Chapter III. "The Secret of the Strait"
"Master," he asked earnestly, "what is the strait? I hear of it often, yet no one can tell me what it is, or where it lies."
"Because no one knows," answered the captain, rising. "I am needed on deck, but I will send old Tomas to tell you its strange story."
"The secret of the strait," said old Tomas, as he seated himself beside Juan, "has led many men to gallant deeds and also many a man to a gallant death. Always, since as a lad I first went to sea, the merchants of many lands have been seeking a safe and speedy way of reaching the Indies, where are found such foods, spices, and jewels as one sees nowhere else in the world.
"My father and grandfather used to travel with caravans overland to and from India. There are several routes, each controlled by some one of the great Italian cities, but all have somewhere to cross the desert, where the trains are often robbed by wild tribes. Sometimes, as they come nearer home, they are held by the Turks for heavy tribute, with such loss that the merchants have been forced to turn to the sea in hopes that a better way might be found. It was while searching for this route that Columbus discovered the new world, and when the news of his success was brought back to Europe there was great rejoicing, because it was thought that he had reached some part of India. Magellan's voyage, however, destroyed these hopes. He sailed for months down the eastern shore of the new land, and discovered, far away to the south, a strait through which he reached the great South Sea, but then he still sailed on for nearly a year before he came to the Spice Islands and Asia.
"Now every one believes that somewhere through this land to the north of us there is a wide, deep sea passage from the North Sea [Atlantic] to the South Sea [Pacific], by which ships may speedily reach India. This passage is called the Strait of Anian.
"The great captain, Hernando Cortez, the conqueror of New Spain [Mexico] spent many years and a large fortune seeking for this water way. Four different expeditions he sent out to explore this coast: most of them at his own cost. In the second one his pilot, Jiminez, led a mutiny, murdered his captain, and afterward discovered, accidentally, the southern point of this land we are now exploring. But it was not the good fortune of the noble Cortez to discover the strait. Our captain is the next to take up the search, and may God send him success."
After a stay of nearly a week in the bay of San Diego, Cabrillo continued his voyage up the coast, sailing by day, anchoring at night. He touched at an island which he named San Salvador, but which we know as Santa Catalina. Here, by his kind and generous treatment, he won the friendship of the natives. From this beautiful spot, he sailed, one Sunday morning, to the mainland. Entering the Bay of San Pedro, he found it enveloped in smoke.
"It seems a fair port," said the commander, "but go no farther inland. Drop anchor while we can see our way. We may well call this the Bay of Smokes." The fires, they found, had been started by the Indians to drive the rabbits from shelter, so they could be the more easily killed.
Sailing on, the ships anchored off a thickly settled valley, where the town of Ventura now lies. Here, on October 12, 1542, Cabrillo and his company went on shore and took solemn possession of the land in the name of the king of Spain and the viceroy of Mexico. Here, and along the channel, the people were better-looking, more comfortably lodged and clothed, than those farther south. They also had good canoes, which the natives of the lower coast did not possess. Pushing on, the explorer saw and noted the channel islands and rounded Point Conception. From here he was driven back by contrary winds, and toward nightfall of a stormy day found himself near the little island now named San Miguel.
"We will call it La Posesion and take it for our own," said Cabrillo, "for, if we can but make it, there seems to be a good harbor here." The storm, however, grew more severe. The sea rose until occasionally the waves swept over the smaller ship, which was without a deck. Here occurred a most unhappy accident. Something about the ship, a spar probably, loosened by the storm, fell and struck the brave commander, breaking his arm. Although severely injured, he would not have the wounds dressed until, after a long period of anxiety, the two ships entered in safety the little harbor of San Miguel.
Here, stormbound, they remained for a week. When they ventured forth, they again met with high winds and bad weather. Cabrillo, who in spite of discouragements never forgot his search for the strait, pushed close inshore and kept much of the time on deck looking for some signs of a river or passage. One morning at daybreak, after a rough night, they found themselves drifting in an open bay.
"It is a fine roadstead," said Cabrillo, coming on deck, as the sun rose over the pine-covered hills. "Were it smaller, it would be a welcome harbor. We will name it from those majestic trees La Bahia de Pinos, and yonder long projection we will call the Cabo de Pinos." That bay is now called Monterey, but the cape still bears the name given it by this first explorer.