Chapter III. "The Secret of the Strait"
Anchoring in forty-five fathoms of water, they tried to go on shore, in order to take possession of the land, but the sea was so rough that they could not launch their boats. The next day they discovered and named some mountains which they called Sierra Nevada, and, sailing on, went as far north as about 401. But this winter voyage was made at a great sacrifice. The exposure and hardships, following the wound he had received, were too much for even the hardy sailor Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. After weeks of struggle with storms, the ships were forced back to their old shelter at San Miguel. Here Christmas week was spent, but a sad holiday it was to the explorers, for their brave leader lay dying. Nobly had he done his duty up to the last.
"Juan," he said, to his young attendant, on Christmas Eve, "how gladly the bells will be ringing in Lisbon to-night. I seem to hear them now. They drive out all other sounds. Call Ferrelo and let no one else come but the padre." Very soon Juan returned with Cabrillo's first assistant, the pilot, Ferrelo, a brave navigator and a just man.
"Ferrelo," said Cabrillo, faintly, "Death calls me, and the duty I lay down you must take up. I command you to push the expedition northward at all hazards, and to keep such records as are necessary in order that fitting account of our voyage shall be given to the world. Will you promise me to do this?"
"I will, my master," said Ferrelo, simply. "To the best of my ability will I take up your work."
"Always looking for the strait, Ferrelo?"
On the 3d of January, 1543, the brave man died and was buried in the sands of Cuyler Harbor on San Miguel Island. His men called the island Juan Rodriguez. This name was afterwards dropped, but California should see to it that the island is rechristened in honor of the great sailor who sleeps there.
Ferrelo later succeeded in sailing as far north as Cape Mendocino and perhaps as far as 42i, but, though he kept as close to the shore as possible, he failed to discover the great bay whose waters, spreading like a sheet of silver over sixty miles of country, lay hidden just behind the Golden Gate. Near the Oregon line he was driven back by storms, and returned to Mexico, where he published a full account of the voyage.
In the town of Offenburg, Germany, there is a statue of a man standing on the deck of a ship, leaning against an anchor, his right hand grasping a map of America, his left, a cluster of bulbous roots. On the pedestal is the inscription, "Sir Francis Drake, the introducer of potatoes into Europe in the year of our Lord 1586."
While it is doubtful whether this honor really belongs to Drake, an Englishman, seeing the statue, would be inclined to say, "Is this all that Germany has to tell of the great captain who led our navy against the Spanish Armada; the first Englishman to sail around the world; the most daring explorer, clever naval commander, expert seaman, brave soldier, loyal friend, and gallant enemy of his time?" A Spaniard, on the contrary, might well exclaim, "Why did Germany erect a statue to this terrible man whom our poets call Dragontea [Dragon], this greatest of all pirates, this terror of the sea?" All this, and more, might be said of one man, who began life as a ship's boy.
At the time Drake first went to sea, England and Spain were by no means friendly. Henry the Eighth of England had ill-treated his wife, who was a Spanish princess. In addition he had drawn the English people away from the Church of Rome. These things were most displeasing to Spain, but there was still another reason for disagreement. The interests of the two countries were opposed commercially, and this was the most important cause of contention.
Spain claimed by right of discovery, and gift of the Pope of Rome, all the land in the new world except Brazil (which belonged to Portugal), and held that no explorers or tradesmen, other than her own, had any rights on her waters or in her ports. English seamen denied much of this claim, and so frequent were the disputes arising upon the subject that the English sailors adopted as a maxim, "No peace beyond the line," meaning the line which was, by the Pope's decree, the eastern boundary of the Spanish claim.
The favorite prey of the British mariners was the treasure ships carrying to Spain the precious cargoes of gold and silver from the rich mines of the new world. With the far richer ships of the Philippine and Indian trade, sailing on unknown waters, they had not, up to Drake's time, been able to interfere.
Drake, when a very young man, had joined a trading expedition to Mexico. While there the English were attacked by the Spanish in what the former considered a most treacherous manner. Drake's brother and many of his comrades were killed, and their goods taken. After the battle he solemnly vowed to be revenged, and so thoroughly did he carry out his resolution that he was for years the terror of the Spanish seamen, and, by many of the superstitious common sailors, believed to be Satan himself come to earth in human form.
Shortly after this unfortunate expedition Drake engaged in a marauding voyage to Panama, where he captured rich stores of gold and silver and precious stones. He gained such renown for his bravery and seamanship that upon coming home he found himself famous.