lapu tribe (named after their chief Rajah Lapu-Lapu). On September 6th, 1522 the Victoria was the only ship out of the original 5 that made it back to Spain and the first ship ever to sail around the world. Without Magellan himself, but his name lived on in the many new discovered things that were named after him on this adventure.
And the best way the born Portuguese is remembered to this very day may well be the national holiday in the Philippines on the day of his death: April 27. Lapu-Lapu Day is a notorious event, when most people are get extremely smashed with alcohol. We have no doubt Magellan wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.