The third squadron of the Fifth Armada, António de Saldanha in Africa

Throughout much of this, the third squadron of the Fifth Armada were still fruitlessly looking for each other in Africa. Diogo Fernandes Pereira had long disappeared from sight somewhere after Cape Verde, and had hurried on ahead by himself, while the other two ships, António de Saldanha and Rui Lourenço Ravasco, ended up by mistake at São Tomé.

In the Summer of 1503, while the Albuquerques were doubling the Cape, the third squadron was probably still making is way painfully down the African coast, tacking against contrary winds and currents. Somewhere along this process, Saldanha lost track of Ravasco as well.

Again, by poor piloting, Saldanha miscalculated his Cape crossing, and ended up making landfall just north of the Cape of Good Hope. To check if the cape had been surpassed, Saldanha anchored in the hitherto unknown Table Bay, and went ashore. He is said to have climbed Table Mountain and observed Cape Point and the vast expanse of False Bay beneath it. Saldanha thus became the first European to set foot in what is to become modern Cape Town.[24] During this landing, there was an apparent skirmish with local Khoikhoi, in which Saldanha got slightly wounded.

Table Bay was promptly named Aguada de Saldanha (Saldanha’s watering stop) by Portuguese cartographers. However, in 1601, Dutch cartographer, Joris van Spilbergenmistakenly identified another bay, much further to the north (modern Saldanha Bay), as Aguada de Saldanha and hence a new name, ‘Table Bay’, was introduced for Saldanha’s actual anchoring spot.

What happened from this point is a bit obscure. By one account, as chance would have it, the two other ships of the Third Squadron – Rui Lourenço Ravasco and Diogo Fernandes Pereira – may have found each other on the other side of the Cape, at another watering hole, the Agoada de São Brás (Mossel Bay). From here, they decided to proceed together toMozambique Island, the pre-arranged collection point for Portuguese ships, hoping to find Saldanha there. But Saldanha was, of course, behind them, still trying to get around the Cape. It is possible that at this point Rui Lourenço Ravasco decided to stay in Mozambique Island to wait for Saldanha, while Diogo Fernandes Pereira sailed north, presumably toMalindi, to see if he could catch up with the Albuquerques.

However, this hypothesis rests almost fully on a report, from Albuquerque, that, on his return, he found a note (or notes?) at São Brás reporting that both Ravasco and the ship of Setubal (i.e. Fernandes) had been there. Whether it was one note (both together) or two separate notes (left separately) is unclear. Most authors (e.g. Theal (1902: 163)) assume Ravasco and Fernandes did not find each other at any point, that Diogo Fernandes Pereira had long given up any hope of reconnecting his own squadron, and just went along on his own.

Discovery of Socotra

A more curious hypothesis is proposed by chronicler Gaspar Correia – namely, that after crossing the Cape by himself, Diogo Fernandes Pereira did not turn into the Mozambique Channel at all, but rather pushed east, sailing under the island of Madagascar, and then sailed north, up the east coast of Madagascar – thus making Diogo Fernandes Pereira the first known captain to sail the ‘outer route’ to the East Indies.

Although Correia’s account is not corroborated by other chroniclers, it has an element of plausibility. We do not actually hear of Fernandes stopping at Mozambique Island (where he would have found Ravasco) or any other major African town. Rather, the next we hear of Fernandes is up near Cape Guardafui, which strongly suggests that he did take the outer route as, sailing north by the outer route, would only have seen African coast again precisely around the horn.

It was around Cape Gauardafui that, late in the year, Diogo Fernandes Pereira made another breakthrough – discovering the island of Socotra, hitherto unknown to the Portuguese. With the monsoon already reversed, Fernandes anchored in and spent his winter on the island.

Socotra was, however, well-enough known to eastern merchants, having been the principal source of Socotra aloe, a highly-valued balm in the markets of Arabia and India. More interesting to Fernandes was its strategic location (optimal for a Red Sea patrol) and the existence of an isolated but strong Christian community on the island -Syriac Christians (quasi-Nestorians) to be precise. Fernandes’s reports would be excitedly received back in Lisbon, and one squadron of the 8th Armada of 1506 would be given the mission of conquering it for Portugal.

Extortion of Zanzibar, Barawa, Mombassa

Of the other two, we know that in October, 1503, António de Saldanha was still stuck in South Africa – for he had left his own note at the watering hole inMossel Bay (São Brás) with that date. Rui Lourenço Ravasco, in the meantime, had left Mozambique Island and moored his ship in Kilwa (Quiloa), waiting for his captain. The summer monsoon winds were long gone by then, so there was no hope of an Indian Ocean crossing that year. The third squadron was stuck in Africa until the next summer. So they contented themselves with plucking prizes.

Rui Lourenço Ravasco quickly made a nuisance of himself. He grabbed a few ships off Kilwa, before being reminded that Vasco da Gama had already extorted ‘tribute’ from Kilwa and thus the city was protected. So Ravasco sailed up to Zanzibar to find some more prey. There he was challenged by the Zanzibari fleet, but Ravasco got the best of it and took a few more ships. In the aftermath, the sheikh of Zanzibar agreed to submit and pay a yearly “tribute” of 100 maticals (gold coins) to the King of Portugal.

Ravasco is said to have proceeded to Portuguese-allied Malindi, to find it under siege by the army of Mombassa. Ravasco jumped into the fray and captured a fleet that had come from Barawa (Brava) to assist the Mombassans. Finding several leading nobles of Barawa aboard, he compelled their ransom and extorted an annual tribute from the Somali city.

By that time, Saldanha, who had been taking some prizes of his own, also reached Malindi, finally catching up with Ravasco. They proceeded together to attack Mombassa (Mombaça). Although they didn’t reduce it to tribute, they nonetheless compelled the ruler of Mombassa to agree to withdraw his troops and make peace with the sultan of Malindi.

With much of the East African coast having paid them off, Saldanha and Ravasco ran out of targets, so they proceeded north to the Gulf of Aden to look for new prey. Although Diogo Fernandes Pereira was just nearby, quietly wintering in Socotra, they never came across him. Saldanha and Ravasco are said to have entertained themselves preying on Arab shipping coming in and out of the Red Sea up until the next summer.

In the early Spring of 1504, Diogo Fernandes set sail out of Socotra for India by himself, and is said to have arrived in Cochin during the great battle. Saldanha and Ravasco started their crossing only in the summer of 1504, and did not get past Anjediva, where they were found by the arriving 6th Armada.

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