• 2022.10.04
  • Juan Sebastián de Elcano
Juan Sebastián de Elcano was a 16th century sailor and explorer from the Basque region of Spain whose name has been lent to a sailing training ship in the Spanish Navy in recognition of his great achievements. It was exactly 500 years ago now that he completed the first single-voyage circumnavigation of the earth in human history. The leader of that Spanish armada was the Portuguese man Ferdinand Magellan (known in his birth-country Portugal as Fernão de Magalhães, and in Spain as Fernando de Magallanes), who later became a Spanish citizen. The armada left the port town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Andalusia on September 20, 1519, and returned some 3 years later to the same port on September 6, 1522, after having crossed the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

Figure 1

There were 275 sailors aboard the 5 vessels when they left port, but in the end, just 18 returned on only 1 vessel, the Victoria, a type of sailing ship called a “nao” (carrack). The armada’s commander, Magellan, was killed midway on the voyage, in fighting on Mactan Island in the Kingdom of Cebu on April 27, 1521. Elcano then succeeded Magellan as leader and led the remaining 17 sailors to achieve the honor of the first circumnavigation of the globe. Image 1 shows the route of the first circumnavigation of the world, under Magellan (on the right) and Elcano (on the left). The departure and arrival points are shown as Seville, but that is a river port a little over 100 km inland, so in practical terms, the ocean voyage started and ended at Sanlúcar port. Shown as a dotted line on the map is the route of the San Antonio, which split off from the armada near the Strait of Magellan and returned to Spain.

Photo 1

There have been many reports in the media on this great achievement 500 years ago, but a certain national TV channel raised a huge firestorm by showing a map of the voyage with a lot of mistakes on it. Photo 1 shows their absurd sea route map. In the first place, the armada departed Seville on August 10, 1519, and the “September 10” shown on this map is the date the armada departed Sanlúcar. Then after passing through the Strait of Magellan, through some inexplicable fault, the route deliberately goes north, stopping off near the border between Peru and Ecuador. And in the second half of the voyage, it shortens the circumnavigation of the African continent and somehow or other does the impossible, passing through the Suez Canal, which is supposed to have been opened in 1869, some 350 years later. The route then goes along the Mediterranean Sea, passing out of it at the Strait of Gibraltar, once more launching off into the Atlantic Ocean. Netizens had great fun asking questions about the ridiculous map like, “Perhaps they were using GPS?”

Photo 2

Photo 3

Well, putting this extraordinary, botched report aside, there was an event on September 6 commemorating the 500th anniversary of the great achievement that is the topic of this article, with the Spanish Navy putting on a fleet review, a parade of warships at sea off Sanlúcar, the port Elcano departed from and returned to. His Majesty King Felipe VI commanded the review as Commander-in-Chief, sailing aboard the flagship, the Juan Sebastián de Elcano, a sailing ship for training officer cadets. Photo 2 shows the amphibious assault ship Juan Carlos I, named after the present King’s father, which is deployed for landing operations, etc., alongside the Elcano, as it examines a Harrier II, a vertical/short take-off and landing aircraft, at the moment of takeoff. In photo 3, the 2 sailing ships following the Elcano are, first, a replica of the nao Victoria, which accomplished the circumnavigation of the world, and then behind it, a replica of the Andalusia, a galleon that operated on the trade route to America in the 17th century.

Photo 4

Please excuse this personal reminiscence, but I have actually been aboard this training ship, the Elcano, 50 years ago in 1972. The Elcano had berthed in Tokyo on a 305-day deep ocean training voyage around the globe. Volunteers, students who were studying Spanish at the time, guided the sailors, one student to each sailor, around the streets of Tokyo, practicing their language skills at the same time. I was one of the volunteers and guided a sailor. One of the strongest impressions I have of that time was that the sailor took off his hat whenever he entered a building, including pachinko parlors and ramen shops. He explained “I've been taught that it's polite to remove your headdress in spaces where there are ceilings.” I also remember he was amazed how ramen and coffee could be the same price. Once the specified time was up and we had returned to the ship, we were taken to the mess aboard ship and were treated to Spanish beer, San Miguel, as well as Spanish omelet (tortilla). These are some fond memories of my direct interaction with Spain half a century ago.

Photo 4 shows the gallant figure of the sailing training ship, the Elcano, under full sail, on the website of the Spanish Navy.


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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