Christopher Columbus and UFOs: Are We Putting Words in His Mouth? 17-31

ColumbusUFO09As cryptozoology lovers, we’ve often heard how Columbus spotted a UFO on one of his voyages. I always wondered if that was true and what he really said in his diary. I finally looked it up and the result was interesting, but perhaps inconclusive. See what you think!

It is said that on October 11, 1492, Christopher Columbus witnessed a UFO, along with another crewman. I accepted it as fact because I knew he kept journals and figured it was easy enough to reference. If they were wrong in quoting him, then “someone” would have pointed it out by now.

Boy was I wrong. Remember the fiction about Leif Erickson seeing Bigfoots when he arrived in the New World? I’ll put that article in the reference section below. That was another whopper.

ColumbusUFO05The Journal

There are several problems with the original journal, the first one that Columbus kept of his 1492 voyage. The original seems to have been lost (to date, anyway) but someone named Bartolome de Las Casa transcribed it – in 1530, almost 40 years later. Historians Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, Jr. noted, “Barring the unlikely discovery of the long-lost original Diario or of the single complete copy ordered for Columbus by Queen Isabella, Las Casa’s partly summarized, partly quoted version is as close to the original as it is possible to come.”

Partly summarized and partly quoted version?!

So we’re not getting the whole unadulterated version as originally written by the Admiral. Still, scholars seem to feel de Las Casa did a pretty good job. But this leaves an opening to doubt some of what was written, at least in my mind.

ColumbusUFO06I originally read a forum post on a site called I tried to access it today but was unable to because you have to join their membership and I didn’t want to get into that. I have no idea how I was able to see this post originally, but that’s the web for you.

Anyway, a forum user named HardTruth shared a quote from the book The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. It goes like this:

“1492, October 11, 10:00 PM: Christopher Columbus and Pedro Gutierrez while on the deck of the Santa Maria, observed “a light glimmering at a great distance.” It vanished and reappeared several times during the night, moving up and down, “in sudden and passing gleams.” It was sighted 4 hours before land was sighted, and taken by Columbus as a sign they would soon come to land.”

I don’t have a copy of The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, but I do have a copy of The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus.

ColumbusUFO03Book Two

So in the book The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus by J. M. Cohen, we read on the back cover, “J. M. Cohen has skillfully woven together Columbus’s log-books and letters, the biography by his son Hernando, the official history by Oviedo, and the letters of the fleet physician and a loyal lieutenant. The result is a unique contemporary record of a great adventure as it unfolds.”

Contemporary record? Not good. We need to know what Columbus himself said.

According to Mr. Cohen’s account, “The Admiral, however, went on the sterncastle at ten o’clock in the night, had seen a light, though it was so indistinct he would not affirm that it was land. He called Pero Gutierrez, butler of the King’s table, and told him that there seemed to be a light and asked him to look. He did so and saw it. He said the same to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent in the fleet as accountant, and he saw nothing because he was not in a position from which anything could be seen. After the Admiral spoke this light was seen once or twice and it was like a wax candle that went up and down. Very few thought that this was a sign of land, but the Admiral was quite certain that they were near land.”

ColumbusUFO02Third Version

I found another version online which I hope is the best of them all because it’s from academia. It’s from the Swarthmore College, PA website. Here’s their version of the original:

“After sunset he steered on his former course to the west. They made about 12 miles each hour and, until two hours after midnight, made about 90 miles, which is twenty-two leagues and a half. And because the caravel Pinta was a better sailor and went ahead of the Admiral it found land and made the signals that the Admiral had ordered. A sailor named Rodrigo de Triana saw this land first, although the Admiral, at the tenth hour of the night, while he was on the sterncastle saw a light, although it was something so faint that he did not wish to affirm that it was land. But he called Pero Gutierrez, the steward of the king’s dais, and told him that there seemed to be a light, and for him to look: and thus he did and saw it. He also told Rodrigo Sanchez de Segovia, whom the king and queen were sending as veedor of the fleet, who saw nothing because he was not in a place where he could see it. After the Admiral said it, it was seen once or twice; and it was like a small wax candle that rose and lifted up, which to few seemed to be an indication of land. But the Admiral was certain that they were near land, because of which when they recited the salve, which sailors in their own way are accustomed to recite and sing, all being present, the Admiral entreated and admonished them to keep a good lookout on the forecastle and to watch carefully for land; and that to the man who first told him that he saw land he would later give a silk jacket in addition to the other rewards that the sovereigns had promised, which were ten thousand maravedis as an annuity to whoever should see it first. At two hours after midnight the land appeared, from which they were about two leagues distant.”

The Light

So we have three similar but different versions of the same account. I think it’s clear that Columbus saw something and they all agree it was a very small light in the distance that the 15th century sailors likened to a candle light.  They all mention that it moved up and down, none of them say that it went underwater.


So what did Columbus and Gutierrez See?

It could have been light from a distant island because the way the islands are spread out, they form a sort of crescent shape. If Columbus was passing above the initial islands heading to his landing point, he may possibly have seen human fire or torches (hence the up and down movement) of the natives. See map below.

ColumbusUFO04Then again, they were in the Bermuda Triangle, a place known for strange lights and weather phenomenon, as well as a host of strange occurrences and disappearances.  There is some crazy Earth energy occurring in and around that area. They may have seem some kind of ball lightning, perhaps a distant St Elmo’s fire – who knows?

If he thought this was some kind of extraterrestrial flying ship, wouldn’t he have made a lot more fuss in the diary? Wouldn’t they all have been exclaiming about it, and talking about it? Instead, the Admiral simply believes it’s an indication that they were near land. And guess what – they were!

ColumbusUFO10I’m just guessing here and trying to think of alternatives.  Why? Because none of these accounts made me instantly think of a UFO. One thing we know about USOs/UFOs is that they are not shy about approaching ships in our waters. We know this from several modern day reports.  So if that was a UFO, why didn’t it come investigate what Columbus was doing?


I don’t think we’ll ever know what the Admiral and his crew saw that night. We don’t have his original record, we have paraphrases from various sources, and a lot of misinterpretation.

I think Columbus’s reaction is very telling. He didn’t get excited or go crazy at the sight of the light. It was just an observation that got him thinking they were near land, which they were.

I’m not saying UFOs don’t exist, but I see nothing in his account that makes me believe he saw a UFO or that he thought he saw a UFO.


What do you think about all this?


Christopher Columbus, The Four Voyages, edited by J. M. Cohen (London: Penguin Books, 1969).




  1. Very interesting. My opinion, the light was some Indian’s campfire. Camp fires move up and down. It never says it was in the sky and why would they have taken it to be a sign of land if they didn’t think it was on land?

    • Great point, Lisa! Yes it could have been a campfire, or torch or something. They seem to have been close enough to land for that to happen.

      Thanks for visiting CryptoVille! … Susan (CryptoVille)

  2. I’m wondering about the moon! There is no mention that it was a bright night or a moonless night. If it was a bright moon there may have been a reflection on a white stone cliff just peeping over the horizon as the ship rose and fell in the waves. There are lots of explanations for these type of sightings and so many people jump on the UFO wagon when there is no obvious cause.
    And I’m not fond of second or third party accounts anyway. Human memory is sketchy at best, even in the first person. Without the original writings of Columbus himself, it’s unlikely that the true story will ever be known.

    • That’s an excellent point Ella! Where was the moon? That certainly could be reflecting off of something far away on shore. Thanks for sharing!

      And thanks for visiting CryptoVille! … Susan (CryptoVille)

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