by Laura Lee Newman
Reprinted with permission from the Bodega Bay Navigator
Decades before the Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock, Sir Francis Drake harbored his foundering, treasure-laden ship Golden Hind on the California coast. Historians concur on that much, but there unanimity ceases. Where did the legendary seafarer actually land? What was the specific location of the stone-walled fort that established the first toehold of British supremacy over Spain in the New World? Who were the native people that greeted Drake and his 50-man crew? Was the commander of the expedition simply a glorified pirate, also described as a "base rascal"; "master thief of the unknown world," and "unscrupulous freebooter";"or the "founder of British maritime greatness"? Could Bodega Bay be the true birthplace of our own democracy, the first page of British Colonial history in America? For two centuries, sleuths from all walks of life have deduced, theorized and wrangled over the precise location of the anchorage described as a "fair and good bay." In Marin County, a significant segment of the tourist industry revolves around the belief that a small cove guarded by the Point Reyes peninsula provided haven for repairs that allowed the leaking Golden Hind to circumnavigate the globe. But Brian Kelleher, an environmental engineer and first-time author from Cupertino, contends that more than 400 years ago Campbell Cove in Bodega Bay served as Drake's desperate landing site on the North Coast. After four years of intensive research, his 400-page manuscript called DRAKE'S BAY: Unravelling California's Great Maritime Mystery is ready for bookstore shelves. Then The age-old controversy will erupt once more.
Soon, we may learn the truth. Noted archaeologists Glenn Farris and Breck Parkman of California State Parks are leading a crew of historical detectives in an attempt to locate rock-hard evidence of the Golden Hind's presence in Campbell Cove when they attempt to unearth the walls of Drake's fortifications. Kelleher believes massive stones remain, buried under landslides and development. Does the solution to this historical mystery wait at the foot of Bodega Head?
Only Portugal's Ferdinand Magellan had circumnavigated the globe before Sir Francis Drake set out from Plymouth, England in December of 1577. He commanded a five-ship fleet from the deck of the 100-ton Pelican (later rechristened the Golden Hind), sailing south toward Africa. Four years earlier Drake had earned his Iberian name "El Draque" after plundering the Spanish Caribbean. A year later, Queen Elizabeth had uneasily allied with King Philip of Spain, but rumors ricocheted throughout Europe. Would agents of the King assassinate Elizabeth? Would the Spanish sail across the English Channel and attack England? Would El Draque ravage the Caribbean once more?
Off the coast of Morocco, Sir Francis Drake provided a hint of his future role in the international drama by seizing a half-dozen vessels that flew the flags of Spain and Portugal. His fleet turned west and crossed the Atlantic, then set a course for the coasts of Brazil and Argentina. Storms had scattered the ships, which rendezvoused off the Cape of Good Hope. Before Drake departed Argentina, he encountered Patagonian giants, lost close friends and abandoned several damaged vessels. Though most of the sailors yearned to turn back, their commander rallied his men, consolidated his forces onto three ships and proceeded up the "backside of Spanish America." Weeks of violent weather left the Golden Hind alone in the Pacific. Undeterred, Drake followed the coast of Chile northward, unburdening Spaniards of their gold and silver in the process. In March of 1579, Drake bested the treasure galleon Caca Fuego, loading booty onto the Golden Hind that included 1300 silver bars and 14 chests of sil-ver coin. He continued north, preying on richly loaded vessels bound from Manila to the port of Lima, Peru. The mariner added a small merchant vessel to his retinue, as well as three Africans yielded by the ship of a wealthy Spaniard, including its owner's ravishing young mistress, a woman named Maria.
Burdened with Spanish plunder, Drake navigated onward into the uncharted waters of the Pacific Northwest, hoping to discover the fabled passage linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Tormented by fog, storms, frigid temperatures and uncooperative winds, the Golden Hind finally turned southward, limping near the shore until it reached the northern coast of California. Weary and demoralized, with the Golden Hind taking on water, riding lower and lower in the water, the voyagers sought a safe harbor. On the morning of June 17, 1579, Drake finally sighted what appeared to be a secure, approachable bay lying beneath a headland, with the south side shrouded in mist but its narrow channel revealing adequate depth. When he stepped onto the sands of that harbor, he became the first European to set foot in Northern California.
Over lunch at Breakers Cafe, Brian Kelleher eloquently discussed the long trail of evidence that led him to research and write Drake's Bay. "Every year somebody comes up with a new theory," he explained. "The difference is that I'm pointing to the stones- to the ruins of something that appears to be a fort. Stones don't go away."
Kelleher's blue eyes were wide open as he discussed his technical background, which involves a great deal of problem solving. Working as a freelance environmental consultant, he is hired as an objective neutral party, often by the Superior Court of San Mateo, to resolve and facilitate cleanup of toxic situations. "I can read an archaeological report and figure out what they're talking about." His background, Kelleher believes, has taught him to follow evidence to its logical conclusion.
As a child, Kelleher describes "a childhood fascination with shipwrecks and maritime mystery that developed over the years into a hobby." His involvement with the search for the "lost harbor" began because of a trip to the Visitors Center on the Point Reyes peninsula. Kelleher's goal was to learn more about a Spanish galleon shipwrecked in the area, but another exhibit acknowledging that Sir Francis Drake had left behind a "large stone-walled fort that had never been discovered" stimulated in the Cupertino engineer a quest for truth that continues today. "The trails of evidence" wound through "California's entire human saga, from the Stone Age to the Nuclear Age."
Kelleher soon had devoured a book by Warren Hanna called The Lost Harbor and became fascinated with a facsimile of a manuscript published in 1628 known as "The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake." Within its 107 pages, Kelleher perused minute detail about the events that took place during the Golden Hind's circumnavigation, including 18 pages describing California latitudes, the physical attributes of the harbor, and the native people who inhabited the area. "It presented a lot of clues." In 1992 his years of exhaustive research began, with countless hours spent in libraries, with historical societies, and in modern-day exploration along the central coast of California. The Drakes Navigators Guild had been promoting the Marin County site known as Drake's Estero for half-a-century, but Kelleher was unconvinced. He became determined to unravel the mystery and also to honor Sir Francis Drake.
"I wanted to try to put his career into context in an entertaining manner. He was heroic- the first to claim American soil for England. He built the first fort. Drake's circumnavigation was the catalyst for the British colonial movement in America."
When, according to Brian Kelleher, Drake sighted Campbell Cove and realized the Golden Hind could be saved, nightfall- and fog- was approaching. The mariner called his crew together for evening prayer: "By God's Will we hath been sent into this fair and good bay. Let us all, with one consent, both high and low, magnify and praise our most gracious and merciful God for his infinite and unspeakable goodness toward us. By God's faith hath we endured such great storms and such hardships as we have seen in these uncharted seas. To be delivered here of His safekeeping, I protest we are not worthy of such mercy."
In the morning, as the the wind and, consequently, the fog began to rise, a sailor stationed in the crow's nest alerted Sir Francis Drake that a small band of Indians had gathered on the shore. Kelleher's research shows that these people, who eventually welcomed Drake and lamented his departure, came from a nearby village on the shore of Bodega Bay. Their culture combined characteristics associated by historians with both Miwok and Pomo peoples: another indicator that the anchorage was located outside of Marin County. The Pomo peoples of the northern Sonoma Coast had refined the weaving of exquisite baskets to such an art that they are often considered the premiere practitioners of this tradition. Evidence of this skill, combined with attitudes and diet associated with Miwok culture, helped Kelleher define ethnographic parameters that support his Campbell Cove theory.
The journals of Sir Francis Drake and Francis Fletcher, chaplain of the Golden Hind and its official chronicler, also reveal countless specifics about the landing site that Drake christened Nova Albion: "New England.." Latitudes, charts, maps and detailed descriptions pointed Brian Kelleher toward Bodega Bay. But, in the end, the stones decided the matter.
In "Drake's Bay," Kelleher discusses in detail the building of the rock-walled Elizabethan fort constructed more than 400 years ago. His contention that it was built and still remains at the base of a bluff in Campbell Cove has drawn the interest of many experts and the wrath of others. Dedicated members of the Drake Navigators Guild and scholars who have built a reputation around the theory that Drake's Estero is located on the central Marin Coast find this latest theory threatening. Buried under years of landslides, Kelleher believes that fort was unearthed once more in 1963 when contractors excavated the infamous "Hole in the Head" as part of the PG? plan to build the world's largest nuclear reactor on Bodega Head. Due to grassroots protest and earthquake concerns, contruction ceased the following year.
This April, however, scientists and archaeologists measured lichens on exposed stones. They tentatively determined that these stones were either transported to or unearthed in Campbell Cove in 1963. Kelleher explains: "PG? had promised to preserve the history and archaeology of Bodega Head to the extent possible. I believe what we see at Campbell Cove today is testimony to that promise. The contractors probably thought the rocks were the foundations of Russian buildings."
More than two centuries after Drake left the contested anchorage site, the Russian-American Company constructed a warehouse, guest house, and bathhouse as part of their development of a harbor to service their colony at Fort Ross, located 20 miles north on the Sonoma Coast. Brian Kelleher believes archaeologists will discover evidence of both Russian settlement and earlier British habitation at Campbell Cove. His fascinating manuscript, completed in December of 1996 and published in a collectors-edition run of 2500 copies, may reach the public concurrently with the state's archaeological investigation, which has just received funding and is scheduled to begin next month. Perhaps the controversy of the "lost harbor" will be laid to rest at last. The stones of Campbell Cove may provide a final solution to the mystery. We may discover that, in fact, Bodega Bay was the birthplace of American democracy.
Sir Francis Drake claimed Nova Albion for Queen Elizabeth of England. After a 36 day stay, Drake and the Golden Hind sailed westward across the Pacific for more than two months before visiting islands in the Caroline Archipelago, the Philippines, and the Moluccas. After further repairs on uninhabited Crab Island, the Golden Hind departed, leaving the pregnant Maria and the other Africans behind. Later Drake sailed from Java around the Cape of Good Hope without any navigational charts to aid him, and finally slipped back into Plymouth harbor on September 26, 1580, hailing fishermen with the words: "How goes the Queen?"