This investigation began eight years ago when I
encountered a newspaper article about the efforts of an
amateur north-coast historian to prove his contention that
Francis Drake and the Golden Hind landed on the
Mendocino coast of Northern California in 1579, during
the "famous voyage" around the world. My interest in
nautical history and the proximity of the proposed location to
my home led me to take a close look at some of the
evidence presented for this Mendocino County site - a look
which included a formal archeological test excavation
(which I organized), and which ended, for the time being,
with my discovery of previously unknown historical photographs
that contradict a key piece of the site evidence.
Such anchorage claims are nothing new. Shouts of "Eureka!" placing Drake here or there have been reverberating up and down the Northwest Coast since shortly after the Gold Rush. Presently there are at least four active and eight dormant anchorage site proposals, for spots from Canada to Central California. While the earlier propositions lack current champions, they remain subject to periodic revival (it turns out that the Mendocino bid is such a resurrection).
In looking into these other attempts to locate the "lost harbor" it soon became clear that it is inordinately difficult if not impossible to conduct an objective inquiry into even the potential validity of any site proposal. This not only stifles fresh efforts to reconstruct Drake's movements in the region he called Nova Albion but also affects any approach to wider and perhaps more important questions - and some of the problems spill over into altogether unrelated fields. The situation is exacerbated, albeit with occasional comic relief, by intense controversies and histrionics, typified during the past several decades by the immediately publicized cries of derision and ridicule that issue from patriots of Marin County's so-called Drakes Bay - the current king-of-the-hill in the landing site game - whenever another proposal surfaces. The vitriol has sent many historians running for cover, and continues to cause timidity among institutions and individuals. It does not, however, bother me.
All of this carried my inquiry beyond any particular site proposal and into a study of the searches themselves and the literature on which they are based. It soon became apparent that most of the relevant publications, from the first narrative account in 1589 through the mass of books and articles written during the past hundred years or so, are error-ridden, confused, self-referential, unnecessarily complex and misleading. Professional and amateur historians, cartographers, anthropologists, librarians, teachers, students, the always interested public and not least of all those who would hunt for the lost harbor have suffered because of the disarray into which the story of the circumnavigation has fallen. Many have turned their backs in dismay, while others have unwittingly (and sometimes intentionally) added to the chaos.
The search for Drake's lost harbor and related efforts have been badly botched by nearly everyone; today a point has been reached from which further progress supported by the existing body of literature is extremely difficult, entailing lengthy and complex evaluations of this and that material. Little if anything can be taken at face value and, along with various gross blunders, seemingly trivial errors are scattered about, unnoticed until they pop up as pivotal parts of major contentions. I addressed some of these problems through several articles, published in the U.S. and in England, but it became obvious that any useful and lasting treatment would require a larger work (had I known how large, I would not have begun this task). The result is the manuscript described below.
My interest in nautical history was kindled by the stories
told me by my grandfather, a naval officer who was a
cadet on full-rigged ships at the turn of the century and a
young captain during World War I. During my own youth I
lived by the Great Lakes, and from then till now on the
shores of the Pacific - always around water and vessels.
However, my several occupations have not encompassed
the sea or even its reflections in academia - something that
has been both a hindrance and an asset during this
investigation. So, in writing on the present subject, I follow
a long tradition of amateurs; a majority of the works
published - for better and worse - during the past century
about Drake's famous voyage have been written by
amateurs or by professionals working outside of their usual
In spite of (and in some instances because of) my amateur status, I found substantial intellectual support as the work progressed. A number of professional scholars from a variety of disciplines have reacted most favorably to this work, to the extent of inviting me to speak on some aspects of it in academic settings, and have kindly extended their invaluable help and advice. Some are mentioned below; all are given thanks and credit in the manuscript.
I am 53 years old and live on the coast of rural Northern California with my wife and son. My activities aside from writing include design and fabrication of patent prototypes and such in my small machine shop, construction of replicas of early continental European bagpipes, computer consultation, book-scouting, rescue and firefighting with our local fire department (of which I am the senior member and senior Emergency Medical Technician) and gazing at the sea. I attended the University of California at Berkeley but left before graduating, continuing my education at my own pace and by my own means.
Author's Note: Some of this material is adapted from or relates to my yet-unpublished book Francis Drake in Nova Albion - The Mystery Restored, in which these and neighboring thickets are explored much more deeply than on these few web pages. Thus there may be references here not fully explained, or answers missing their questions. Also lacking here is documentation, provided in the book by 782 endnotes. - Oliver Seeler