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Now browsing: Hometown News > Opinion > Brevard County

Letter to the editor
Rating: 2.79 / 5 (19 votes)  
Posted: 2013 Jan 25 - 06:35

Ponce de Leon landing

For nearly 500 years, Ponce de Leon was thought to have landed near St. Augustine. The main reason for this belief was that according to Ponce de Leon's log, the location of his first landfall was at 30 degrees eight minutes, which is a few miles north of St. Augustine.

The problem with this is that the measurements in Ponce de Leon's log were not very accurate.

The log states that Key West was located at 26 degrees 15 minutes, when it is actually at 24 degrees 35 minutes. This places Key West about 100 miles too far north. The rest of the log entries average this error.

There are a number of reasons for this error: maps of the time contained a northerly bias, location was often determined by dead reckoning compounding inaccuracies and compass error.

The compass error was caused by using a compass made in Seville, Spain, which was set to true north there. When brought to North America, it would have a 1/2-point (5.63 degree) error.

Douglas T. Peck, a retired Air Force officer and deepwater navigator turned historian, duplicated Ponce de Leon's voyage, following his log.

His reenactment led him to Melbourne Beach.

In his book about the voyage, "Ponce de Leon and the Discovery of Florida," he stated that he would "place the accuracy within five to eight nautical miles on either site of this navigational fix."

According to the log, after the initial landfall, Ponce de Leon sailed south for 12 days. The log reports nothing of interest until they came to a cape, which was named "Cabo de los Correintes."

While rounding this cape, the log reports that they ran into a strong northerly current. Two of the ships were able to drop anchor, but the third, which was a little further out to sea was carried north by the current.

This scenario is not likely to have happened off Cape Canaveral, as the bottom there has a gradual drop off and the Gulf Stream is many miles off shore.

However, there is a cape near Lake Worth where there is an abrupt change to the sea floor and the Gulf Stream is near shore.

If you accept that the cape Ponce de Leon found after sailing south from his initial landing spot is the cape near Lake Worth, then it seems unlikely that he landed north of Cape Canaveral, as that would have been noted in the log.

These are the reasons that Ponce de Leon may have landed in Melbourne Beach on April 3, 1513.

This year is the 500th anniversary of his voyage, and there will be a reenactment of this historic event in both St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach.

Rocco Maglio

Vice Mayor, Melbourne Beach

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