1519: Ferdinand Magellan sets out from Spain with five ships, 260 men, and a mission to do an end run around the New World and just keep on going. Rounding South America, he passes through the strait that still bears his name. He gazes out on a whole new ocean. It looks “calm . . . benevolent,” so he dubs it the Pacific, and the name sticks. He makes the epic crossing and gets killed in the Philippines, but his expedition continues onward until it finally achieves a historic first: the circumnavigation of the globe.
1960: Untold numbers of ships have circled the planet in Magellan’s wake—but none has yet done so underwater the entire way. That audacious undertaking will fall to the nuclear-powered submarine USS Triton (SSRN-586) and her celebrated skipper, Captain Edward L. “Ned” Beach Jr. (Beach Hall, the Naval Institute headquarters, honors his name). A best-selling author as well as a distinguished naval officer, Beach will chronicle his history-making feat in his 1962 book Around the World Submerged (reprinted by the Naval Institute Press in 2001). With the atavistic tie between the voyage of Magellan and that of the Triton, a diplomatic gesture between the United States and Spain seems in order.
Exploiting the artistic and wood-carving talent on hand, Captain Beach ordered a memorial plaque to be created for presentation to the Spanish government. Beach’s team came up with a winning design, as seen in this brass artifact from the Naval Institute’s collection. Framed by laurel wreaths, Magellan’s flagship Trinidad sails atop the dates of the two historic journeys and twin-dolphin insignia of the U.S. Submarine Force. Surrounding it all is a pithy Latin phrase that roughly translates as “Hail, Noble Captain, It Is Done Again.”
To find the phrase in Latin, Ned Beach’s artist called a lady friend who taught at the nearby Connecticut College for Women. She dictated it to him over the phone. This brings us to the moral of the story: Always say, “S as in Sam” or “F as in Frank.” The plaque was cast with a nonexistent Latin word, sactum. It should be factum. The mistake was caught just in time to avoid international embarrassment, and a corrected plaque was made and presented to Spain. Meanwhile, six plaques (including the one seen here) from the original incorrect molding were cast for various recipients. Those rare six are the naval-relic equivalent of the infamous “Inverted Jenny”—the 1918 U.S. postage stamp with an upside-down airplane. Sometimes, it’s the mistake that makes a piece of the past all the more prized.