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The Legendary Atlantic crossing

Zichmni's Fleet: 3D Graphic by Sigurd Towrie

The first, and perhaps biggest, hurdle encountered when looking at the legend of the 1398 Atlantic crossing is the fact that Henry Sinclair, and the Orkney Islands, are simply not mentioned in the Zeno Narrative.

Supporters of the legend claim that Sinclair's apparent absence from the Narrative, as well as the difficulty in matching the identities of people and places detailed within, is simply because the descendent compiling the document made several mistakes deciphering Nicolo Zeno's handwriting.

They claim that five generations had passed since the letters were originally penned, so their condition, the faded handwriting and the obscure references contained within meant the editor was working with documents he may have had difficulty reading and did not fully understand.

Zichmni or Sinclair?

For example, they claim that Henry Sinclair is not absent from the account but that the name "Zichmni" was simply a misspelling of "Sinclair", or perhaps an error transcribing the calligraphy for the title "d'Orcades" – “of Orkney”.

The American landing

Despite the fact that the original Zeno Narrative clearly states that Zichmni landed in Greenland (or "Engrouelanda" as the narrative puts it), since 1780 writers have been trying to interpret the Zeno account as documentation of a trip to North America.

The most common variant has it that after a failed landing attempt - said to have been Newfoundland - where they were driven off by natives, the Zichmni expedition was forced to sail south-west for a further ten days, finally dropping anchor in, what has been claimed, is now Guysborough Harbour.

The land these explorers discovered abounded in fresh water, fowl, eggs and fish - a place they regarded as an earthly paradise.

Seeing smoke above a distant hill and thinking it to be a sign of civilisation, Zichmni despatched 100 of his soldiers to investigate. Upon their return, the reconnaissance party informed Zichmni that the smoke was a natural phenomenon, billowing from a fire at the base of a nearby hill. Beneath this hill was a spring from which there flowed a black substance like pitch that ran into the sea.

Around the area of the hill, the soldiers also encountered a number of "savages", that they described as small in stature and living in caves. It has been speculated that the location of this smoking hill was at a place now known as Stellarton, approximately 50 miles from Guysborough Harbour.

According to this interpretation of the Narrative, a number of the party wanted to establish a settlement in the New World but a proportion wanted to return home before winter set in. Unwillingly led by Zeno, some of the expedition members made the eastward journey back over the Atlantic.

Zichmni, claims the narrative, remained, with the intention of creating a settlement and continuing his exploration of the New World.

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