Locating Luna's Ochuse

A Galleon in a Storm

To locate Ochuse, conquistador Tristan de Luna's port of entry, one need only consider the simple navigation tactics "encrypted" in his expedition's published sailing directions.

Luna's sailing directions, written in a letter from the Viceroy of Mexico to the King of Spain on Sept. 24, 1559, and published by H.I. Priestley in The Luna Papers, were as follows: On June 11, 1559, Tristan de Luna sailed for 17 days out of Veracruz, Mexico, then was blown by a 6 day storm from a point 20 leagues south of the Rio del Espiritu Santo, the Mississippi River, into the Gulf of Mexico. He then "...took a tack toward the northeast in quest of the coast of La Florida. At the end of 8 days... they sighted the coast of Florida in 29°30' latitude, eight leagues to the westward from the Bahia de Miruelo."

Tristan de Luna's Sailing Track from Mexico - Press for Google Earth Image

Interpretation: Having entered the Deep Water Port fifty-two miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River, Luna was blown southeast, back into the Gulf of Mexico. He rode its loop current to the ten brazas depth line near Apalachicola in 29°30' latitude. His ships then coasted to the Gulf of Mexico's northernmost shore located 8 leagues (21 miles) west of the Bahia de Miruelo, today's Choctawhatchee Bay

Press for Spanish Coastal Map of 1700

Continuing, the letter states: "There the fleet cast anchors, and they took on water, wood and grass. There they experienced some trouble from the severe weather that came on. From that place the fleet set sail on July 17th in quest of the port of Ochuse, sending a frigate in advance to explore the coast. As the pilot who was in the frigate did not recognize the port of the Ochuse, the fleet sailed past it and went on, to anchor in the Bahia Filipina, which was discovered by Guido de las Bazares."

Interpretation: Having gathered water, wood and grass from the nearby mainland, Luna sailed west - two days before the full moon of July 19th, 1559. Despite having a bright moonlit sail, Luna missed both Pensacola and Mobile Bays. He entered Missisippi River (Bahia Filipina) via Ship Island Pass, that coast's westernmost cut. Beyond it are the shallow waters of the Mississippi River Delta.

Continuing, the letter states: "Thence the governor, Don Tristan de (Luna), sent in search of the port of Ochuse, as he had information that it was the biggest port and the most secure one there was on all that coast. A frigate, sailing eastward along the same coast along which the fleet had come, found the port of Ochuse which is some 20 leagues from the Bahia Filipina, and 35 leagues more or less from the Bahia de Miruelo, so that it is between these two in 30°20' latitude."

Interpretation: Luna sent his pilot, Guido, eastward from Ship Island through Mississippi Sound in a shallow draft frigate to find the port. He found Ochuse in 30°20' latitude, 50 miles (20 leagues) from Ship Island and 90 miles (35 leagues) from Choctawhatchee Bay: OCHUSE was MOBILE BAY.

Continuing, the letter states: "When the frigate returned with the news, they at once decided to go thither with the fleet, and because it seemed best that the horses should go by land, they were taken ashore at the Bahia Filipina, and some of the companies also went by land to the said port of Ochuse with about one hundred and forty horses which remained from the more than two hundred and forty they took, for the rest had died at sea. At the entrance to this Bahia Filipina where Guido had been, the fleet had some difficulty on the account of the shallow bottoms as well as of the strong current, and of the weather, which freshened. The fleet set out from this Bahia Filipina for the port of Ochuse on the day of our Lady of August, for which reasons they gave the bay the name Santa Maria Filipina."

Interpretation: Luna landed his horses and people at Pascagoula, Mississippi; the closest land near deep water to Mobile Bay in Mississippi Sound. On the windy afternoon of August 15, 1559, he left the sound via its easternmost pass at Petit Bois Island, the one Guido had used in the frigate. Luna could, thereby, sail up Mobile Bay on the full moon and Spring Tide currents of August 17th, 1559.

D.E.S.   www.FloridaHistory.com

About Pensacola's "Luna" Artifact

The Pensacola "Luna" Breastplate

Ian Eaves

Ian Eaves was Keeper of Armour, Royal Armouries, Tower of London, for 18 years.

Since 1995, Ian has served as President of the The Arms and Armour Society. He is a freelance arms and armour consultant, undertaking cataloguing and research work for various museums and institutions in Britain, Continental Europe and the US.

Ian's Current Publications and Postings:

Mannerism in the Art of Italian Armour
Catalogue of European Armour
The Art of the Gun

The Tristan de Luna Papers