By Mark Abrams

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A local maritime historian says famed explorer Christopher Columbus may not have achieved the fame he earned for his discovery of the New World had he not survived a skirmish on the high seas some 16 years earlier.

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Brother Edward Sheehy, a history professor at La Salle University, says the Genoese captain and explorer made a journey in 1476 that changed his life.   He says Columbus was sailing for England and Portugal in the North Sea on a trading mission when his convoy of ships ran into ships from France and Portugal.

Then, says Sheehy, there was a battle.

“He ends up being wounded and he has to swim six miles to get to the coast of Portugal,” Sheehy says of Columbus’ narrow escape.

(Brother Edward Sheehy.  Photo provided)

(Brother Edward Sheehy. Photo provided)

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He says Columbus recovered and, according to a biography written by his son, learned Latin and Spanish, led more voyages around  Africa, and married — all before he ever approached the Spanish monarch and his queen about financial backing for a big journey to India to open the spice trade.

“He had married into a prominent Portuguese family and he had made voyages to Africa,” Sheehy says.   “He may have gone to Iceland.”

But Columbus never made it to India — instead making his discovery of a new land believed to be islands in the Caribbean in 1492, and staking the claim to the New World for Spain.

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