Mythology as News in Nova Albion
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat
October 14, 1997
This is a rare 16th century digital photograph, taken by the Spanish spy device mistakenly called the "Plate of Brass," of Drake's cleverly disguised jet-ski, which he left behind in Drakes Bay. The person seen here riding it was the Golden Hind's sou chef; he is holding a porcelain Miwok cheese slicer of a type not known to have been used more than 43 feet from Drake's Estero. This finding proved once and for all that Drake was indeed at Drake's Bay, as any yachtsman, dairy farmer or newswriter now knows.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, owned by the New York Times, is a daily newspaper located in the coastal region north of the Golden Gate in California. Thus it covers an area in which there is more than usual interest in Francis Drake, and which encompasses at least seven sites that have been, or are still, proposed as possible locations of Drake's "lost harbor." Over the years, the Press Democrat has published many articles on this subject. In the process, it has allowed itself to become a pulpit for the vociferous and dogmatic spokesmen of the Drake Navigators Guild, a group adept at enmeshing the unsuspecting and naive into its fevered patriotism in support of Drakes Bay. The effect of providing this soapbox has been the embedding of opinions and speculations, presented as though they were facts, into the issues. The resultant infection has spread beyond works focused on Drake. Following are examples - far from the worst but very recent - of such contagion, from, ironically, a Press Democrat article published in print and on the web on October 14, 1997 under the byline of staff writer Bob Norberg. Here the primary subject is the search for the wreckage of the Spanish ship San Agustin, which was the first (documented) vessel to make the fatal mistake of stopping at this unfit anchorage. The first reference to Drake is found early in the article:
"Drakes Bay ... was a stopover for ships from the two world superpowers of the 16th Century -- Spain and England ... and it was where Europeans first made contact with Native Americans."
A "stopover for ships"? Hardly. Only one ship made a documented (and fatal) stop at Drakes Bay during the 16th century: the San Agustin. The only other vessel, of any nation, that might have been there (with heavy emphasis on "might") was Drake's. No other mariners went near the place during the period cited, and most later sailors avoided the notoriously dangerous open roadstead. This nonsense aside, the issue here is the assertion that Drakes Bay was the location of first European contact with Native Americans. Granting that the writer meant first contact in this region (the Spanish having long before made contact with Native Americans further to the south), the statement is still mere speculation, hinging on the proposal that Drake indeed visited "Drakes Bay." The next mention of Drake:
"The San Agustin, anchored a quarter mile offshore while the crew camped on Limantour Spit, was driven ashore by a sudden storm, killing several men still aboard, in November 1595, about 18 years after Sir Francis Drake is believed to have brought the Golden Hinde into the bay for repairs."
Here at least there is a qualifier, albeit a weak one: "...Drake is believed to have ...." Unfortunately the other four references in the article to Drake's whereabouts do not include such sensible caution. The other equivocation in this sentence is less astute: the period from mid-1579, when Drake was in the region, to late 1595 was not "about 18 years"; it was about 16 years. Sixteen years, incidentally, during which, as may be reasonably concluded from the reports of the San Agustin's master, all traces of any previous European presence, including any indication by the native inhabitants that they had ever seen Europeans, vanished. The mythology is soon expanded with:
"Whether there is anything left behind from the Drake expedition is less probable, although a small ship in the Drake voyage is known to have sunk."
No such thing is "known." For a number of logical and evidentiary reasons it is highly unlikely that Drake had with him on the North Coast a second vessel. This particular conjecture, presented here so blandly as fact, has gained currency as a sub-speculation among certain relatively modern theorists as an adjunct to this or that whimsy. It is touted exclusively by those for whom it is convenient, and ignored by everyone else. More possible debris is invoked with:
" 'It is certainly possible you could run across something that someone threw overboard or lost overboard or Drake may have lost an anchor,' said Peter Pelkofer, an attorney for the state Lands Commission."
Drake as likely "may have" lost his Rolex. There is not the slightest evidence that he lost an anchor (or anything else) wherever he stayed on the North Coast. The loss of an anchor, after the Golden Hind already lost at least one off South America, would have been a major and potentially devastating blow (the importance of anchors to the safety of early sailing vessels cannot be overstated). There is no hint of any such event in any of the narratives of the voyage. Again, this sort of statement serves only one purpose (intentional or not): to anchor Drake in Drakes Bay. Likewise:
"Since those two wrecks, there have been about 30 other ships that have wrecked inside the bay..."
Here the existence and location of "two wrecks" - the San Agustin and Drake's second ship - are presented as facts, while in truth the latter vessel exists only through the pair of highly speculative theories - that (1) Drake had a second ship along at this point in the journey and (2) that he anchored in "Drakes Bay."
It is through the constant unqualified repetition and presentation as fact of such speculation in the popular press (and elsewhere) that unrecognized myth and conjecture have become an obscuring encrustation on the small kernel of what is indeed known about the circumnavigation. This situation, together with a great deal of poor scholarship and with the booster-club attitudes of proponents of various pet sites - especially those of the presently dominant "Drake's Bay" theorists - continues to impede legitimate investigations into the questions surrounding Francis Drake's visit to the coast of Pacific North America in 1579.
It should be made clear that notwithstanding the above, Drakes Bay can be added to any reasonable list of possible anchorage sites (albeit not at the top, in the present writer's opinion). But it's not so just because someone says it's so.
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
Nova Albion Research
Copyright 1996-97 by Oliver Seeler
Please feel free to send your comments
Return to the main Drake page...