July 26, 2006

I was reading a Bob Graham's Determination of Latitude by Francis Drake on the Coast of California in 1579 about the astrolabe latitude observations, and I'd like to add my 2 cents worth.

Drake was on a very hostile coast and needed to be invisible to the Spanish. His biggest danger was to be caught careened by a Spanish warship. The Drake's Estero site is so flat you could see a ship ashore from far off, because Pt Reyes doesn't cover it from the south. But Campbell Cove is just like the little Devon creeks that Drake knew so well, a short curved headland with a deep enough entrance at the right tide cycle, a firm shelving beach on a defensible area with limited shore access, completely hidden from the sea by the headland. You can't see around the corner into the cove from a ship unless you come far inside Bodega head and dangerously close to the beach on the east.

No sensible Spanish captain in anything over 100 tons would. The combination of baggy sails, dirty bottom, and nonweatherly design made ships of the time easily caught in embayments by inability to work to windward in rough conditions. 5 miles out is close for such a coastal vessel, and Drake could careen and caulk and bream his ship in safety, so long as he kept careful control of visible smoke and got along with the locals, which, humanitarian that he was, he did well.

I was a lifeboat crewman and relief lighthouse keeper in the United States Coast Guard in the late nineteen-sixties, stationed at Fort Point, Pt. Montara, Pt. Bonita, Pt. Reyes, Pt. Arena and Pt. Cabrillo and spent a great deal of time in the area and still live locally. Everything about Campbell Cove is right: I don't see how the Drake Navigators Guild got it so wrong.

Peter Bailey, Sausalito

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