As we all know in 1492 Christopher Columbus had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and this act led to the conquering and plundering of a civilization that had riches of gold that Spain wanted. When Vasco Nunez de Balboa first gazed upon the Pacific Ocean 1513, a complete new world of exploration was about to open up. The Spanish had the Aztec empire and its surroundings under control but it felt it needed richer fields in which to conquer. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro conquered Peru and found wealth in gold and gems as rich as Mexico had, including silver mines that could be used to acquire the wealth found in Asia.
In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan sailed down the east coast of South America, passed through the wild and treacherous Straits of Magellan (later Cape Horn south of the Strait of Magellan became the preferred route to travel) and entered the Pacific Ocean. He turned north and caught the trade winds that took him across the Pacific to the Philippines. This remarkable feat, however, resulted in his death at the hands of the natives. The voyage continued and eventually it ended in England — the first navigation around the globe. Now a way had been found to get to the riches of the Orient. What was needed was a way to get back to Mexico and Spain without traveling through the enemies and hostile natives who claimed trading rights on the many countries on the route west from the Philippines. Forty-four years later, in 1565, Andres de Urdaneta found a wind system that would carry ships easterly and back to the Americas. During those years, Spain had been setting up a trading system that would carry the spices, gold, and porcelain that was abundant in China and the Philippines back to Spain. The wealth was fabulous if they could only get it back to Spain and Urdaneta had paved the way for the Spanish galleons to transport this wealth. A captain of a galleon could make enough commission on one of these trips to retire for life.
The biggest problem with sailing ships was the need for wind to fill their sails. Unfortunately, the coast of California was found to have adverse winds that blew south from Alaska, making it difficult for sailing ships to navigate safely along the coast. The usual procedure was for a ship to travel to the west for many miles, then turn around and sail to the east, hoping to make some headway north. This would be repeated many times unless the captain achieved favorable winds along the coast that enabled him to keep closer to the shore. This process as would be expected was slow. Travel from Monterey to San Francisco could sometimes take two weeks or it could take only a couple of days.
Many explorations over the early years took place and each one revealed a bit of knowledge about the little explored West Coast of America. In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed up the coast and reached a point north of San Francisco. In 1578, Sir Francis Drake landed in Nova Alba (Point Reyes) to replenish his food and water and explore a little of Marin County. In 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino re-explored the coast to Oregon trying to find favorable harbors in which the Spanish could land to replenish their water and food. The Farallon Islands, 20 miles to the west of San Francisco, were recognized but one failed to see the Golden Gate passage due to the fog or the mountains on the east side of the Bay. The ships naturally avoided passing on the east side of the Farallons because the captains feared sinking their boat on unseen rocks. It was not until August 1775 that Lt. Juan Manuel Ayala, in command of the ship San Carlos, made the first entrance through the Golden Gate. Vizcaino, however, did see and chart the bay at Monterey and recommended it as a perfect site for a Spanish settlement. This advice was ignored until 1769 when Portola was sent to help find places to put a presidio and mission.
Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.