Arne B. Molander

Peer Reviewed

Abstract: The question of how Christopher Columbus and his contemporaries navigated has long been held captive by the ongoing debate about his momentous 1492 landfall. Most historians today favor landfall locations at least 90 nmi south of the latitude implicit in Columbus’ journal. To justify this discrepancy, they must assume Columbus ignored the celestial sphere and allowed his “errant” compass to pull him far off his western track. Yet evidence from various Sources-Columbus’ sailing routes and dates, contemporary accounts, unbiased navigation experts, early cartography, and even the sometimes ambiguous island descriptions from his journal-combines to give overwhelming support to the concept that Columbus sailed a fixed latitude using the culminations of circumpolar stars. Although there is no evidence to confirm that he also measured longitude celestially, compelling circumstantial evidence is provided by strong temporal correlations of his position estimates with a special class of lunar-planetary conjunctions suitable for longitude determination with the crude instruments then available.
Published in: NAVIGATION: Journal of the Institute of Navigation, Volume 44, Number 4
Pages: 401 - 410
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