Columbus sailed from
Palos de la Frontera
3 August, 1492.
His flagship, the Santa Maria had 52 men aboard while his other two ships, the Nina and Pinta each held 18 men. The expedition made a stop at the Canary Islands and on 6 September 1492 sailed westward.
Let us look at the first voyage and the victuals embarked on the three vessels, the Nina, Pinta andSanta Maria. The first problem was to obtain supplies of food, wine and water. At the Canary islandsthey picked up fresh water, wood and the famous Gomera goat cheese.
Columbus' first voyage had the best victuals (and enough to last a year), not the case in his other voyages.
The menu for Spanish seamen consisted of water, vinegar, wine, olive oil, molasses, cheese, honey, raisins,rice, garlic, almonds, sea biscuits (hardtack), dry legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, beans, salted and barreledsardines, anchovies, dry salt cod and pickled or salted meats (beef and pork), salted flour. The olive oil andperhaps olives were stored in earthenware jugs.
All other provisions were stored in wooden casks which,according to some reports, were of cheap and faulty construction permitting the preserving brine to leak outof the meat casks and moisture to invade the casks of dry provisions. All were stored in the hold, the driestsection of which was normally reserved for those casks carrying dry provisions. A cooper (barrel maker) wasresponsible for keeping the casks tight, an almost impossible challenge.
Food, mostly boiled, was served in a large communal wooden bowl. It consisted of poorly cooked meat withbones in it, the sailors attacking it with fervor, picking it with their fingers as they had no forks or spoons. Thelarger pieces of meat were cut with the knife each sailor carried. At the time of Columbus, the only means of cooking was an open firebox called "Fogon." It was equipped with
a back to screen it from the wind. Sand was spread on the floor of the box and a wood fire built on it. Of course,all this was obliterated in stormy weather.Later on, portable ovens were made available to set up ashore whenthe opportunity arose.
Fish was cheaper and more readily available than meat and was served more often. Meats were often prepared insome sort of stew with peas other legumes or rice and served with sea biscuits which were soaked in the soup or inwater for edibility. Sea biscuits were purchased to last at least a year, providing they were kept in dry areas.
For drink the crew had wine and water. Both were stored in wooden barrels. The wine was red and high in alcohol -- a preservative feature. It probably came from the hot, dry, undulating treeless chalky plains of Xeres (Jerez)near Cadiz, where the vines were first planted by the Phoenicians, tended by the Greeks after them and then theRomans and much later the Moors. The wines while rich in character were not fortified at that time. Fortificationcame much later.
During the days of calm at sea, the sailors would fish and then cook their catch.