From Cape Espíritu Santo, which is rocky and of moderate height, this coast runs SE for five or six leagues, decreasing in height gradually so that the furthest visible point is very low. Both the mountains and the lower parts are beautifully clothed in green. There are a few isolated rocks close in to the shore, but only two leagues off the cape we still could not obtain bottom with 120 fathoms of line.
We made use of a favourable moderate breeze from ENE under full sail, which took us to the meridian of the SE extremity and in sight of the cape itself and eventually to the entrance to Port Palapag, where I intended to stay for a few days. We observed hour angles at several of the more prominent points, while the Atrevida continued sounding, although without obtaining bottom. We continued to measure bases as we steadily approached Batag Island, whose rocky points surrounded by reefs could be clearly seen at nine o’clock in the morning.
A vessel coming from the east may enter Port Palapag by passing either side of the island. The southern entrance leads more directly to the river, but in the channel there are several banks with very little depth. The northern entrance between the islands of Batag and Cagahiaga, although it has reefs on either side and often very little wind, leads into a wider channel clear of dangerous sandbanks. This latter channel was the one we now chose for entering harbour, particularly as the wind was almost ENE so that it could be accomplished in one short, safe tack. We rounded the north side of Batag Island, two cables from the reef off the island at the same distance, and then stood to the south close hauled in depths of fourteen and fifteen fathoms, ooze, to make way against the tide, which was setting us toward Cagahiaga. At about midday, when we were well into the harbour, we dropped the bower anchor in nine fathoms, ooze, about two-thirds of a mile from the coast of Batag and in sight of the mouth of the Palapag River. We then lowered the launch and laid out the large kedge to the SW.
The more we considered the excellent qualities of this harbour, with its good shelter, the abundance of water and firewood, the villages nearby, and its position in the outer part of the river mouth, the greater was our desire to ensure by means of a thorough survey that this fine harbour could be safely used by the nation’s shipping. It was equally important to examine its natural products and wealth, while not losing sight of the need to make the fullest use of the valuable time available and to provide for our own safety during the various excursions which naturally had to be made, keeping in mind the ferocity of the pirates in these parts.
As far as we could see, the area around the harbour was entirely deserted. To make the best use of the afternoon in gathering the necessary information on which to base a well-conceived plan for our future activities, I took the Descubierta’s launch, fully armed, to Palapag, the nearest town, where the missionary or parish priest would be able to tell me all I needed to know. As an immersion of the first satellite of Jupiter was to take place that night, Teniente de Navío Concha accompanied me, so that we could observe it together and take the opportunity of being ashore after dark to determine the latitude of the town by the meridian passages of different stars.
Although the tide was against us it was not difficult to row to the mouth of the Palapag river before nightfall, but that did not add to our local knowledge since we had seen little more than a roofless and apparently deserted house. As the nearby fish pens were seen to be abandoned and we did not meet a single canoe, we began to suspect that the local inhabitants, unaccustomed to the sight of large ships and constantly harassed by pirates, had mistaken us for these. Finally, when night was already drawing on we saw a native at the foot of the turret or house that we had sighted before. Although he was extremely suspicious, in the end he gave in to our persuasion and proofs that we were indeed Spaniards and even more to our offers of generous presents if he would get into the launch. He spoke very little Spanish, but we had some sailors from these islands on board who were most useful to us, as although they only spoke the dialect Tagalog, they were nonetheless able to make themselves understood with the new arrival. He informed us that all the people in the vicinity had indeed thought us to be pirates, confused as they were by our ensign rather than by the structure of our ships. He himself had warned the village people, for whom he had been keeping watch with some others in the house that we had seen. Now that he was sure that we were Castellanos, he was willing to lead us in the launch to the town of Palapag, which was only an hour away.
The situation was now much changed, and we could flatter ourselves that our plans might be achieved, particularly as the outlook for the night was calm and clear. We left the steering of the launch to our new pilot, and at first he fulfilled our expectations. We had not gone more than half a league upstream, however, when we found ourselves aground on a muddy bottom, when the helmsman assured us that there was no better depth of water to be found on this kind of bar and that as the tide was ebbing rapidly we would be stranded until after the Moon had set at about three in the morning. We were unable to free ourselves from the mud with our oars and thus, with all our plans upset, it now seemed unlikely that we would be able to make any observations or to speak to the missionary father. Some canoes or banquillas passed along near the shore on either side of the river, but although our helmsman, whose voice they knew, called them over with assurances that we were Spanish, they answered that we were Moros, and on no account would they approach us to judge the truth of our claims.
At last the constant shouts and assertions of our guide, and particularly our offers of money, tipped the balance in our favour. Two small canoes approached the launch, and in them Don Juan Concha, myself and Piloto Hurtado, with the achromatic telescopes and pocket chronometer number 351, were able to continue towards Palapag, leaving the launch in the care of Don Felipe Bauzá, who was to be notified from Palapag of the best time and place in which to start his hydrographic work.
After making our way thus along a good stretch of the river, we then continued on foot for half a league on a track which ran between pleasant, leafy fields, before finally reaching the town of Palapag that we sought. Here we asked to be presented to the missionary father, who was a Franciscan friar. We then considered our troubles to be at an end, but another awkward situation, of equal difficulty, now arose. The friar was ill, and his very illness was causing him to lapse into a state of apathy and mental incoherence which was all the more unfortunate for us since there was no one else with the essential knowledge of the language. In vain did we question him about the nature of the surrounding country, the refreshments and other supplies which we might obtain, or a suitable place for us to make our astronomical observations. His ailments, the destruction caused last November by a terrible hurricane, and the almost daily depredations of the pirates were the only subjects of his replies. After a long hour of fruitless conversation we were obliged to take our leave, if we were not to miss the chance of observing the immersion, even if it were only from the public square. Our pleasure and surprise can be imagined, therefore, on hearing the friar give the unexpected order to have us taken to the nearby monastery, where the damage caused by the hurricane had already been partially repaired, to be served an abundant meal and offered all possible assistance by the town people.
As far as we could ascertain in the darkness, our trigonometric operations would be quite impossible in the thick forest which lay between the harbour and the town. I informed Don Felipe Bauzá of this immediately, so that he would not try to join us. At the same time I asked him for the theodolite and told him to get the launch afloat when the tide allowed, as we would join him there as soon as we could.
As for our observation, by now the only remaining objective in our mind, we were still dogged by a series of doubts and misfortunes. Clouds began to cover the sky, which increased as the time for the observation approached, and it seemed certain that we would miss our opportunity. However, luck was with us in the end, as there were two brief breaks in the clouds in quick succession which limited the immersion phase to a period of a few seconds, and accordingly we could calculate the longitude as approximately 228°54′ west of Cádiz. We immediately returned to the launch, which was now afloat, and by sunrise we were on board once more, very pleased that our perambulations during the night had not been entirely fruitless.
By then the natives had put aside all their fears and, attracted both by our willingness to buy whatever they offered and the high prices we paid in silver coin, they flocked to us in their canoes to sell everything they could find. In this way we obtained an extraordinary abundance of provisions, among which the cockerels were the most sought after, as they were useful both as food and as an amusement for the crew during their hours of leisure, since these fierce creatures entertained them with cock-fights, [a pastime] still enjoyed in Europe.
Señores Pineda and Haenke were quick to take advantage of the amenities of the surrounding countryside and the good will of the natives, previously mentioned, for their natural history excursions, as did Don Felipe Bauzá for his hydrographic operations, which were extended to include and the outer part of the harbour, as far as the area of Baliquatro in San Bernardino Strait. The armed launches were sent out, the two pilotos alternately taking charge, to continue carefully sounding the inner part of the harbour and the channels leading to it. A small island with a good view of the horizon, not far from the anchorage, gave the astronomers an excellent place for any observations to be made.
These included particularly the occultation by the Moon of number 414 in Mayer’s star catalogue, observed to our complete satisfaction on the night of the 5th, and also a further immersion of the first satellite of Jupiter which took place on the following night, observed by Señores Espinosa, Concha and Cevallos, although somewhat interrupted by the frequent passage of clouds. The method of absolute altitudes was preferred for rating the chronometers, as we had a good clear horizon in the morning, enabling us to allow the crew a good rest at night, it being unnecessary to keep watch ashore at the observatory.
The results of these important observations were as follows:
Longitude of the anchorage by the four chronometers, and by the assumed meridian of Umatac, west of Cádiz. 228° 53′ 5″
By satellite on the night of the 4th. 228° 53′ 48″
By satellite on the night of the 6th. 228° 53′ 13″
Latitude N 12° 37′ 5″
Variation NE 0° 20′ 0”